Lisbon: In-form Malaga must brace themselves for a barrage of attacking football from Porto’s Colombian Jackson Martinez and his returning compatriot James Rodriguez when they meet at the Dragao Stadium for their Champions League last 16 first leg on Tuesday.
Twice European champions and Portuguese premier league leaders Porto are firing on all cylinders thanks mainly to the exploits of Martinez.
The striker, nicknamed “Cha Cha Cha” for his dance-like moves on the pitch, has feasted on passes from Porto’s array of supporting talent and leads the Portuguese league scoring charts with 20 goals.
“We will be up to the demands of a game of this level against Malaga. Porto are a team used to winning and react to any adversity,” coach Vitor Pereira told reporters.
Porto are boosted by the return of influential forward Rodriguez, out to quench his thirst for football after missing seven matches with a thigh injury.
The 21-year-old Colombia international made his comeback as Porto beat Beira Mar 2-0 away on Friday.
Ghana winger Christian Atsu also returned from the African Cup of Nations to score the opener while Russian Marat Izmailov, signed from rivals Sporting in January, has quickly gelled with the architects of Porto’s possession football — Joao Moutinho and Argentine playmaker Lucho Gonzalez.
“It is good to head into the Champions League with a comfortable win. Although it was not with the exuberance we strive for because we had this European fixture next,” Pereira said.
Malaga too warmed up for the return to Champions League action with a morale-boosting 1-0 home win over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday which kept them in fourth place in La Liga.
Argentine forward Javier Saviola, who used to play for Porto’s fierce rivals Benfica, scored but it was goalkeeper Willy Caballero who made sure of the points with some outstanding saves.
“Caballero made a couple of very good saves,” coach Manuel Pellegrini said.
“We have secured fourth place in La Liga for now, and next we want to get to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. We have a difficult game in Portugal on Tuesday but it is always good to go into a match having won the last game.”
Qatari-owned Malaga, in their debut Champions League campaign, have impressed in Europe and have yet to lose a match.
They are on course for a return to Europe through the league, but have been hit by a future UEFA ban from European competition because of cash flow problems which have led to delayed payments to players and creditors.
The Costa del Sol side have appealed against the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Porto: 1-Helton; 2-Danilo, 30-Nicolas Otamendi, 22-Eliaquim Mangala, 26-Alex Sandro; 8-Joao Moutinho, 25-Fernando, 3-Lucho Gonzalez, 10-James Rodriguez, 15-Marat Izmailov; 9-Jackson Martinez
Malaga: 13-Willy Caballero; 2-Jesus Gamez, 5-Martin Demichelis, 3-Weligton, 18-Eliseu; 8-Jeremy Toulalan, 16-Manuel Iturra; 7-Joaquin, 10- Julio Baptista, 22-Isco; 9-Javier Saviola