‘Pepe is starving, he wishes to win so bad!’ – Liverpool loanee Grujic
First Juventus, now Chelsea?
Porto is on the march once again. Ready to roll, prepared to combat, prepared to get stuck right into another European heavyweight.
They might be commonly considered the weakest group left in this season’s Champions League, however that will not trouble Sergio Conceicao’s side.
Few groups take pleasure in the function of the underdog like the Portuguese champs do.
“Why can’t we do something special again?” the midfielder Marko Grujic asks Goal throughout our special interview. “We know there are no easy games at this stage of the competition, but we have already shown we can do it this season.”
It is 17 years because Jose Mourinho led the Dragoes to Champions League magnificence. What a group that was, too; the group of Deco and Maniche and Costinha, of Vitor Baia and Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho.
They won the UEFA Cup in 2003, and followed that up a year later on, pounding Monaco in Gelsenkirchen to raise their 2nd European Cup crown. It was the making of Mourinho, who left for Chelsea that summer season and never ever recalled.
Could Porto’s existing supervisor do something comparable? Conceicao could not include because 2004 victory– he was on loan from Lazio, and for that reason cup-tied– however the 46-year-old physical fitness fanatic has his eyes on the reward again.
He has actually currently won 2 Portuguese titles, and now is wanting to strengthen his track record even more by slipping into the last 4 of the Champions League.
“There’s a lot of speculation on whether he will leave in the summer or stay,” states Grujic, “but whatever happens, he has the potential to be one of the biggest coaches in the next five or 10 years.
“He’s very motivated, very aggressive with players. He is big on discipline. He doesn’t play defensive football, but he likes his team to be very organized and disciplined. Rule number one is not to concede goals, and obviously, that gives you chances to win games.
“He can still play, by the way! He’s enormously fit. He runs 15-20 kilometres every day, so when he tells us we have to run, we can’t have any argument! You see him, and you know you have to do it.”
Porto is under pressure locally. They sit 2nd in the table, 7 points behind unbeaten Liga NOS leaders Sporting C.P. Their grip on their crown is loosening up, although they did get 2 points on their competitors at the weekend.
Their durability, and their quality, have actually been on screen for all to see in Europe, nevertheless. They certified easily from their group, drawing with Manchester City en path, and after that, in the last 16, conquered Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on away objectives after a pulsating two-legged affair.
“It was a magnificent result,” states Grujic, who is on a season-long loan fromLiverpool “Let’s be honest, they were the favourites to go through, and I think a lot of people thought when they got the away goal in the first leg that it would be really difficult for us.”
It was, in fairness. Porto led early in the 2nd leg however lost forward Mehdi Taremi to a red card simply after half-time. Juventus scored two times through Federico Chiesa to require additional time, however an amazing rearguard action, led by the 38-year-old Pepe, saw them hang on prior to Sergio Oliveira’s long-range free-kick sent them through, stimulating wild scenes of event and guaranteeing Ronaldo was entrusted to a face like thunder.
“He went straight to the changing room after the game,” Grujic states. “I don’t think he even spoke with Pepe, who is one of his best friends.
“But that speaks to his winning mentality. He wants to win every game, and if he doesn’t then he is completely upset. I understand and respect that.”
Grujic can not speak extremely enough of Pepe, a three-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid and absolutely the leader of this Porto side.
“Wow!” he states, wide-eyed. “He’s a guy who brings forward every other player on the team, and a guy you can learn a lot from as a young player. He’s a real leader, a real winner, someone to follow.
“The best thing with him is he’s still hungry. He’s won everything, played over 10 years with Madrid, so much experience, but he still wants it so bad.
“He just signed another two years at Porto, and even at 38 he is still 100 per cent focused on every match, not only Champions League games but matches against smaller teams in Portugal. He treats them all the same, it’s really incredible, and proves why he has made such a magnificent career.”
Grujic smiles when we ask whether Pepe, understood for his fondness for the dark arts, had any impact on an occurrence towards completion of the 2nd leg versus Juventus.
Grujic, with time going out and Porto hanging on, struck the ground clutching his face under a difficulty fromAdrien Rabiot As the Juve guy objected, tv video cameras revealed the Serb glancing a take a look at the referee from behind his hands. The free-kick was provided.
“I didn’t realize it would be all over social media!” Grujic chuckles. “It was rather amusing to see it back, however it had to do with overcoming the line for the group.
“That’s what I’m speaking about with winning mindset. In every method, you require to attempt and get the very best possible outcome for your group, not for yourself.
“I was not doing that to be popular on social media, I was trying to help the team to give us a few more seconds to rest because Juventus were putting big, big pressure on us. That’s football.”
With Oliveira, a scorer in both legs against Juventus, suspended, Grujic is almost certain to start against Chelsea on Wednesday night. He cannot wait for the battle.
“The club already reached their target for this season, in this sense,” he says. “We have no pressure at all going into the Chelsea game, we want to enjoy it so let’s try to make another great result.
“We are full of respect for Chelsea and we know it will be tough. They have an unbelievably strong squad, with many quality players in every position. That’s their main attribute for me.
“You look at their midfielders and forwards, it’s incredible. They can play any combination and it’s a strong team. You see sometimes, [Christian] Pulisic doesn’t even play! Or sometimes [Timo] Werner is upfront and [Olivier] Giroud is on the bench, so [Tammy] Abraham isn’t even in the squad! That’s how strong they are.
“The midfield is so strong. [N’Golo] Kante, wow! He covers so much ground, it’s ridiculous. I heard them say in England that he is like having two midfielders in one! I never played against him, so I am really looking forward to that challenge.
” I will need to run a lot versus him, for sure, and after that they have [Mateo] Kovacic, Jorginho, and [Mason] Mount, who are terrific on the ball.
“We will seek to win, however we can not anticipate to simply show up and score objectives. We need to be clever, secure ourselves however attempt to take the very best possible outcome to London.”
And has he attempted to dream yet about a possible semi-final versus his moms and dad club Liverpool?
“Not yet!” he smiles. “There’s still a lot of work to do before then!”