Did FC Porto make Sanusi mistake against Chelsea?

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The left-back was under-utilised by the Portuguese giants on Wednesday, which was a disappointment after his second-leg Juventus performance in Turin

FC Porto were ‘only’ beaten 2-1 by Chelsea on aggregate in their Champions League quarter-final double-header, but the close score probably didn’t reflect the semi-finalists’ control over 180 minutes.

While statistics will show the Portuguese giants out-shot Thomas Tuchel’s side 21-14 in the tie, they barely landed a glove on the Blues throughout the largely humdrum encounters played out in Spain.

Even though Sergio Conceicao’s troops finally ended a run of 21 games without success against an English side in European competition, their 1-0 ‘away’ success over the West Londoners wasn’t enough to prevent a third straight elimination by a Premier League side in the knockout rounds.

The Portuguese manager, bizarrely, felt his team deserved to progress at Chelsea’s expense, a surprising remark, owing to the relative comfort Edouard Mendy endured in both fixtures.

“It is a huge frustration as you can imagine. I am disappointed about the final result,” Conceicao stated after Porto’s quarter-final exit. “We were superior to Chelsea in both games and details have decided this tie. We deserved to progress because we were the better team, we were better than Chelsea.”

Conceicao’s admission is contradicted by the fact they only mustered expected goals of 1.3 in the two meetings between the sides (the London side’s total xG was 2.4), with Wednesday’s 0.3 xGA the Blues’ joint-lowest expected goals against in this season’s Champions League.

Sergio Conceicao Porto

In the return leg, the 2004 CL winners failed to fashion out a single opportunity considered a big chance and tellingly couldn’t make Mendy work in the opening half.  Porto’s two efforts on target came after Mehdi Taremi, back from suspension, was introduced just after the hour, calling the ex-Portugal international’s second-leg approach into question.

Aside from keeping the returning Sergio Oliveira quiet in their ‘home’ fixture, Tuchel was probably pleased his team didn’t have to deal with Zaidu Sanusi’s attacking threat for most of the reverse fixture at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

The Nigeria left-back seemed to be the more defensive of the away side’s full-backs, with Wilson Manafa evidently tasked with making forward forays, especially in the first half as the team from Portugal funnelled attacks down their right flank attempting to create overloads.

Even though the West African had more touches on Wednesday (62) than he did in the reverse fixture (57), a breakdown indicates a larger percentage was in the defensive and middle third.  The wide defender didn’t manage a touch in the Chelsea box throughout the game, something he managed to do twice last week when the Portuguese side actually created better openings with less possession.

Sanusi barely ventured forward on Wednesday night and the team’s lopsided approach bore little fruit as they failed to muster any reasonable effort on Mendy’s goal, with neither side registering an effort on target in the first half.

Zaidu Sanusi of FC Porto

This lack of adventure was probably a consequence of the Blues’ early approach of attempting quick switches of play to Reece James — prompting the Nigerian to be more conservative throughout the half — as well as N’Golo Kante’s presence on that side of the pitch. Conceicao probably marked Jorginho as the weaker of the pair and attempted to exploit the Italy international’s defensive weakness.

After half-time, though, there was a concerted effort to send crosses into the London club’s box, and Sanusi was central to this approach…particularly after Taremi’s introduction when Conceicao’s team showed more adventure by playing two up top.  

The away side attempted to take advantage of the left-back’s usually dangerous crossing but to no avail. Sanusi attempted all five crosses after half-time (and the majority after Taremi came on) — the first in the 53rd minute with the final attempt coming in stoppage time — regardless, none was threatening enough to disrupt Chelsea’s rather comfortable defence.

Porto’s inability to get Sanusi into the game quickly and the left-back’s strangely off-key crossing were low points, especially as he’d shown the menace he carries going forward in the reverse fixture against Juventus in Turin.

In the opening half against the Old Lady, the Nigerian and opposing right-back, Juan Cuadrado, tried to outdo each other in possession, which made for one of the interesting, yet diminished, subplots of an entertaining match at the Juventus Stadium.

Conceicao may feel aggrieved by events in the last eight, however, his decision to not introduce his top-scoring forward until the last half-hour was ill-advised. That call, and not counting on one of the team’s attacking threats in Sanusi early enough ought to be playing on the manager’s mind, especially if he truly believes his team deserved to progress to the next round.

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