FC Porto go to Málaga CF on Wednesday firmly hoping that João Moutinho is back in contention.
Moutinho gave the Portuguese title holders a 1-0 advantage in their round of 16 tie with the only goal in last month's first leg at Estádio do Dragão, but has missed the Dragons' last two fixtures with a thigh injury. How Porto have missed him.Vítor Pereira's Moutinho-less side drew 0-0 at Sporting Clube de Portugal on 2 March and dropped below rivals SL Benfica at the Portuguese summit for the first time since September. Steven Defour has filled in admirably, but Moutinho is unique.
He was always expected to sit out Friday's win against GD Estoril-Praia as Pereira looked ahead to Málaga, but, as sports daily O Jogo put it: "When Moutinho is missing, it's always news." However, it was only as recently as UEFA EURO 2012 that it became apparent to an international audience that Moutinho really is one of the finest midfielders in Europe.
Initially an attacking midfielder during his seven seasons with Sporting, he tended to assume a deeper role upon moving to Porto in 2010. The 26-year-old helped to form a defensive fulcrum on which the more explosive talents in André Villas-Boas' team – such as Falcao and Hulk – worked their magic.
Given his contribution to Porto, it is little wonder that Villas-Boas reportedly made extensive efforts to bring Moutinho to his current club, UEFA Europa League contenders Tottenham Hotspur FC, last summer. Moutinho has developed into the ultimate box-to-box midfielder – sharp in the tackle and with an uncommonly good eye for the killer pass.
He has even worked on his shooting under the guidance of one of Porto's 2004 UEFA Champions League heroes, Maniche. The winner against Málaga in the first leg was his fifth goal of the season, but Manuel Pellegrini knows Moutinho is to be feared whether scoring, supplying or defending.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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