Two-time European Cup winners Porto are more accustomed to playing in the Champions League and tend to do rather well when they drop down to the second-tier continental competition.
This is only the third season in the past 25 that Porto have not featured in the Champions League, a competition in which they reached the quarter-finals last term before suffering a 6-1 aggregate loss to eventual winners Liverpool.
On the previous two occasions they have made their absence from the big cup count: Jose Mourinho’s coming side winning the Uefa Cup final against Celtic in 2003, and the Europa League in 2011. They have won the European Cup/Champions League twice - the last occasion being under Mourinho in 2004 - but have failed to compete in continental competition after Christmas for 13 years. This season’s away goals loss to Russian side Krasnodar in the Champions League play-off came as a big shock to last year’s Portuguese league runners-up.
A SMART COACH
Sergio Conceicao is the man who scratched an itch for the club that Paulo Fonseca, Nuno Espirito Santo and Julen Lopetegui could not by leading Porto to the title in 2017-18, a year after taking charge.
Their first championship for five seasons, it ended their longest separation from the top domestic honours since the early 1980s.
The 44-year-old former Portuguese winger began his coaching career as a No 2 at Standard Liege, before he took over at Olhanense. From there he had short stints with Academica, Braga and Vitoria Guimaraes before a brief but impressive spell with Nantes led him to Porto.
Considered to favour a flexible 4-4-2, he deviated with a 4-3-3 in the Europa League defeat away to Feyenoord, with a lesson perhaps learned.
Porto spend big in the transfer market; but only because they sell bigger. The club invested €60 million in arrivals during the summer.
They brought in €80m in sales, with €50m of that banked from Brazilian centre-back Eder Militaos’ move to Real Madrid.
That money made its way back out with a €12m fee lavished on Japanese winger Shoya Nakajima from Qatar (with complex rights arrangements). They also recruited Argentine pair Augustin Marchesin and Renzo Saravia – keeper and centre-back respectively – for €14m.
The real success story, though, has been Ze Luis, the Cape Verde striker who cost €8.5m from Spartak Moscow, and faced Rangers in the competition group stage last year (failing to score against them).
Centre-back Pepe is the storied name in the set-up. The 36-year-old Portuguese defender returned for a second spell with Porto in the summer after leaving Besiktas but is best known for his ten years with Real Madrid which yielded three Champions League successes and three La Liga titles.
He was at the heart of his country’s Euro 2016 triumph but this week has been quoted as talking of revenge against Rangers, having played the Ibrox men in the Champions League group stages of 2005-06, when Alex McLeish’s men edged them out for a place in the knock-out stages with a 1-1 draw in Porto following a thrilling 3-2 home win at Ibrox.
STORY OF THE SEASON SO FAR
They currently lie third in the Portuguese league, despite posting six straight victories since an opening day defeat away to Gil Vicente.
Europe hasn’t proved as profitable as expected. A 3-2 loss at home to Krasnodar – on the back of winning 1-0 in Russia – was a huge upset that put paid to them reaching the Champions League group stage.
They began Europa League Group G as firm favourites, but they followed up an opening matchday home win against Young Boys of Berne with an insipid 2-0 reverse in Rotterdam against Feyenoord, leaving them plenty of work to do to justify their tag as group heavyweights.