Barcelona will look to continue their perfect start to the season when they travel to Estadio Jose Alvalade to face Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday
Matchday 2 of the group stage in the UEFA Champions League concludes on Wednesday as the remaining four groups complete their set of fixtures. In Group D, the top two sides go head-to-head as Sporting Lisbon play hosts to Barcelona with top spot on the lines.
The Portuguese heavyweights kicked off their group stage campaign in exciting fashion as they outplayed Olympiacos by the odd goal in five. Back home, Jorge Jesus’ men are unbeaten as they sit second in the Portuguese Primeira Liga behind Porto, although their most recent result was a disappointing 1-1 draw at Moreirense.
The visitors, too, began their 2017-18 Champions League campaign on a winning note, easily beating Juventus 3-0 in their opening fixture. In fact, Ernesto Valverde’s men have won each of their games this season, with a perfect record in La Liga as well – the most recent success was a 3-0 win at Girona.
The two sides have previously met just twice, in the group stage of the same competition in 2008-09, with Barcelona winning each of the games. Ahead of their latest meeting on Wednesday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Jorge Jesus boasts a clean bill of health ahead of the visit of Barcelona on Wednesday, with absolutely no injury concerns on his hands. Portuguese winger Daniel Podence is the latest player off the treatment table, having recovered from a finger injury he sustained against Maritimo two weeks ago.
Therefore, Jesus will have his strongest possible starting eleven starting against the formidable visitors on the night. The player under the spotlight for the hosts, meanwhile, will be Jeremy Mathieu, who joined the Portuguese outfit from Barcelona this past summer.
Expected to feature on Wednesday, the Frenchman has been outspoken about the way his stint at Camp Nou ended, which did not happen on good terms at all. Alongside Sebastian Coates, Mathieu will be responsible for shoring up the back-line and keep his former teammates at bay.
Up front, Seydou Doumbia, Alan Ruiz and Gelson Martins will have the onus on them to score the all-important goals that could possibly spring a surprise, while William Carvalho will bear the responsibility of keeping things quiet at the centre of the park.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Rui Patricio; Piccini, Coates, Mathieu, Coentrao; Carvalho, Bruno Fernandes; Martins, Ruiz, Cesar; Doumbia
Unlike his counterpart in the Sporting Lisbon dugout, Ernesto Valverde cannot boast of a clean bill of health. But, the Barcelona boss does not have many pressing injury concerns either, with only two key first-team players on the treatment table.
Summer signing Ousmane Dembele is the major absentee though, sidelined due to a hamstring injury that he picked up two weeks ago. The Frenchman has had surgery to correct the problem and is expected to be out of action for at least the next two months.
In Dembele’s absence, Gerard Deulofeu is expected to line up in attack alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, although Aleix Vidal is in contention as well. Rafinha is the other player who is unavailable, but is on the return trail as he completes his recovery from a knee injury that has kept him on the sidelines since April.
The defensive unit picks itself, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba likely to start. In midfield, Ivan Rakitic is likely to line up alongside Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, although Paulinho and Denis Suarez have been impressive in recent weeks.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Luis Suarez, Deulofeu
- Sporting Lisbon and Barcelona have previously met twice in the Champions League, in the group stage of the 2008-09 season, with the Catalans winning each of those games.
- Barcelona have a perfect 100% record at the start of the season, winning each of their seven games so far.
- Sporting Lisbon are unbeaten at the start of the season as well, although they have drawn two of their nine games so far in the campaign.
- Barcelona have lost three of their last four games away from home in the UEFA Champions League.
- The match could be a high scoring affair, with Sporting finding the back of the net in six of their last seven home games in the Champions League, with Barcelona conceding in 11 of their last 14 away days.
Player To Watch
Barcelona have surprised many with their rampant form at the start of the season. Goals have rarely been hard to come by for Ernesto Valverde’s men, with Lionel Messi in particular playing at his very best levels.
Therefore, in all likelihood, the visitors are going to be a tough proposition for Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday. One man, who has the potential to negate the threat of their attack to a large extent is William Carvalho.
Sitting in front of his side’s defence, the Portugal international will need to read all the dangers well in order to thwart the dangers posed by the likes of Messi and Andres Iniesta. If he succeeds in doing so, Sporting might just pull off a huge upset.
Sporting Lisbon 2-3 Barcelona
Wednesday’s Group D encounter brings together two sides that have are among the most in-form outfits in Europe. Unbeaten and often scoring goals for fun, the match at Estadio Jose Alvalada could be a high scoring affair.
While the hosts will attack with a lot of pace to test a Barcelona defensive unit that has looked slightly vulnerable in recent week, Ernesto Valverde has the rampaging Lionel Messi. The Argentine could just be the difference maker on the night, which is why we go with an odd-goal win in five for Barcelona.