Barcelona welcome Portuguese giants Sporting CP to the Camp Nou tonight for their final game of Group D.
The Catalan giants have have already secured top spot on the group thanks to their better head-to-head record against Juventus. With 3 victories, 2 draws and 11 points to their name, they have already booked themselves a place in the knockout stages and this match is a mere formality.
That is not the case however, for Jorge Jesus’s men, who cannot afford to lose this game should they wish to even stand a chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds. They have 7 points to their name after 5 games played and they are a point behind Juventus, who have 8.
Should they beat Barcelona tonight, Juventus will have to either lose or draw against Olympiacos in Greece tonight and only then will the Leões secure qualification, otherwise they will have to settle for a place in the UEFA Europa League.
Team News & Tactics
Valverde is expected to be without the services of Andres Iniesta, Samuel Umtiti, Rafinha, Arda Turan, Ousmane Dembele and Javier Mascherano. As a result, we can expect to see a number of changes to the sude that started in that 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo last week.
Since they’ve already qualified as the winners of their group, Valverde will likely take the opportunity to hand some second string players a chance to strut their stuff. Jasper Cillessen could make his first Champions League appearance of the season in this game.
Nelson Semedo is expected to return at right back after being left out against Celta Vigo. Thomas Vermaelen is the only proper center-back available to replace the injured Javier Mascherano and Samuel Umtiti, so he is likely to start as well and Lucas Digne could start ahead of Jordi Alba on the left.
In midfield, Paulinho and Sergio Busquets are expected to hold onto their places in midfield, while Denis Suarez is expected to replace Andres Iniesta on the left. Paco Alcacer will likely come in and team up with Luis Suarez upfront and Lionel Messi will likely shift back to the right wing.
Probable Starting XI(4-4-2): Jasper Cillessen; Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Thomas Vermaelen, Lucas Digne; Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Paulinho, Denis Suarez; Luis Suarez, Paco Alcacer
Sporting are only expected to be without Jonathan Silva for this tie. Sebastian Coates will be available for selection having served his suspension as well. So Jorge Jesus will have a more or less full strength side at his disposal, and he will certainly need it for tonight.
There is only expected to be one major change to the starting XI that started in their narrow 1-0 victory against CF Belenenses on Friday, i.e. the Argentinian Rodrigo Battaglia coming into midfield alongside William Carvalho instead of striker Daniel Podence.
Rui Patricio will be in goal, with Fabio Coentrao, Sebastian Coates, Cristiano Piccini and former Barcelona man Jeremy Mathieu likely to make up the defence. William Carvalho and the aforementioned Battaglia will likely form the ‘double pivot’ in midfield.
Marcos Acuan and Gelson Martins will likely retain their place on the wings with Bruno Fernandes as the attacking midfielder between them and Bas Dost, who has been in blistering form this season will likely lead the line as a long striker.
Probable Starting XI(4-2-3-1): Rui Patricio; Cristiano Piccini, Sebastian Coates, Jeremy Mathieu, Fabio Coentrao; Rodrigo Battaglia, William Carvalho; Gelson Martins, Bruno Fernandes, Marcos Acuna; Bas Dost
- Barcelona have won each of the last 3 times they have faced Sporting CP in the UEFA Champions League.
- Barcelona are yet to be beaten in 21 games this season.
- Sporting CP have lost only 2 of their 23 games this season, both of which have come in the UEFA Champions League against Barcelona and Juventus.
- Barcelona have won only 3 of their last 7 games across all competitions, drawing the other 4.
- Barcelona have conceded only 1 goal in 5 UEFA Champions League matches so far.
Player To Watch
The Uruguayan hasn’t been having the best of seasons, but there have been signs that he is slowly beginning to find his form. He has 3 goals in his last 4 games in all competitions and will be desperate to open his account in the Champions League and what better place to do so than in front of his home fans.
Barcelona 1-1 Sporting CP
Ernesto Valverde does have some injuries to deal with in his squad and he may choose to give some fringe players an opportunity to start as they’ve already secured qualification. The visitors on the other hand, desperately need a victory if they are to have any chance of qualifying.
A draw or a loss would essentially result in them heading to the Europa League instead. So needless to say, Jorge Jesus’ men have a lot more to play for. Both sides are certainly capable of getting the goals, with both Messi and Bas Dost in great form this season.
The Blaugrana have been drawing a lot of matches lately and after Sporting’s performance in that narrow 0-1 loss in the reverse leg, they will certainly believe that they can come away from this tie victorious.