In a highly uneventful showing at the Camp Nou, Barcelona emerged victorious against Sporting in their last Champions League before the winter break. While neither team showed much, Barcelona did enough to earn three points, with Paco Alcacer scoring the winning goal. The insurance goal came late in the contest through an own goal from Jeremy Mathieu.
As expected, Ernesto Valverde rotated heavily in this formality game for the Catalan side, offering numerous squad players a chance to stake their claim. Slightly surprisingly though, not a single Barcelona B player even made the bench, even with all the personnel problems in the heart of the defense. Gerard Pique and Thomas Vermaelen started there, with Nelson Semedo and Lucas Digne on both flanks playing in front of Jasper Cillessen. Further up the pitch, Ivan Rakitić and Luis Suarez were the only two regulars to start. Aleix Vidal, Denis Suarez, Alcacer and Andre Gomes, returning from injury, completed the fold.
Barcelona started brightly, launching a quick attack just moments after the opening whistle but Vidal was unable to find a teammate in the danger area. The Catalans were looking to force turnovers high up the pitch when not in possession, and in the 9th minute, Suarez almost created a scoring opportunity from such a turnover, but he was lacking support in the middle to convert the chance.
Barcelona were the better team on the pitch, but they were unable to test Rui Patricio in goal. The hosts didn’t take a shot until the 12th minute, but even then Denis aimed high and wide. Five minutes later, Vidal tried his luck from the edge of the area, but the fate of his shot was similar to previously mentioned one from Denis. Moments later, Gomes missed the near post from distance by about a foot.
Barcelona finally tested Patricio in the 25th minute, when Suarez brilliantly shed his marker to win space inside the penalty area. From a difficult angle the Uruguayan put a good shot on goal, but Patricio made an even better save.
For the most part, Barcelona shut down the visitors almost completely, but around the half hour mark, Sporting launched a couple attacks. While the visitors struggled to get anywhere near Cillessen, they often looked dangerous, and on one of the attacks Semedo was forced to make a foul to stop a counter, earning him a yellow card and an automatic one-match ban.
The action died almost completely in the final 10 minutes of the half and both sides seemingly went through the motions to get the game to halftime. With Juventus leading at the break against Olympiacos, Sporting had to score to have any hope of a shock advancement to the next round, so manager Jorge Jesus brought on plenty of firepower before the restart in the likes of Bas Dost and Gelson Martins.
But it would be Barcelona who would create the first scoring chance of the second half, but Vidal’s shot from a good position was blocked for just the first Barcelona corner kick of the night. Barcelona continued to attack, though with little or no urgency in play chances were (very) few and (very) far between. Still, in the 59th minute, Barcelona took the lead. Denis swung in a cross from the corner kick, finding Alcacer on the near post who sent a perfect header over the goalkeeper and inside the far post.
At the one hour mark, there was more excitement at the Camp Nou as Lionel Messi replaced Vidal on the pitch. Two minutes later, the visitors had their by far best chance to score. The cross came in from the right side and in front of Cillessen, Dost was left all alone by the Barcelona central defenders. With no marker in sight, Dost redirected the ball on goal, but somehow his compatriot in the Barcelona goal made the save.
In the 64th minute, Valverde made his second substitution, as Sergio Busquets took Pique’s place in the heart of the Barcelona defense, probably to give him some minutes there with all the injuries at the center-back position. Ten minutes later, Saurez made way for Paulinho.
With Barcelona up by one and Juventus in the lead, Sporting had little fate of a prolonged Champions League stay. Occasionally, the visitors did attack, Dost had a decent opportunity to tie the game in the 83rd minute, but it was Barcelona that controlled the game. They made little effort to dominate it, but they controlled it through ball possession and constant pressing, but creativity was badly lacking. But the hosts had the occasional chance to increase the lead, one of the best coming moments before Dost’ aforementioned chance, but Messi’s perimeter shot was excellently saved by Patricio.
In the dying moments of the game, Alcacer would have a good opportunity to score his second Champions League goal of the season – in just his first (!) game in Europe this season. The Spaniard was set up by a lovely Messi pass, but a diving block prevented celebrations. In added time, however, Barcelona doubled the lead. Denis sent a dangerous low ball toward Alcacer in the middle, but before it could reach the striker, old friend Mathieu dove in and redirected the ball past his own goalkeeper for the second Sporting own goal against Barcelona, with Sebastián Coates scoring the first.
The formalities were therefore over and Barcelona, as was already known before kickoff, finished the Group Stage in first place. As a result the Catalans will be seeded for the draw that will be performed on Monday, 11 December. For Barcelona the Champions League goes on hiatus until February, but until then the Catalans will face plenty of action, the first coming on Sunday against Villarreal.