After a sixth consecutive win to start the La Liga season at the weekend, Barcelona return to action on Wednesday night with a trip to Portugal for the first Champions League away match of the season, against Sporting Lisbon at the José Alvalade.
Most people don’t care about Portuguese football and will think Barça must win by four or five goals, but that’s definitely not the case. Sporting deserve loads of respect and are incredibly difficult to beat their stadium, which is one of the most hostile atmospheres in Europe. Sporting fans love their team and sometimes win games for them, and they’ll definitely be up for it against Barça.
The Blaugrana could reach six points in the first two games and open up a three-point lead over Sporting and Juventus (if they beat Olympiacos in Italy), so a victory will be crucial and a big step toward winning the group. Sporting have some very good players on the wings and one of the biggest aerial threats in the world, so they’ll definitely cause Barça problems.
The Catalan giants will need to play their best football, and any win, pretty or ugly, should be celebrated. Seriously, this will be really tough.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Wednesday, September 27, 2017, 8:45pm CET, 7:45pm (UK & Nigeria), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (USA), 12:15am IST (India, Thursday)
Venue: José Alvalade, Lisbon, Portugal
Television: Fox Sports 2 (USA), BT Sport Extra (UK), Canal+ Sport 3 (Nigeria), beIN SPORTS (Canada), SONY TEN 3 (India)
Online streaming: Fox Sports GO (USA), BT Sport Live Streaming (UK), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
For European matches, there’s not much doubt when it comes to lineup selection, and that’s especially the case with Ernesto Valverde, who isn’t a fan of rotations as it is. Against such a dangerous team that has threats on the ground and in their, Barça will need their best players ready to go.
We seem to already have a Gala XI picked this season, and that’s what we’re going to see on the pitch on Wednesday night. The only change to what is likely to be Barça’s strongest lineup this season is enforced, with Gerard Deulofeu coming in for the injured Ousmane Dembélé. Deulofeu needs to step up his game for the next few months until Dembélé’s return, and having a good performance at a tough stadium in an European match will be a good statement of Deulofeu’s development in this early season.
The most important part of the team will be the left side, because that’s where Gelson Martins will play. Gelson is the most promising and dangerous player on the Sporting team and combines unbelievable pace with skill and scoring prowess, and he’ll be the outlet for almost every counter-attacking chance Sporting have in the game.
Because Jordi Alba loves to attack so much and his overlapping runs are so important in Valverde’s system, Samuel Umtiti will be required to stretch wide and deal with Martins’ pace if the Portuguese international manages to get in behind Alba. Nélson Semedo will also have a tough time on the right side with Marcos Acuña, who’s a very good crosser and will deliver dangerous balls into the box, and that’s where Bas Dost will be waiting. The Dutchman is ridiculously good in the air, and Gerard Piqué really needs to be at the top of his game to deal with Dost.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta will have a tough time against William Carvalho and Rodrigo Battaglia, two tall and strong defensive midfielders who love to muscle small, creative midfielders off the ball, and William in particular will keep a close eye on Lionel Messi.
Up front, along with Deulofeu, Luis Suárez will certainly be boosted by the goal he scored against Girona. Even though he was offside about a billion times, the Uruguayan finally found the net and that will help his confidence. Suárez needs to regain his usual form and Messi will need his help to break down a Sporting defense led by former Blaugrana Jérémy Mathieu, so it’ll be very interesting to see if Suárez will struggle against the Smoking Grandpa.
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Deulofeu, Messi, Suárez
Rui Patrício; Piccini, Coates, Mathieu, Coentrão; William, Battaglia; Martins, Fernandes, Acuña; Dost
This definitely will not be easy and Sporting could prove to be a nightmare on the counter, but Barça will find a way to get the win: 2-1 to the visitors.