FC Porto (2nd, 3pts) vs FC Barcelona (1st, 3pts)*
*Standings at the time of writing on Tuesday
Competition/Round: 2023-24 Champions League, Group H, Matchday 2
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Raphinha (out)
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 4, 2023, 9pm CET (Barcelona), 8pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 12.30am IST (India, Thursday)
Venue: Estádio do Dragão, Porto, Portugal
Referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)
VAR: Stuart Attwell (ENG)
How to watch on TV: TUDN (USA), TNT Sports 6 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), SONY TEN 5 (India), Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), others
Following a hard-fought and crucial victory over Sevilla to maintain their unbeaten start to the La Liga season, Barcelona play the biggest game of their campaign so far as they travel to Portugal to meet FC Porto at the Estádio do Dragão on Wednesday night in their second Champions League group stage game.
Barça arrive in great form after going through the first two months without defeat and playing excellent football in all but one of their games in September. They’ve been inconsistent at the back but have made clear progress in their work with the ball, and Xavi Hernández has done a solid job using his squad’s depth to navigate key injuries and still be competitive in every game.
After a couple of easy wins following the international break the Blaugrana were seriously tested last week and passed those trials with good performances and great shows of character in different types of games that required different types of responses, and the team showed an ability to adapt and play their way into positive results.
But there’s one last hurdle to clear: an impressive performance in Europe away from home. Under Xavi there’s been only one great win on the road in continental play, and that was the Europa League Round of 32 win away to Napoli two seasons ago. Since then, however, it’s been a whole lot of disappointment in road games under the European floodlights, with the coach and the players shrinking in big moments and crashing out of competitions in sometimes embarrassing fashion.
This time, however, it does feel like Barça are ready to finally look like a force away from home again. The message from Xavi and the players throughout preseason was about being better in Europe after dominating La Liga last season, and they want to prove to themselves before anyone else that they are capable of being great in the Champions League again.
Beating Porto away in the second group stage game won’t answer all the questions for good, but it’d be a great start. Porto have been a fixture in European play forever and this specific team coached by Sérgio Conceição is an absolute nightmare to play against. They remind you of the early Diego Simeone Atlético Madrid teams that were extremely well organized defensively but were really known for their physicality and dominance in transition and set pieces, and they are ready to literally fight for every blade of grass.
Porto have knocked out big teams out of Europe using that formula and are especially difficult to face at home, with a crowd at the Estádio do Dragão that is close to the pitch and acts as a true 12th man regardless of how well the home side is playing. It’s a hostile environment that will be even more hostile towards Barça’s Portuguese duo of João Félix and João Cancelo, who both shined at Porto’s rival Benfica and are very much not liked by the fans of the Dragões.
This is a brutal test that will require mental toughness above everything else, and Xavi will need to use the smart game management he has displayed in recent weeks to make the right decisions throughout the 90 minutes. But the players also need to show that they’re ready for the fight and that they’ve put the continental embarrassments behind them.
When it comes to Barça’s position in the table, avoiding defeat is already a good result in what will be their toughest away match in the group. But if the Catalans want to show they intend to dominate the group, a big win in their toughest road test of the group stage is the perfect way to do that.
Show up ready to fight, weather the early storm, establish your attacking dominance and earn the three points. Porto will definitely not give it to you.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Kounde, Balde; Gündogan, Romeu, Gavi; Ferran, Lewandowski, Félix
Porto (4-2-3-1): Costa; Mário, Cardoso, Carmo, Wendell; Varela, Eustáquio; Galeno, Jaime, Pepê; Taremi
Porto are tough, physical, defensive and an absolute nightmare at home. This will be a real battle from the first second to minute 100, and I trust Barça will be ready for it: 2-1 to the good guys and an European away performance to be proud of. Finally.