FC Barcelona (1st, 9pts) vs FC Porto (2nd, 9pts)*
*Standings at the time of writing
Competition/Round: 2023-24 Champions League, Group H, Matchday 5
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Gavi (out), Sergi Roberto, Marc-André ter Stegen (doubt)
Porto Outs & Doubts: Iván Marcano, Wendell, Zaidu Sanusi (out), Pepe (doubt)
Date/Time: Tuesday, November 28, 2023, 9pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8pm GMT (UK), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Wednesday)
Venue: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Montjuïc, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA)
VAR: Massimiliano Irrati (ITA)
How to watch on TV: TUDN (USA), TNT Sports 4 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), SONY TEN 5 (India), Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), others
Following a disappointing draw away to Rayo Vallecano in La Liga at the weekend, Barcelona return to action after a quick turnaround for a massive European night as they welcome FC Porto for their penultimate Champions League group stage match at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium.
Saying this is a huge game would be a massive understatement: Barça will qualify for the Round of 16 with three points or a draw if Shakhtar Donetsk fail to beat Royal Antwerp in the group’s other game, which is an early kickoff and will clarify the picture for the Catalans before the game begins.
A loss combined with a Shakhtar win in the other game would put Barça third in the group ahead of the trip to Belgium to face Antwerp, and in real danger of going to the Europa League for the third straight season.
Barça come into this one in poor form both in terms of results and especially in terms of performances, though the showing against Rayo was somewhat better and offered some encouraging signs in possession thanks to the return of Frenkie de Jong.
The Dutchman helped stabilize what had been a shaky buildup phase in recent weeks, but the issues up front remain and are the biggest factor for Barça’s slump since the end of October. The attacking players struggle to create chances in the final third, and Robert Lewandowski has very little service to work with.
Xavi Hernández can try and come up with solutions but the simple truth is that individual players aren’t performing up to the standard they set earlier this season, and until they return to their best there’s only so much the coach or the defenders and midfielders can do. And against FC Porto, a team that doesn’t concede many chances, the front players’ ability to create and finish chances is even more important.
As they proved in the first meeting between these two, which Barça somehow won, Porto will press high and play very physical defense in midfield to break down the rhythm of Barça’s passing, and finding spaces in their well-organized defensive structure is not easy. Chances won’t come often in this one, and the pressure is on Barça’s forwards to finish them when they happen.
Porto can also hurt Barça with the ball, and Mehdi Taremi was an absolute nightmare for the Blaugrana’s defense at the Estádio do Dragão two months ago. He’ll use his size and strength to create problems again, and young Iñaki Peña will be asked to come up big in goal with Marc-André ter Stegen expected to miss out again with a back injury.
Porto know how to play big away games in Europe, having knocked out some massive teams in the past few years with good defensive play and timely counter-attacks. They will rely on the same plan for this one, and will look to feast on Barça’s low confidence if the Blaugrana struggle to get an early goal and the pressure begins to mount in front of what will be a tense home crowd.
It’s been a very long time since a memorable European night in the Catalan capital, but this needs to be one of them. Barça must win, and more importantly, must play well to boost their own confidence, avoid the final matchday drama and book a spot in the knockouts for the first time under Xavi.
Everything is at stake. Time to step up.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Peña; Cancelo, Araujo, Kounde, Balde; Pedri, De Jong, Gündogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Félix
Porto (4-4-2): Costa; Mário, Grujic, Cardoso, Franco; Pepê, Eustáquio, Varela, Galeno; Taremi, Evanilson
I have zero confidence in this team right now, but I also don’t want to imagine a third straight season in the Europa League so I have no choice but to try and be optimistic even though everything tells me we are in for a bad night: 1-0 Barça.