19:45 KO (BST); Wednesday 27th September; Estádio José Alvalade (Lisbon, Portugal)
The two leaders of Group D meet in Lisbon, Portugal on Wednesday night hoping to continue their impressive starts to the Champions League group stage.
Sporting won away from home at Greek side Olympiacos, though their lead was under threat as the Greeks fought back with two goals in the final few moments of the game.If they struggled to see out a 3-0 lead against their Week 1 hosts, the scoreline might not look pretty when the Catalans come to town.
Barcelona, meanwhile, laid down a huge statement of intent in this year’s competition with a 3-0 victory over last year’s finalists Juventus, who shut them out and ultimately knocked them out in the quarter-final.
Last time out
Moreirense 1-1 SPORTING [Primeira Liga]
Sporting failed to maintain their 100% record in the Primeira Liga, falling to a 1-1 draw with Moreirense, which allowed rivals Porto to open a two-point gap at the top of the table.
Rafael Eduardo Costa opened the scoring for the hosts just before halftime and it took a stroke of fortune for Sporting to find an equaliser, through an own goal by Mohamed Abarhoun.
Despite retaining 68% of the ball, the contest was even throughout and Moreirense actually had more shots on target (5) than their visitors (2).
Girona 0-3 BARCELONA [La Liga]
Barcelona made it six wins from six in La Liga with a 3-0 victory over Catalan rivals Girona as they moved four points clear at the top of the table, putting some distance between themselves and Real Madrid.
The first two goals of the game were own goals from the hosts, who are in their first-ever season in La Liga, whilst Luis Suarez powered home the third after latching on to Sergi Roberto’s long ball.
Despite the expectation that Barcelona would struggle without Neymar, compounded by the injury to his replacement Ousmane Dembele, they find themselves top of the table with a 100% record.
Sporting boss Jorge Jesus has no injury issues ahead of this clash and he could field the same side that claimed all three points in Greece, which would see Jeremy Mathieu face his former club.
Ernesto Valverde will be without major summer signing Ousmane Dembele, whilst Rafinha, Arda Turan and Paco Alcacer are also sidelined.
After a strong 3-0 victory against Girona on the weekend, Valverde seems to have found a solution to the Dembele issue and he might opt for the same 4-4-2 formation that served him well in that game.
Key Battle: Jeremy Mathieu vs Luis Suarez
Lionel Messi will have a decisive influence on proceedings, but ignore Luis Suarez at your own peril.
The Uruguayan striker is up and running in La Liga with two goals in three games and he’s Barcelona’s main danger through the middle of the pitch.
He’s near impossible to track in and around the box and he’s capable of finishing from all areas of the pitch.
Ensuring he stays off the scoresheet is his former teammate Jeremy Mathieu. Having joined Sporting from Barcelona over the summer, the Frenchman knows all about Suarez’s game, facing him in training for the past three years.
It means his new teammates will look to him for instruction on how best to contain the threat posed by Suarez and fellow South American Messi.
Which formation is best?
The unexpected injury to Ousmane Dembele threw Valverde’s plans into the bin, with the new Barcelona boss forced to press the reset button. Resultantly, we saw a 4-4-2 on the weekend, perhaps to keep it simple to earn three points against La Liga’s new boys.
However, an away trip to Sporting won’t prove as easy and it will take more tinkering than a 4-4-2 to return home with all three points.
Crucially, it left Andres Iniesta playing out on the left flank. Against the speed of Gelson Martins and Marcos Acuna on Sporting’s flanks, this isn’t an ideal personnel match.
It leaves Jordi Alba with almost twice as much defensive slack to pick up and Sporting could overload that flank and make it difficult for the left-back.
Perhaps the best option, therefore, is to revert to a 4-3-3 and play Gerard Deulofeu. He’s quick, skilful and can track back when needed.
The right-back issue
Although Sergi Roberto is naturally a central midfielder, he deputised at right back last season ad Dani Alves was moved on to Juventus and has continued to do so this year whilst Nelson Semedo gets up to speed.
This may be his time to shine.
Semedo is rapid, whilst Roberto isn’t exactly the quickest, which could be an effective defensive weapon against Sporting’s Gelson Martins.
Having arrived at Barcelona from Benfica, Martins is an opponent Semedo knows fairly well and, thus, will have the upper hand on Roberto in knowing what his opponent will likely do in any situation.
PREDICTION: Sporting 0-2 Barcelona
Despite Valverde’s injury headache, Barcelona have the strength in depth to see off the threat of Sporting. They will see plenty of the ball and inevitably they’ll create opportunities. In theory, it would only be a matter of time before they broke the deadlock.
The key for the Catalans is staying focused. Sporting are a good side and they can cause their visitors problems on the counter-attack. If they remain switched on defensively and clinical in the final third, no such issues will materialise.
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