Much-changed Barca still too good for Sporting
Barcelona rounded off an unbeaten Champions League group stage as Paco Alcacer’s header and a late own goal from Jeremy Mathieu secured a 2-0 win over Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.
Juventus will join the Spanish giants in the last 16 after they too were 2-0 victors away at Olympiakos, relegating Sporting to the consolation of a place in the Europa League in the new year.
With Barcelona already guaranteed top spot in Group D, Lionel Messi was left on the substitutes’ bench for the second consecutive Champions League game as Ernesto Valverde made eight changes from the side that started Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo.
Sporting needed to inflict Barca’s first home defeat in the Champions League for five years to have any chance of joining the Catalans in the knockout stages.
However, the Portuguese side showed little ambition until falling behind.
“They were the ones that had the obligation to win the game, but they waited until making changes in the second half to try to beat us,” Valverde told BeIN Sports Spain.
“We are always obliged to try and take the game to the opponents for the team we have and the style this club has played with for many years.
“Sometimes we do it in a more brilliant way than others, but our intention is always the same.”
Barca pressed for an opener before the break but lacked the magic Messi so often provides to unlock a packed defence.
Luis Suarez nearly provided the spark when he cut inside Uruguayan international teammate Sebastian Coates, but placed his shot too close to Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Alcacer opened the scoring just before the hour mark by flicking home Denis Suarez’s corner at the near post past a helpless Patricio.
And despite going in front, Valverde still handed Messi the final half-hour moments later as he replaced Aleix Vidal.
Bas Dost had a huge chance to at least hand Sporting a point, but he was left hugging fellow Dutchman Jasper Cillessen in disbelief after the Barca ‘keeper parried his effort from point-blank range.
A fifth clean sheet in six Champions League games means Barca have so far proved the meanest defence in the competition.
“It is true we are performing well on that front and our goalkeepers are giving us a lot,” added Valverde. “Today Cillessen had an extraordinary save.”
Messi was denied his 98th Champions League goal by a stunning stop from Patricio 10 minutes from time.
However, Barca got hand a helping from one of their former players to round off the scoring in stoppage time when Mathieu turned Denis Suarez’s cross into his own net with Alcacer waiting to apply the finishing touch once more.
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