Portuguese giants host another Spanish great in a Champions League cracker that is motivated by the race for the top spot. Here is a preview
The UEFA Champions League is the tournament that keeps on giving as it pits national heavyweights against each other in a continental setting. One such occasion would see the first and second go head-to-head in Group H with FC Porto on home soil against Barcelona.
After finishing runners-up behind Benfica in last season’s league campaign, Sergio Conceicao’s charges are unbeaten in the Portuguese league this season but the goals are yet to flow with regularity as all of their wins were by the odd goal.
Moreirense were the first to face Porto in the Primeira Liga as they went down 2-1, the same scoreline with which they defeated Farense and Rio Ave thanks to very late goals from Ivan Marcano. Porto spurned several chances – including a penalty – against Arouca who were close to snatching a late win at the Estadio do Dragao just before the September international break but another goal in added time, this time by Evanilson, saved a point.
On the return from national team duties, Mehdi Taremi ended a five-game goalless run – his longest for the club since December 2021 – to see off Estrela. The Iranian was at it again when Porto dispatched Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 in an intense first 45 minutes that saw them rush into an early lead and resist a fightback from their opponents.
That result on Matchday 1 in the Champions League leaves Porto behind the Spanish champions only on goal difference, now they meet for a top-of-the-table clash.
The Dragons are well capable of getting under the skin of possession-based sides such as Barcelona, and their appetite for late goals and chaotic games this season will be important in potentially turning around a result.
Xavi’s Barcelona are understandable favourites for this game and the entire group but this is perhaps their biggest test of the first round of the competition. This stubborn Porto side will be giving it their all and playing for pride in front of their home crowd.
The 2022/23 La Liga winners will be undaunted, however, given their form and the wealth of talent at their disposal.
Barca travelled to Getafe on their opening evening of the La Liga season as they played out a feisty encounter with a red card each for both sides. The first home game of the season saw them dispatch Cadiz 2-0 late on before they were involved in another crazy encounter at Villarreal where they won 4-3.
Osasuna were Barca’s next victims by a 2-1 scoreline and their title credentials got a further boost on the return from international football when they won the next two games 5-0.
Real Betis and Royal Antwerp in the Champions League left Camp Nou with Joao Felix having scored three and assisted another over the 180 minutes.
These results see them top of the early La Liga table as well as their Champions League group by virtue of goals scored.
Furthermore, the Blaugranas have won four of their five Champions League games against Porto and can look forward to another win considering their stable defence that has kept a clean sheet in four league and UCL games this season.
Xavi will be desperate for his side to come out tops in this encounter after they slipped into the Europa League in each of his two seasons in charge. Qualifying as group winners is the aim and beating Porto away is simply a notable step towards that.
The game is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 4 October with an 8 PM UK time kick-off. Tickets have already been on sale via each individual club’s website but you can very much expect the match to be a sell-out at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto.
Both clubs will be well-represented by fans from their neighbouring countries and home tickets will not be easy to find considering the pedigree of their visitors. Supporters hoping to attend the game may be lucky to find FC Porto vs Barcelona tickets on ticket reselling sites.
Evanilson, Ivan Marcano and Gabriel Veron are ruled out while Zaidu Sanusi also went off injured against Shakhtar and is expected to miss the Barcelona clash
Hence, Wendell will replace the Nigerian in the lineup from their last UCL match.
Barca have slightly better luck in the injury department as Ronald Araujo returned from a minor setback against Celta as a halftime substitute.
Talismanic midfielder Pedri is set to miss out on the trip to Portugal as he nears a return from a hamstring injury.
Conceicao will be trusting his strongest team to get a result against Barcelona and they will aim to frustrate their Spanish counterparts.
Par for the course, substitutes will also be key for Porto as their manager tends to successfully roll the dice in an effort to turn the game in their favour.
Porto: Costa; Joao Mario, Pepe, Carmo, Wendell; Varela, Estaquio; Franco, Jaime, Galeno; Taremi
Robert Lewandowski’s goal against Antwerp made him the oldest player to score for Barca in the Champions League at 35 years and 29 days. He will once again be vital for his side who must take their chances in a tricky game.
He will be joined in attack by the in-form Felix who is enjoying a dream start to life in Catalunya. The Portugal international possesses the guile, trickery and momentum to punish his compatriots and can be decisive in the final result of the match.
Barcelona: ter Stegen; Cancelo, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Romeu, de Jong, Gundogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Felix
For all of Porto’s determination and industry, they are not unbeatable. Although they have shown an incredible ability to recover from in-game setbacks this season, the lack of control to always concede a goal is a worrying sign.
They have so far been able to beat their opponents by scoring an extra goal but they face a side who are free-scoring and will not be content with a single-goal lead. Hence, this could end with a high scoreline.
Porto 2-4 Barcelona