Barcelona maintained their unbeaten Champions League record and won their group on Tuesday night after easily beating Sporting CP 2-0 at the Camp Nou.
There was a rare start for Thomas Vermaelen after Samuel Umtiti’s picked up a hamstring injury during the weekend’s disappointing 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo, which will keep him out for at least two months.
Lionel Messi was rested, allowing Paco Alcacer his first European appearance of the season. Sporting’s star striker Bas Dost was surprisingly left on the bench, with attacking midfielder Alan Ruiz starting alone up front, much to the annoyance of their fans as hopes of qualification were slim but not impossible.
Barcelona appeared to start in cruise control knowing full well that they had already secured the top spot in Group D. Luis Suarez had the only opportunity of the first-half, as he delightfully flicked the ball around an onrushing Sporting defender but could only toe poke the ball straight at Rui Patricio.
The only negative of the game came when Nelson Semedo received a soft yellow card which rules him out of the first leg of the round of 16. ?
Barcelona finally broke through in the 59th minute when in-form striker Alcacer headed in from a corner, a first goal on his first Champions League appearance of the season. This didn’t prompt them to take their foot off the gas – if anything it did the opposite as just one minute later, Messi came on in place of right-back Aleix Vidal.
In the 62nd minute, Jasper Cillessen was called upon for the first time after Gelson Martins’ delightful cross put the ball on a platter for Dost, but the Dutchman’s shot was straight at his compatriot and the two shared an embrace afterwards in recognition of the fantastic reflex save.
Barcelona’s star man Lionel Messi almost doubled their lead with eight minutes remaining but his curling left-footed shot was at a comfortable height for Patricio to palm away. Sporting instantly replied on the counter but their marksman Dost could not keep his volley on target as the ball fell from the heavens.
The Catalan club again almost added to their lead in the 89th minute as Messi played through Alcacer beautifully but his shot was blocked, with the deflection bouncing just wide of Patricio’s goal.
They finally made it 2-0 in the last minute of the game and it was one of their former players who got the goal…
The unfortunate Jeremy Matheiu – who left Barca for Sporting on a free in the summer – could only turn the ball into his own net as he sprinted back to block Denis Suarez’s low cross.
Sporting will continue their European campaign in the Europa League as they finished third above bottom placed Olympiacos, whereas Barcelona await the draw on December 11 to find out their opponents for the Round of 16.