Much-changed Barca too good for Sporting

BARCELONA (AFP) – 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 yesterday.

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.

Sporting’s Uruguayan defender Sebastien Coates challenges Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi. – AFP

“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.”

Luis Suarez provided the spark when he cut inside his 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.

Bas Dost had a huge chance to hand Sporting a point, but he was left in disbelief after Jasper Cillessen 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.