Barcelona’s story in Europe continued on Tuesday night with a clash against Porto at home. The clash was critical on many fronts, for not only the team’s very qualification but also their position as leaders hinged on the result.
Inaki Pena continued in goal for Barcelona on the night, with Jules Kounde and Inigo Martinez serving as the two centre-halves. Ronald Araujo started at right-back while Joao Cancelo was the left-back on duty.
Frenkie de Jong, Ilkay Gundogan, and Pedri Gonzalez started as the three midfielders on the night while Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski, and Joao Felix completed the lineup in the final third.
The game at Estadi Olimpic de Lluis Companys began evenly split between the two European giants with both teams taking turns to have a go at each other. The hosts looked to string together periods of possession while the latter were more interested in the counterattacks.
There was never a dull moment in the opening moments of the game, but the first tangible chance for any side came in the eighth minute when Raphinha’s low strike forced a save from Diogo Costa.
Barcelona pressed high in numbers and attacked with intent in the period that followed. Pedri, Gundogan, and Raphinha combined in tandem with the rest of the attack to create several half-chances, none of which were convincing unfortunately.
The 26th minute saw Porto put the ball in the back of the net after Taremi smartly beat Pena off an Evanilson cross. However, their celebration was quickly cut short after the goal was rightly disallowed for offside.
Riding on the wave of momentum, however, Porto maintained the high intensity in the moments that followed. Four minutes later, they had their reward.
The move stemmed from a Galeno run into the area before the trickster found Taremi in space. The Iranian forward’s effort was saved and fell for Galeno whose shot was once again saved by Pena.
The final rebound, however, fell at the boots of Pepe Aquino and the young Catalans goalkeeper could not do much about the strike.
Barcelona, for their part, did not need more than 90 seconds to equalise. On a quick counterattack, Pedri played the ball forward to Cancelo on the left flank to begin the move.
The Portuguese full-back smartly eliminated Mario with a body feint before striking the ball cleanly past Costa.
Minutes later, Barcelona had a golden chance to go ahead but Joao Felix’s shot failed to even hit the target from point-blank range. Raphinha and Pedri were gifted another such golden chance in the 42nd minute but that too went wasted.
Heading into the half-time break, Barcelona had yet again conceded first on the night. Luckily enough, they had found the equaliser and had a relatively easier mountain to climb ahead of them.
Moments after the restart, Joao Felix hit the post for Barcelona with a sublime shot before missing another half-chance a minute later. The Catalans restarted play with the same energy they left off but were just lacking the cutting edge in the final third.
The Portuguese starlet made amends for his missed chances, and in some style, in the 56th minute. Felix began the attack with an incisive run towards the Porto area and passed the ball to Cancelo just outside the area.
The full-back returned the ball with a central cut-back, and it fell at Felix’s feet for a straightforward finish. Barcelona had taken the lead for the first time in the game.
Cancelo’s exquisite pass to Felix in the 70th minute unlocked Porto’s defence yet again, and the youngster laid the ball off for Lewy. The veteran’s first touch was disappointing and messed the opportunity up.
Ferran Torres came on for Felix in the 74th minute.
The hosts very nearly conceded close to the 80-minute mark after a scramble in their own area. The hasty clearance laid the foundation for a counter attack which very nearly doubled Barcelona’s lead.
Joao Cancelo left the field of play for Alejandro Balde in the 81st minute.
The game eventually concluded with a 2-1 scoreline in the favour of Xavi Hernandez’s side.
Barcelona thus book their spot in the knockout stages for the first time in three seasons and are guaranteed the table-top spot.