Will Lionel Messi be man-marked again and other talking points as Barcelona play away to Sporting Lisbon

Andy West 08:10 27/09/2017
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Barcelona will play against Sporting Libon in their second Group Stage game of the Champions League 2017-18 season.

As we get closer to the clash, here are a few talking points.

MATHIEU’S GRUDGE MATCH?

This might be an unkind suggestion, but Jeremy Mathieu has probably attracted more headlines in the last three days than he did in the last three years.

The French defender, who joined Sporting Lisbon this summer after spending the previous three campaigns with Barcelona, has been a busy man in the run-up to his reunion, giving plenty of interviews not exactly badmouthing his old club but making it clear that he had a breakdown in relations with manager Luis Enrique and president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and saying he regarded his former teammates as colleagues rather than friends.

Now the veteran central defender, who can also play at left-back but was widely decried whenever he did so for Barcelona, has his chance for some kind of revenge.

And although his prime task is in defence, he also offers a goal threat at the other end with his aerial power from set-pieces and his new-found ability to take free-kicks – something that was never allowed while he played at Barcelona.

And if he does score a late winner, it’s safe to say he won’t be following the recent trend by refusing to celebrate against his former team.

Jeremy Mathieu

Jeremy Mathieu

SEMEDO’S HAPPY RETURN?

A somewhat less controversial reunion will be enjoyed by Nelson Semedo, the Portuguese international right-back who was snapped up from Lisbon-based Benfica by Barca this summer for €30 million.

As he makes his return to his home city, Semedo can be happy with the start he has made to life at Barcelona, where he has established himself as the club’s first-choice right-back and suggested he can successfully fill the gaping hole left by the departure of Dani Alves two summers ago.

But Semedo is not without competition, with Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal also delivering decent performances in recent weeks, and it will be worth paying attention to which of the trio manager Ernesto Valverde plumps for today.

In fact, there’s a fair chance that two of them will play, with the mixed form of Gerard Deulofeu and the injury to Ousmane Dembele opening up a vacancy on the right wing.

And if Valverde decides to rest Ivan Rakitic or Andres Iniesta and field Roberto in midfield, we could even see all three of Barca’s right-backs starting at the same time.

Nelson Semedo

Nelson Semedo

MESSI MAN-MARKED AGAIN?

Barca’s most recent outing, a 3-0 victory at Girona on Saturday, has ignited a tactical debate over how Lionel Messi should best be handled by opposition managers.

Although they lost the game, Girona were successful in quelling that threat of the Barca star, who neither scored nor delivered an assist after being tightly man-marked by home team midfielder Pablo Maffeo, with Girona boss Pablo Machin admitting he wanted to take Messi out of the game and make it a nine versus nine contest.

That’s all well and good for a plucky little underdog like Girona, but for a big team like Sporting Lisbon playing in front of 50,000 home fans in the Champions League, it would be a pretty negative move to effectively sacrifice one of your players and Sporting boss Jorge Jesus is unlikely to repeat the strategy.

And, of course, Jesus will have almost certainly planned his approach long before this weekend and won’t suddenly change his plans on the basis of how Girona played. But as the season unfolds, it’ll be interesting to see whether man-marking Messi becomes a tactical theme.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

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