Campbell Finlayson spoke to Sporting Clube de Portugal fan, @Sporting_Soul about their Champions League group and the prospect of facing Barcelona.
As a Sporting fan, what are your initial thoughts on the draw?
Sporting were drawn out of Pot 4, so everyone expected that they would likely be grouped with some of Europe’s best. Juventus and Barcelona are about as good (or bad, if you’re a Sportinguista) as it gets. And Olympiakos is not being overlooked. Last season, Sporting went toe-to-toe with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, so there will be respect for the other teams in the group, but not fear. Nonetheless, while the team has been transformed under Jorge Jesus, the reality is that surviving this group would take some amazing results.
How long have you been a Sporting fan and what made you start supporting them?
I have been a Sporting supporter for as long as I can remember. My parents are Portuguese immigrants and, like many Luso-Americans, I have always had a strong connection to Portuguese culture, including sport. My father is a Sporting supporter and he passed his passion for the club down to me.
Is there any past history between Sporting and Barcelona?
Sporting and Barcelona have played four times previously (FCB won 3, SCP 1). The last time they met was in the Champions League group stage in the 08/09 season. Barcelona won both matches, convincingly – 3-1 (Camp Nou) and 2-5 (Alvalade). It was men against boys then. Paulo Bento was the manager of Sporting and fielded academy products like João Moutinho, Daniel Carriço, and a 20 year-old Rui Patrício. I remember watching those matches and marveling at how Messi, who was then at the beginning of his ascent to greatness, seemed to be playing a different game than Sporting. While Barcelona is still one of the top teams in the world, I think the disparity in talent between the teams is much narrower this time.
When Barcelona visit the Estadio Jose Alvalade what kind of atmosphere can they expect?
The Alvalade (along with the club in general) has seen a resurgence in recent years, after the dark days of 2013 when the club finished 7th in the league. The supporters groups are consolidated at the south end of the stadium (Curva Sul). Before each match, the fans sing “O Mundo Sabe Que” (to the tune of “My Way”), which always gets the goosebumps going. Expect a capacity crowd that will cheer until the final whistle, no matter the scoreline.
Have Sporting done much transfer business this summer?
Sporting have done a good amount of business this summer window. They have spent big (given their financial reality) on Bruno Fernandes and Marcos Acuña. They brought in some much needed experience in defence with Fabio Coentrão (loan) and Jeremy Mathieu, and another proven striker in Seydou Doumbia. The big sale of the summer came at the last minute of the transfer window (and unfortunately for Leicester City, 14 seconds beyond) with the sale of Adrien Silva. Beyond that, centre back Ruben Semedo joined Villarreal for €14 million.
How is Jorge Jesus likely to set the team up tactically and if all players are fit, what would the starting 11 be?
Adrien Silva was the team’s leader and an integral part of Jorge Jesus’s tactics. How the team adjusts to his departure remains to be seen. His replacement in the XI will likely be Bruno Fernandes, with Alan Ruiz stepping in to play behind Dost.
Rui Patrício, Fábio Coentrão, Sebastian Coates, Jeremy Mathieu, Cristiano Piccini, William Carvalho, Alan Ruiz, Marcos Acuña, Gelson Martins, Bruno Fernandes, Bas Dost.
Who is your main player that Barcelona will need to stop if they’re going to get a result against Sporting?
Bas Dost, who finished second behind Messi for the Golden Boot last season, is the main scoring threat for Sporting. However, the most dynamic player on the team is winger Gelson Martins. He has pace and fantastic ball control and has started the season well, scoring three goals in five matches. Since his standout displays in last year’s Champions League, he has had many of Europe’s sharks asking about his availability.
What are Sporting’s expectations in the champions league this season?
The goal is third place and a spot in Europa League, with the hope/dream/prayer that somehow Sporting can knock out a titan and reach second place.