The Champions League, the club competition that generates the most excitement in Europe, is back. It is also FC Barcelona‘s return to the tournament after falling to the Europa League for two consecutive seasons, in which they hope to turn the situation around and have a better performance.
For now and, unlike last year, they have been lucky with their group stage draw. In the initial phase of the competition, they will face the runners-up of the Betclic Portuguese League, FC Porto, who, at first sight, will be their toughest opponents; the Ukranian Premier League champions, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Jupiler Pro League winners Royak Antwerp.
Even though they should not be overconfident, Barça should not have any problems to qualify for the second phase of the championship, as they should even be demanded to achieve the first place in the group rankings.
Analysis of the Champions League group stage:
The Portuguese side has started off strong at the local competition with three wins and a draw. They are currently third in the standings, although there is an ongoing tie at ten between Boavista (1st), FC Porto (2nd) and Sporting (3rd). They will face Barça in the second and fifth matchdays, firstly at Estádio do Dragão and, afterwards, at Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys.
Shakhtar, as usual, top their league’s rankings. The team managed by Patrick van Leeuwen has played six games, won four of them and drew twice.
The Ukranian squad are known for being a really combative team who are always looking for a chance to surprise their opponents, and this year will be no exception. They will visit Barcelona in the third matchday and host Xavi’s roster in matchday number four.
Lastly, Royal Antwerp, who won their national league after 66 years, is also a part of group H and will play against Barça this Tuesday, in the opening matchday of the Champions League, and in the last match of the group stage. Unlike their rivals, the Belgian side have not had a very good start to the season with two wins, two draws and one loss.
As if that were not enough, they have made an administrative error (acknowledged by their coach Van Bommel) that resulted in Sam Vines, the team’s starting left back, not being a part of their registered roster for the competition. They will, most likely, have a very difficult time qualifying for the next round or the Europa League, as they are the weakest team.
It is of vital financial and social importance for the Culés to do well in the tournament. The club’s board is making many efforts to sign players and the Champions League is a good source of income, which would surely help towards easing the financial situation in which they find themselves. At the same time, their fans need to see the team succeed in Europe after several years of catastrophes.
Translated by Nuño Alonso.
Main image: @FCBarcelona_es.