FC Barcelona: 7 Bold Predictions for Barca's Champions League Group
The new Champions League season is upon us, and with it come heady predictions. The draw in Group G pits Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Celtic. It's a favorable draw for the Catalan giants and a wide-open one for other three.
Europe's top competition is a predictable yet unpredictable paradox of football. Every season it seems that the same two or three clubs make the semifinals every season (Barcelona has made five consecutive semifinals; Manchester United made four in five seasons), but once in the semifinals, anything can happen.
Before we get to the final, there is a lot of football to be played and a lot of Barcelona story lines to cover.
Barcelona Will Be Challenged in the Group Stages… On the Road...
...but emerge victorious nonetheless. The group netted by the Catalan giants has been described as a soft, easy collection of teams. There is no stand-out matchup that calls for must-see TV.
Yet no road game will be a blowout because of the strength and conditions their foes exercise at home. With their final group stage match at Camp Nou against Benfica (Dec. 5), they’ll need to wrap up qualification prior to the finale to avoid a collapse.
Their schedule has them playing road games against Celtic at Celtic Park (Nov. 7) and against Spartak Moscow at Luzhinski Stadium (Nov. 20) for their fourth and fifth group games, respectively. They’ll need to take full points and put their most competitive squad on the field in order to do so. It’s a good test for them under Tito Villanova after falling at the Bernabeu for the first time since May 2008.
Yet, Barcelona Will Use a B Squad for Its Last Group Stage Game Against Benfica
Against FC BATE last season, FC Barcelona fielded their backups and young future stars. And still won 4-0. This year it'll be controversial due to the fact that Benfica will be fighting for second, and Barça will be stretching the rules of fielding the "strongest" team possible.
If Barcelona happens to stumbles against lesser foes—Celtic and Spartak Moscow—in tough cold-weather games, then they will bring out the big guns against Benfica.
The controversy of not playing to the best of your abilities made headlines this summer world wide (2012 Olympic badminton anyone?), Barcelona will face heavy criticism if they field a team without their biggest stars.
Tito’s boys should have passage out of the group secured by then, but it might not be best to have the top spot sealed before then.
Lionel Messi Will Not Break His Scoring Record but His Goals Will Mean More
Last season Lionel Messi set a European football record with 73 goals in all competitions. That broke Gerd Muller’s record of 67, and in the process, Messi broke scoring records in La Liga (50) and the Champions League (14).
Historically, footballers reach their prime between the ages of 26-30, Messi will not “improve” statistically over last season. The fact that Barça came away with only a Copa del Rey trophy at the end of the season should be enough motivation to spread the wealth.
Throughout last season, Barcelona continued to create a large number of chances but lacked anyone other than la pulga to finish plays off. Barcelona suffered to replace the output of David Villa, a big game goal scorer, and more importantly, his clinical scoring ability aided by distracted defenders trying to shut down Messi. Pedro appears to have recovered his lost form from two seasons ago, and if he continues to play this way, he’ll be part of the starting trident up top again.
And Andres Iniesta Will Be Their Standout Performer of the Tournament.
After winning the UEFA best player of the season over Messi and Ronaldo, Iniesta has fully come into his own. While this may not seem like a bold prediction, expect Iniesta to continue to be the man unlocking defenses so that Messi and Co. can finish the job.
At the moment, there is no one in world football better at dribbling in tight spaces and creating the extra yard of space to thread the needle with a pass. His impact will be conspicuous when they run into teams parking the bus. If Xavi were to go down and Cesc Fabregas does not find the form he started last season, Iniesta will be La Blaugrana’s talisman.
Still, Barcelona’s CL Difference Maker Hasn’t Even Signed Yet: Didier Drogba
Yes this is still a rumor. Actually, there was an earlier version of this rumor that was dispelled by both camps when Drogba first left Chelsea for Shanghai Shenhua. But circumstances at the ultra-rich club have taken a turn for the worse, as the members of board of the directors are in a dispute over who has the controlling stake of the club. If the shareholders row isn’t resolved, then shedding payroll is necessary to remain afloat and Drogba would be the first to go.
If the Ivorian hit man were to become available, he wouldn’t lack options across Europe’s elite clubs. In particular, Barcelona would have the most to gain from a player with few peers physically and aerially. Both of these areas of Barcelona’s game are lacking, evidence from their inability to breakdown Chelsea’s park the bus tactics in last seasons Champions League semifinals and their ghastly corner kick defending to start this season.
Drogba is the ideal fit to breakdown the ultra defensive approaches of some clubs in knockout stages.
Barcelona Will Not Face Real Madrid in the Champions League
In the biggest shock of the season, Los Merengues will miss out on the knockout round. El Clasico apocalypse of April 2001–four matches in 18 days–will not be repeated this season.
It might actually be a good thing to play fewer head-to-head match ups, as fans and players began experiencing Clasico fatigue over the last two seasons.
Yet the defending La Liga Champions not making it out of the group stage will be a huge blow for the Madrid team and the competition in general. Last season, the dream final of the two Spanish giants was denied via penalty kicks, a missed Messi penalty and Fernando Torres shockingly applying the final touch.
Expect Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund to make the leap this season after coming short in the group stage last year and Mourinho trying to explain what went wrong as they fight for Europa League glory.
Barcelona Will Face Manchester City at Wembley in the Final
Picking Barcelona to make the final is not a bold selection; they are perennial preseason favorites. However, selecting their opponent—a team which did not reach the knockout stage last season—is. And the boldest part of this prediction is that Barcelona will win comfortably: 3-0.
For all of Manchester City’s glory last year, it was against English opposition and they struggled against slower, more meticulous European competition. They will have learned their lessons and will grind out results in the group stages against Real Madrid to scrape a spot into the next round, but in a one game final, the "noisy neighbors" will let it all hang out and be exposed. Similar to Manchester United’s 2009 and 2011 defeats, Roberto Mancini will try to go toe-for-toe with the passing kings and fail.
May the new Champions League season begin!
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