Breaking Down Barcelona's Champions League Group Stage Opponents

Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2013

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 09:  AC Milan is shown during the UEFA Champions League 2013/14 Season Play-Off draw at the UEFA headquarters on August 9, 2013 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

There was a familiar feel to Thursday's Champions League draw for Barcelona as they were thrown into a group with two teams that they met in last year's competition, while the final ingredient of the four is hardly one of Europe's unknown quantities.

First to join Group H with the Spanish champions was AC Milan. The two met in last year's last 16 when Barcelona recovered a 2-0 deficit from the San Siro to advance to the next round thanks to a 4-0 win at Camp Nou.

Next came Ajax, which has been more familiar with Real Madrid in recent years but will now get ready to acquaint themselves with the Catalans.

Finally, with a feeling of deja vu, came Celtic. The Scottish champions were in a group with Barca last year and, after coming close to a famous victory in Spain, recorded a memorable 2-1 win over their illustrious opponents at Celtic Park.

 

AC Milan

AC Milan produced a stunning second half of the season to finish third in Serie A last time out, qualifying for the Champions League alongside Napoli and Juventus

They weren't guaranteed a place in the group stages though and came through a tough two-legged tie against PSV Eindhoven 4-1 to earn themselves their place in Thursday's draw.

Managed by Massimiliano Allegri, who hasn't always had it easy since taking the reigns in 2010, the Rossoneri have plenty of artillery with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and Ricardo Montolivo.

B/R's Italian football expert Matteo Bonetti sees Milan qualifying in second place, but remains wary of what promises to prove a tricky, if not necessarily tough, group:

 

Ajax Amsterdam

Ajax finished seven points ahead of PSV Eindhoven last season to secure their third straight Eredivise title.

Frank de Boer, a former Barcelona player, has filled his squad with talented, young homegrown players, while Bojan Krcic, on loan from Barca, will feel he has a point to prove over the two fixtures. 

And then there's the Johan Cruyff factor: the Dutchman remains a legend at both Ajax and Barcelona.

Dutch football expert Michiel Jongsma is wary of the changes that have occurred at the Amsterdam Arena this summer:

@samuelmarsden Team in transition as Eriksen is out and Alderweireld likely too, problem trying to construct attack with Fisch/Sigth/Bojan.

— Michiel Jongsma (@JongsmaJongsma) August 29, 2013

@samuelmarsden In formation: 4-3-3, attacking LB, triangle midfield with one holder, inside forwards on flanks with out and out striker.

— Michiel Jongsma (@JongsmaJongsma) August 29, 2013

 

Celtic

Devoid of competition since Rangers were relegated to Scottish football's fourth tier, Celtic strolled to the Scottish Premier League title last season. 

Their Champions League run was impressive too, qualifying ahead of Benfica in a group that included Barcelona, before succumbing to Juventus in the knockout stages.

Shakhter Karagandy of almost denied them their place in Thursday's draw, but the Glaswegians produced a memorable comeback to ensure they took their place at Europe's top table once again.

The Hoops made a lot of friends during last season's Champions League, and manager Neil Lennon is already to looking forward to continuing some of their new friendships: 

Neil Lennon (coach Celtic): "We're going to see our old friends Barcelona again." #fcblive [celtic]

— barcastuff (@barcastuff) August 29, 2013

 

Who do you think will qualify from Group H? Do Barcelona have anything to worry about?