The Champions League draws for group stages took place in Monaco on August 27, during a ceremony where the atmosphere was filled with anxiety and suspense, as awards were given, and teams were set against each other.
Debating issues were certainly raised when teams of the Group E were announced, as it contained FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, and FC Rubin Kazan.
As defending champions and top seeds, Barcelona had the first place of their table, and most football lovers seem excited ahead of the Catalans’ first game of the Champions League against their Italian opponents Inter Milan, as it is considered to be one of the competition’s hottest encounters in the group stages.
Probably, one might expect the Spanish Champions to cruise easily to the knockout stages; however, Milan’s Internazionale aren’t Barcelona’s only threat. Dynamo Kiev and Rubin Kazan could also cause Pep Guardiola’s men an upset, as smaller teams are often under-estimated by bigger ones.
Possibly, under-estimation will not be Guardiola’s mistake when he meets his table’s lower clubs. In any case, he will need to take his less important fixtures seriously, for “small gaffes” might be deadly…
Perhaps, the Spanish manager will concentrate on finding plans to impose his team’s power over the Ukrainians and the Russians; nonetheless, he is very much likely to focus–at least for now–on his first challenge of the Champions League when he meets Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan.
A testing meeting against Italian forces
FC Barcelona are expected to play against Inter Milan away from home on September 16. On paper, Barcelona have a slight advantage over their Italian opponents; nonetheless, what could significantly boost the Spanish’s confidence of winning their first leg match at the San Siro could be their ability of defeating big teams.
However, Barcelona’s luck might not be revealed in Milan, as the Inter manager Jose Mourinho could play all his cards to give his side a victory that–for many–would be regarded as a “special one”. Eventually, the game is likely to be decided based on both teams’ mentality.
a. Samuel Eto’o v. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s summer transfer from Inter Milan to FC Barcelona was undoubtedly one of the biggest football issues at the beginning of August, as the Spanish club did not hesitate to lose Samuel Eto’o to get the Swedish forward.
Surely, despite the high estimation people have for him, Ibrahimovic is yet to shine in his new No. 9 shirt, which previously belonged to Inter’s new striker, Eto’o.
Without doubt, Ibra will have to impress continuously in several games so as to get the favor of Barcelona fans, and this includes his side’s game at the San Siro.
Indeed, Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be at his best against Inter Milan, yet a good form emerging from Samuel Eto’o might distract his performance; and this could weaken the Catalans’ attack.
As a result, it will be up to coach Guardiola to make some efforts and improve the psychology of his main striker, if he desires to see him perform positively, on August 16.
b. Jose Mourinho against the New Barcelona
During his career in London, Mourinho met FC Barcelona 6 times in 3 years, but regardless of his coaching skills, the Portuguese manager – then at Chelsea – managed to win only 2 games against the Blaugrana.
Unquestionably, this fact shows how bad Jose’s record has been against the treble winners; nonetheless, times have changed, and his chances of triumphing over the Spanish giants are now incalculable.
At the time he was at the Stanford Bridge, the one previously referred to as the “Special One” used to play the Catalans, fighting the likes of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, and Deco Sosa; but nowadays, these great stars have all left the Camp Nou.
Barcelona’s leading star is now the Argentine Lionel Messi, who is currently regarded as the world’s best player, and with the help of the UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year Xavi Hernandez, and his other teammates including Iniesta and Ibrahimovic; Guardiola’s front proves to be stronger than ever.
Perchance, Mourinho will not be too concerned by his opponents’ attack, as he was able to add Eto’o, as well as Wesley Sneijder to his list of front men.
Undeniably, the former Chelsea coach has almost all it takes to confront the Spanish Champions, but at this point, one might wonder if Inter Milan’s front can really match Barcelona’s in terms of the admiration they earn trough each game. Doubtfully not, but Milan’s forwards can certainly help their whole team to handle Barcelona perfectly.
As a matter of fact, this could happen, and if ever both teams’ defenses were to be prepared and give their all to prevent the ball from crossing their goal lines, then the game could truly be a ping-pong one. Unfortunately, Jose Mourinho cannot really put in action what he learnt in the past trough his games against the Camp Nou soldiers, as the Spanish club has proved to be a totally different one under their new manager Pep Guardiola.
Now, in other to win, it will be up to Barcelona to be smart enough and realize that, if ever they were to impose their authority at the San Siro and get a positive result, then everything would be played around their mentality and physical form, instead of one between them only.
Dynamo Kiev—Barcelona’s second Ukrainian opponents in 31 days
After beating the Ukrainian Giants Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Super Cup to clinch their second trophy out of six possible this season, FC Barcelona must again get ready to face another Ukrainian side on September 29; this time around, Dynamo Kiev.
Dynamo Kiev know how it feels to compete in Europe’s major club competition, as they have participated in the Champions League on several occasions. Despite having failed to succeed in the group stages of the competition many times, the minor side is aware of the weight of pressure top teams can inflict on them. Yet, in spite of that, a little bit more self-estimation could let them survive at the Camp Nou, on Matchday Two of this year’s UEFA Champions League.
Indubitably, this fact could be a threat to Barcelona, and even such an “uninspiring” game could force Guardiola to select a strong side ahead of this encounter.
The encounter which took place in Monaco on August 28 didn’t seem to be an easy one for the Champions League winners, and even if a majority of the public consider Barcelona to be far ahead of Ukraine’s Shakhtar in terms of names and skills, the UEFA Europa League champions were able to push the game to extra time.
In fact, if the UEFA Super Cup match was to be a Champions League first leg game, only the 90 minute would have mattered, and thus, the final score would have been a 0-0 draw. In this case, the Ukrainians would have survived, and this is exactly what could give Dynamo Kiev hope in Barcelona, when the two sides meet.
Conceivably, Pep Guardiola could consider this game to be as crucial as a game against a top European side, as he certainly wouldn’t love to see his side get held over a period of 90 minutes by another Ukrainian team.
In the long run, the final result of the match between Barcelona and Dynamo Kiev will incontestably be affected by the desire of Barcelona to win, and the self-esteem that the visitors show as they fight against the Kings of Europe.
FC Rubin Kazan – an easy team for Barcelona?
Barcelona’s last first leg game in the group stages of the Champions League will be against FC Rubin Kazan, on October 20.
The 2008 Russian Premier League title holders Rubin Kazan are new participants of the competition, and although they are not used to face other European sides, they will need to prepare themselves for their challenge against Barcelona away from home.
On paper, one might say that FC Rubin Kazan have no chance of winning at the Camp Nou; nevertheless, if they were able to top the 2008 Russian Premier League table by being ahead of CSKA Moscow, who are now regular Champions League participants, and Zenith St. Petersburg, who are former UEFA Europa League champions, then they could do anything in Barcelona.
Once again, another danger is faced by the Catalans, as their Russian opponents are capable of causing any kind of upset in their own home.
Definitely, it would be better for Guardiola’s boys to try and take control of the game in its early stages, for an error could cost them more than anyone could expect.
A strong weapon for Barcelona to succeed
In the end, we’ve seen how dangerous every single game could be for the Champions League’s defending champions. From Inter Milan, who possess some of the world’s most respected players, to Dynamo Kiev and FC Rubin Kazan who can easily profit of a strong winning mentality; the threats that Barcelona face are harsh ones.
Just as coach Guardiola knows, it is not only his side’s style of play and the skills of his players which will enable the Blaugrana to win the first legs of their group stages’ matches. Rather, it will be the mentality his team has, which will be his strongest weapon against his contenders.
For sure, the biggest mistake Barcelona will need to avoid will be “under-estimation”, as this could lead them to their own downfall.
Now, winning the first legs of their group stages encounters is necessary, but Barcelona will also have to think of their second leg matches, which will all depend on the results of their first leg games.
Surely, before football experts go on with their analysis, the Champions League’s first events will have to take place, so as to get a good image of the circumstances in Group E.