Barcelona starts their Champions League defense in unarguably the most mouthwatering opening day match against Inter Milan at the San Siro.
Not only is this a battle between two European giants, it is also a game where many players will be playing against their former clubs.
Barcelona does not have an easy task on their hands. Inter, for all their domestic successes, have not made strides in Europe in the recent years.
However, the Nerazzuri might feel that, with the additions they have made to the squad this season, they have the best chance in a long time to finally provide a serious challenge in the Champions League.
Form Guide: Barcelona has made a very positive start to the new season. In two league games, they have scored five goals and conceded none. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has netted in both the games, and his link up play with Lionel Messi was evident against Getafe.
Sept. 12 v Getafe (A) – WON 2-0 (La Liga)
Aug. 31 v Sporting Gijon (H) – WON 3-0 (La Liga)
Aug. 28 v Shakhtar Donetsk (A) – WON 1-0 (UEFA Super Cup)
Aug. 23 v Athletic Bilbao (H) – WON 3-0 (Super Copa)
Aug. 19 v Manchester City (H) – LOST 1-0 (Friendly)
As we can see, in the past five games, Barcelona has lost just once—when they had played their reserves in the Gamper Cup against Manchester City. They have won the remaining four games in comfortable fashion without key players like Messi and Andres Iniesta.
The team will also be high on confidence with the fact that they have won two trophies already.
Probable Line-up: Valdes—Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal—Xavi, Toure, Iniesta—Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry
Rafael Marquez has been included in the squad after his long injury layoff. However, it is highly unlikely that he would start, given the stature of the opponents and the importance Josep Guardiola lays on physical fitness. Dmitryo Chigrinskiy is ineligible to play in the Champions League this season.
Players to Watch
Zlatan Ibrahimovic—Ibra will be keen to prove that Barcelona got the better part of the swap deal sending him and Eto'o in opposite directions.
The reception from the Inter fans is something he will have to take in stride, as he strives to live up to his 46 million euro transfer fee. A goal against his former employers would provide him with a confidence boost, and also serve as a deterrent for the people who call him a big-game flop.
Andres Iniesta—Finally back to full fitness, San Andres will be rearing to reunite with Xavi to complete the deadliest midfield in the the world. With Xavi pulling the string and Iniesta providing the creative spark, it is difficult for Barcelona to lose.
Barcelona has their strongest starting 11 available for tomorrow's game. It is in fact, stronger than the team that took Rome by storm on May 27. Over the course of the past season, we have seen this starting 11 wreak havoc against the strongest of opponents, and tomorrow should be no different.
Inter Milan News
Form Guide: Inter has made a good start to the season as well, the highlight of which was the 4-0 thrashing of AC Milan in the Milan derby.
Sept. 13 v Parma (H) – WON 2-0 (Serie A)
Sept. 5 v Lugano (A) – DREW 3-3 (Friendly)
Aug. 29 v AC Milan (A) – WON 4-0 (Serie A)
Aug. 23 v Bari (H) – DREW 1-1 (Serie A)
Aug. 16 v Bahrain (A) – WON 1-0 (Friendly)
Inter has also not lost in the past few games and have been high on confidence with the performances of new signings Samuel Eto'o, Diego Milito, and Wesley Sneijder.
Probable Line-up: Julio Cesar—Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Chivu—Zanetti, Motta, Stankovic—Sneijder -Milito, Eto’o
Dejan Stankovic has overcome the flu that struck him in recent days, while Cristian Chivu should return to left-back in place of Davide Santon. Esteban Cambiasso trained on Tuesday but is unlikely to start.
Players to Watch
Samuel Eto'o—Naturally, the first person that comes to mind here is a very familiar face for Barcelona fans. Samu has scored twice in three league games, and he will need to be contained at every opportunity. His goal against Parma was spectacular, and Guardiola will be working to ensure that the Cameroonian is not given any space to work his magic. Especially with him being eager to prove a point to his former employers.
Douglas Maicon—The best player of the Nerazzuri by a mile, Maicon is a danger in defense as well as attack. He can break up opposition attacks, as well as create some spectacular ones himself. With him and Dani Alves on opposite flanks, we will witness some fireworks for sure.
Inter has made some quality additions to the squad in Milito, Sneijder, and Eto'o. With these three, and the remaining players they have on offer, Barcelona knows that they do not have an easy task ahead of them.
Inter is the first stiff challenge Barcelona will be facing this season. The Nerazzuri will be looking to derail Barcelona's train before it is fully on track, and a home win would also provide a huge confidence boost to Jose Mourinho's men.
However, on the other side stands a formidable Barcelona team. While people have been moaning about the lack of depth, they have overlooked the full quality of the starters present in the squad. And the entire starting 11 being fit, Barcelona would be looking to sweep the board at the San Siro
Prediction: Inter Milan 1 - 2 Barcelona