Why Barcelona Are on Course to Defend the Champions League

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2015

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 29:  Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Barcelona and Bayern 04 Leverkusen at Camp Nou on September 29, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barcelona have started the season with great results, but aside from scorelines, there have been more negative points than usual for the Catalan club to worry about.

Their restrictions on working in the transfer market this summer mean the squad is considerably weaker than last season, and injuries since the start of the year have compounded that issue. Until January, it is going to be an ongoing struggle for Luis Enrique to rotate his side and remain competitive in La Liga.

The Champions League, however, which Barcelona won in May, could turn out to be their best route to success this season. And so far, they remain a good bet to defend it.

Early Points

Two games against tough opposition done, four points taken. Only a ridiculous, one-off, long-range goal denied them victory in Rome, while Bayer Leverkusen defended extremely well—but they still didn't have enough to hold out Barcelona's attack on Tuesday.

Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (bottom) celebrates a goal with teammates during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Bayer Leverkusen at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENE
LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

Back-to-back games against BATE Borisov will, in the likely course of events, yield six points for the Catalan club, and at that point they are already going to be assured of passage to the knockout stage.

Even a second-place finish, should something go awry against BATE or in the final two games, would be within reach if things got particularly tricky for Barca and, with it, a passage through to the knockouts.

It might mean a tougher draw for the round of 16, but that's to worry about in the new year.

Winter Struggle

The lack of bodies available is going to cost Barcelona in La Liga, barring a small miracle.

Defeat to Celta Vigo was their first non-victory of the league season a week ago, but it will be replicated over the coming three months as dwindling numbers means the manager has less options on his bench to turn things around and less options to rotate starting XIs while leaving the same quality on the pitch.

VIGO, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 23:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks dejected after Iago Aspas of Celta Vigo scored his team's fourth goal during the La Liga match between Celta Vigo and FC Barcelona at Estadio Balaidos on September 23, 2015 in Vigo, Spain.  (
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Andres Iniesta joined Lionel Messi and Rafinha on the treatment table on Tuesday, going off injured against Leverkusen.

Luis Enrique: "The injury to Iniesta is terrible news. These are thorns in our side that we have to shake off." #FCBLive

FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 29, 2015

[INJURY NEWS] More details on Andrés Iniesta's injury http://t.co/gvyTUCqQnN #FCBlive pic.twitter.com/ewfbeWv6rF

— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 29, 2015

Claudio Bravo, Jordi Alba and Thomas Vermaelen have all also suffered knocks and strains this season already; even when they come back, the ongoing situation means it's tough to rotate in the middle and final thirds at present.

While La Liga will, of course, be an ongoing focuseven if points are droppedit could (perhaps even should?) be that the Copa del Rey will become a proving ground for more youngsters at the club, giving an opportunity to rest the seniors who will be asked to start almost every game.

Wrap up maximum points against BATE, though, and the Champions League is effectively taken care of by late October, with any additional points a positive note but not a defining one—their main action in Europe will come in the new year.

Focus on One Competition

Barcelona will get numbers back in January by adding Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal to their squad list and signing new players if required.

As the season goes on, however, it could be that the points differential between themselves and the top of the table is either insurmountable or improbable to narrow effectively, leading the manager to prioritise the Champions League.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head coach Luis Enrique of FC Barcelona looks on during a press conference ahead of a UEFA Champions League Group E match against Bayern 04 Leverkusen at Ciutat Esportiva on September 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo
David Ramos/Getty Images

A strong Barcelona team is a tough task for any other side in the world to beat, and if that is where Luis Enrique decides the main focus will be, those are the matches they'll be hardest to beat in.

Are they going to do it? The odds are against them.

In its current iteration, the Champions League has never been successfully defended. But Barcelona remain a great team, the players will be keen to ensure they don't follow up a treble season with a trophyless one and, once everyone is fit and available again (and with the currently injured players having had a mid-term rest), they will remain a tremendously tough team to beat.

It could be done.