Analyzing Barcelona's UEFA Champions League group stage opponents
Barcelona's humiliating loss against Juventus in last season's UEFA Champions League is fresh in the memory of the supporters, as well as, the players. Massimiliano Allegri's side started what has been termed as the decline of this golden generation of the Catalan outfit.
The departure of Neymar was deemed as the final nail in the coffin of Lionel Messi's Barcelona, however, hope has been renewed by the arrival of Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund.
Messi, meanwhile, looks like a man reinvigorated by the recent criticism of his team and has been on fire in La Liga. Champions League is a different ball game altogether, while the 5-time Ballon d'Or winner is yet to score against Gianluigi Buffon in a competitive game.
The Argentine would be hungry to prove a point against the team that ensured Barcelona's ouster from Champions League last season, while, the Turin outfit are not the only opponents of the Camp Nou outfit, they are the most immediate threat as Ernesto Valverde's side kick off their European campaign against the Old Lady.
Apart from Juventus, the Catalan giants also have Olympiacos FC and Sporting Clube de Portugal to negate in their group stage, and an away trip to either of these sides will not be easy.
Juventus and Gianluigi Buffon were on the cusp of getting their hands on the UEFA Champions League last season, before Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid came along and spoilt the party.
The reigning Italian champions will be looking to draw first blood when they take on Barcelona tonight at the Camp Nou, and the memories of their famous win only last season will be fresh in their minds.
The Turin outfit may have lost defensive stalwarts in Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves, but have concluded a significant bit of business in the transfer window to ensure that the squad is better than what it earlier was.
For the first leg, Massimiliano Allegri will be without the services of Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Benedikt Howedes, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic, which significantly decreases their chances of containing Messi and company.
Best Player: Paulo Dybala - La Joya, as he is fondly referred to by his fans, scored twice against Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash. The onus will again be on the Juventus #10 to inspire the Old Lady once again to another memorable win but is it all too much to ask for him this time?
Weakness: The Juventus defence has been significantly weakened by the departure of Leonardo Bonucci. While Chiellini is still there, he is the only one remaining of the fabled BBC with Barzagli approaching the fag end of his career.
While they have Mehdi Benatia, Benedikt Howedes and Daniele Rugani in their ranks, none of these are of the quality of Bonucci. The departure of Dani Alves will also come back to haunt them.
1st Leg (Home) - Barcelona 3-1 Juventus
2nd Leg (Away) - Juventus 2-1 Barcelona
European History: 2-time UEFA Champions League winners.
The reigning Greek champions are a tough nut to crack, especially when they are playing at home. The Karaiskakis Stadium outfit have caused upsets against some of the biggest clubs across Europe and will be hoping to do so against FC Barcelona, when they do lock horns.
It will be the first time that the two teams will be crossing their path's in the UEFA Champions League and Barcelona will be looking to avoid any unnecessary complications in the group stage.
Best Player: Andre Martins and Emmanuel Emenike are the ones to watch out for, who will be looking to take this opportunity to announce themselves to the world.
Weakness: The away form for the 44-time Superleague Greece champions is a huge cause of concern, as it seriously undermines their capacity to go it past the group stages in the competition.
1st Leg (Home): Barcelona 4-0 Olympiacos
2nd Leg (Away): Olympiacos 2-2 Barcelona
European History: The furthest that Olympiacos have managed to go in the UEFA Champions League is the quarter-finals, which they reached in 1998-99.
Sporting Clube de Portugal
Sporting Clube de Portugal can be deemed as the dark horse in this group, one capable of stealing a 2nd place finish, which could potentially cost Barcelona or Juventus a place in the knockouts of the UEFA Champions League.
The Estadio Jose Alavalade side are very much capable of causing an upset on their day and have produced stars including Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, and who knows maybe the next one could be waiting to burst on the big stage. The Lions' one and only triumph on the European stage came in 1964, when they beat MTK Budapest to lift the European Cup Winners' Cup Final.
Best Player: Bas Dost. The Dutch striker has been on fire since last season, netting 36 goals in 41 goals last term. The 28-year-old is an incredible threat in front of goal and is capable of turning a game on its head on his own.
Weakness: The defence of the Lions remains a concern and the bigger teams will look to exploit this. Jorge Jesus will have to ensure that his defence is not leaky, or it could get very messy.
1st Leg (Away): Sporting CP 2-3 Barcelona
2nd Leg (Home): Barcelona 3-1 Sporting CP
European History: Their only triumph in European competitions came in 1964, when they won the European Cup Winners' Cup.