FC Barcelona learned their UEFA Champions League fate for the 2014-15 season on Thursday as the group stage draw was held in Monaco.
This season, Barça leads Group F. A heavy weight joins El Blaugrana in Group F as Paris Saint-Germain was selected to join the group. A familiar foe joined Group F as Ajax was the third club selected. Finally, APOEL from Cyprus joined the party in Group F.
Despite getting a tough rival in PSG, FC Barcelona got a good result in the Champions League draw.
Obviously, PSG is the most challenging opponent for Barça. The Parisians have already faced Barcelona back in the 2012-13 Champions League quarterfinal. Barça and PSG ended in a 2-2 draw in the first leg, and 1-1 in the second leg at the Camp Nou. An injured Lionel Messi was capable of limping onto the pitch and set up Pedro for the equalizer in the second leg. PSG has obviously added a few players since then; nevertheless, PSG remains a beatable team. Yes, PSG is capable of giving Barcelona a tough time, as the Barça defense will be tested Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Lucas Moura and others. But this PSG of this era is yet to prove their merit against a big club in the Champions League. A draw in Paris is a good result for Barcelona. The final group game vs. PSG at the Camp Nou may end up being meaningless for both sides in the sense of qualifying for the knockout stage. But the game could determine who wins the group which is huge. Both games against PSG will be a good test for Luis Enrique's men to see how their progress as a championship team is going thus far.
Zlatan returns to the Camp Nou once again. Zlatan will also head back to a former club of his in Ajax. The Dutch giants will see Barcelona in the group stage for the second year in a row. Last season, Barça defeated Ajax 4-0 at the Camp Nou, but lost 2-1 in Amsterdam. Expect Ajax to play spoiler in determining who wins the group, as Frank de Boer's squad is capable of pulling off an upset against either Barcelona or PSG, especially in the Amsterdam ArenA.
Lastly, APOEL is the last group to join Group F, and quite frankly, is expected to finish last in the group. The champions of the Cypriot First Division had a magical run in the Champions League back in 2011-12, but don't expect anything like that in 2014-15.
Group stage schedule:
Luis Suarez will miss the first three Champions League games for Barcelona, as his suspension goes until October 25. In other words, all of Barça's opponents in the group stage will only see Luisito once. Suarez will make his Champions League debut for Barcelona when he visits his former club in Ajax on the 5th of November.
With Suarez out for the first go-round against the group stage opponents, it'll be interesting to see who Luis Enrique decides to put up front with Messi and Neymar. Will it be Rafinha? Will Lucho go with the kid, Munir El Haddadi? Or could we see a different formation in the group stage, especially against a tough team like PSG?
FC Barcelona is in Group F, which may be a good omen. Why? According to ESPN stat guru Mr. Chip:
The "best" group to draw in UEFA Champions League is F. Of all Champions League winners, 33% have come from Group F
— MisterChip (English) (@MisterChiping) August 28, 2014
FC Barcelona to win Group F, with Paris Saint-Germain second, Ajax in third and APOEL to place fourth. Barça and PSG will head to the knockout stage.
Luis Enrique has this team focused, working hard, and on the road to redemption to win titles. The players are in better shape than last season, are hustling to the ball like we haven't seen in years, and are a focused to start this new Barça era with titles. The players are motivated and ready to make a statement in Spain and in Europe.
Xoel's Final Word
The road to Berlin and the UEFA Champions League Final on 6 June 2015 is a long one. FC Barcelona now knows who stands in its way for the first half of the journey that is the group stage.
Time to invade Paris, control the canals of Amsterdam, and conquer the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Time to stand ground at the Camp Nou.
Time to work hard, focus, and win.
Time to make the drive to Berlin and to the Olympiastadion.
As I said on Twitter:
Xoel, The Voice of Els Culés and now kindly nicknamed "Mr. Barça" on Twitter. ;)