On August 26, Uefa drew the 32 teams that qualified for the 2021-22 Champions League. The draw resulted in arguably the scariest pairings European football has yet seen, particularly for Barcelona.
The Catalan giants were paired in Group E alongside 2020 winners, Bayern Munich, Portuguese heavyweights Benfica and 16-time Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kyiv.
Several factors make this group daunting for the Blaugrana. For the second consecutive season, they find themselves as outside favorites to top their group. Also, their opening game at home is against group favorites, Bayern, who are on a 74-game goal-scoring streak in all competitions. The memory of the dishonorable 8-2 hammering by Die Roten last year is still fresh on the minds of every soccer enthusiast.
Nevertheless, soccer devotees everywhere will relish the meetings between the only clubs to have won trebles in European football twice. But for Barcelona, they must make a statement and hit the ground running in this group if they really want to show that there is life after Lionel Messi.
❝It'a a tough group.❞
— @RonaldKoeman sizes up the @ChampionsLeague draw pic.twitter.com/CUypq5uqZk
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) August 27, 2021
Barca manager, Ronald Koeman, and his weakened team have their work cut out for them. If he is going to make a serious impact in his second season, the Dutchman needs to prove to Los Cules that his boys have enough quality to weather all storms, one of which will be dealing with Robert Lewandowski – who scored a goal and provided an assist in the 8-2 debacle, on his firebrand scoring form. How Koeman manages his team, and how the big players perform, will determine whether Barcelona will take second place or not.
On their part, Benfica deserve to be respected too as they won their first European title against Barca in 1961, and the following season repeated the feat against Real Madrid. Jorge Jesus, who has returned to the club after his sojourn in Saudi Arabia and Brazil, will relish the opportunity to revenge his loss to the Catalans in the 2012/13 season when they last met.
Champions League draw:
?? Barcelona #UCLdraw pic.twitter.com/z0qa5BUhLZ
— Prime Sports News (@__PrimeSports) August 26, 2021
Sadly, he will miss playing against Messi, whom he reportedly asserted as having “no passion at all” for the game unlike his late reference point, Diego Maradona. The Aguias will be no pushovers for Barca, and they can expect a real threat from their young Uruguayan striker, Darwin Nunez.
The same principle applies with Dynamo Kyiv. The Ukrainian team seem the feeblest in the group. They did meet Barcelona in last season’s group phase, losing 2-1 at Camp Nou and 4-0 at the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex, but Dynamo do have an enviable record of having beaten the Catalan capital side 3-0 and 4-0 in Group C back in 1997. In addition, they have an experienced manager in Mircea Lucescu, one of five coaches to have overseen at least 100 Champions’ League games. Barca will have to surmount the potent strike force of Viktor Tsyhankov, the stability of Mykola Shaparenko in midfield, and the defensive solidity of Denys Popov.
This is one of the craziest draws I've ever seen!! It's time for revenge for many teams. Barcelona v/s Bayern, Villarreal v/s Man Utd, Man City v/s PSG, Inter Milan v/s Madrid, Chelsea v/s Juve? It's going to be one hell of a season #ChampionsLeague
— Shashank (@nshashank_02) August 26, 2021
The goalscoring responsibilities for Barcelona will lie on Antoine Griezmann and new import Memphis Depay. Griezmann has stagnated so far in the new La Liga season, but Depay has shown some promise. The days of “Messi the Messiah” are effectively over, and both players must prove their worth and rise to the occasion when needed.
Sergio Busquets, the new captain, will have capable lieutenants in Frenkie de Jong and the overused Pedri in midfield. It is in central defense that Barcelona will have to worry mostly. Gerard Pique is ageing and is playing what is probably his last season. Eric Garcia, a great addition to the rearguard, needs to avoid rash decisions. Clement Lenglet had multiple issues last season, and Samuel Umtiti is an unwanted presence. Although Oscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo are honest hard workers and can be useful substitutes, they lack the experience of playing against top-quality teams like Bayern Munich.
The silver lining in the dark clouds is the return of youth prodigy, Ansu Fati, as well as the input that a fully fit Sergio Aguero may offer later in the season.
Koeman cannot afford a repeat of the mistakes from last season. There are simply no margins for errors. Having escaped a sack by a hair’s breadth, and received his wish in Depay, he knows better than anyone else that this is his last shot at redemption. Any letdowns will see him walk through the door. It is that simple.
Hopefully, there will be life after Messi.
Where will Barcelona finish in Champions League Group E? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
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