Re: Champions League 12/13-09.
BARCELONA v LEVSKI SOFIA
Group A, Matchday 1
Barcelona v Levksi, Tuesday 12 September
Camp Nou, 20:45 CET
The title holders kick off their campaign as they attempt to do what no team has before - retain the UEFA Champions League. On paper many believe they are in the best position to achieve this feat. As for Levski Sofia - the Bulgarian Champions are debutants and their countries first representatives in the competition which they will take enormous pride in.
After the disappointment of a 3-0 defeat in the UEFA Super Cup to rivals Sevilla the domestic season has started as Barcelona look set to stamp their authority from the outset. They face an earlier battle however in the Champions League after drawing Chelsea at this stage. The two will undoubtedly fight over first spot and secretly both sides must be happy as this scenario means they will do something they've not managed the last two seasons - avoid each other at the last 16 stage.
Home matches in the Champions League at this stage are the usual entertaining and attacking thrashings where Barcelona are envied. Last season they crushed Panathinaikos(4-1), Udinese(5-0) and Bremen(3-1) at this stage. Conversely they only managed 1 win in their remaining 3 matches at the knockout stages and the total goals in those aggregate wins were a fraction of those performances just mentioned. Still at this stage and against this sort of opposition Barca frighten the opposition as they are the holders of best defender (Puyol), midfielder (Deco), striker (Eto'o) and overall player (Ronaldinho) as voted for by UEFA for last season.
It doesn't end there with the arrivals of Lillian Thuram and Zambrotta to add different dimensions to a defence. Lionel Messi can only improve after a debut season. They have lost Henrik Larsson who hasn't been replaced as such and is their only real weakness. Gudjohnsen was a strange signing as it really only leaves Barca with one out-and-out striker in Samuel Eto'o although Saviola is now back at the club too.
On that point and situation Samuel Eto'o will try and achieve something second time round which he failed last season. Just as in Barcelona's first La Liga triumph he finished behind Villarreal's Diego Forlan as 'Pichici' last season he utilised the last match of the season to claim that award. This time surely he will try the same in the UEFA Champions League after missing out to Shevchenko last season where his surroundings are so much advantageous.
Somewhat of a rising team after a successful European campaign last season in the UEFA Cup. They entered at the Second Qualifying round and soon after in the first round shocked Auxerre dumping them out of the competition on away goals. In the group phase they would negotiate their way out into the knockouts with Marseille and Heerenveen.
They would then defeat Champions League dropouts Artmedia and a demotivated Udinese side before falling to Schalke. Not a bad performance and those last three ties were against teams involved in the Champions League.
That show that perhaps they have the quality to compete at this stage. However, in a group consisting of Barcelona, Chelsea and Werder Bremen they have drawn the strongest of each tier and it seems a fall-back into the UEFA Cup will be a priority although incredibly difficult task still.
Valdés; Zambrotta, Puyol, Thuram, van Bronckhorst; Edmílson, Xavi, Deco; Messi, Ronaldinho, Eto'o.
Petkov; Milanov, Tomaic, Topuzakov, Angelov; Borimirov, Eromoigbe, Telkiyski, Yovov, Bardon; Angelov.
Definite Barcelona win. I like taking bets around Eto'o scoring though (check for confirmation he starts an hour before kick-off before placing bets though):
- SAMUEL ETO'O TO SCORE ANYTIME @ 1.62 (Stan James)
- SAMUEL ETO'O TO SCORE 2 OR MORE GOALS @ 3.25 (Paddy Power)