Know FC Barcelona's rivals in Champions League Group G

Perennial favourites Barcelona have a few historical names in their group, but will expect to get out, and quite possibly on top
By Arkaprabha Chakraborty

SL Benfica

Performance in last year's tournament: Quarter-finals.

How they qualified this year: Finished 2nd in the Primeira Liga for automatic qualification

The Manager

Having been at the helm of the club for 3 seasons now and entering his fourth, Jorge Jesus had already ensured himself a place in Benfica history way back in his first season in 2009 when he ended a five year title drought. Winning streaks seem to be his speciality and few coaches in the world can feed off momentum like Jesus. A shrewd and adaptable tactician, he has previously shown tactical flexibilty against his opposition and Benfica will be needing all of his nous to get out of the group

Formation and Tactics


With two big departures and no replacement made as such, Benfica will be pushing a few substitutes/rotation options into the foreground this season. Their backline remains as solid as ever with their captain Luisao leading them. Having sold Javi Garcia to Manchester City, we will see Nemanja Matic take up his midfield passer/enforcer role. The attacking midfield trio will likely we that of Nicolas Gaitan, Nolito and Bruno Cesar. The front two will remain Rodrigo and Oscar Cardozo. They shall however miss the services of Alex Witsel in the middle of the park who left for Russia's Zenit.


Having made a good run to the quarter finals last time out, narrowly defeated in both games by Chelsea, Benfica will see no reason for not being able to take on this group and do well. Even though they are favourites for second place, Benfica have often surprised in the past.

  Man to Watch - Nicolas Gaitan

Nico Gaitan has been linked with so many moves away from Benfica in his two years with the club. One of the better wide attackers in the game, he will certainly need to be alive down the left side for Benfica if they are to do well in the group. Barring Barcelona, they will be on more or less equal footing with the other two clubs, so they will need performances from Gaitan and Co. up front to ensure a good campaign.


Performance in last year's tournament: Did not qualify.

How they qualified this year: Won the Scottish Premier League to get to the Third Qualifying Round. Beat HJK Helsinki and then Helsingborgs in the Playoff rounds.

The Manager

Neil Lennon was quite suddenly thrust into the limelight when Tony Mowbray departed in early 2010. But he responded superbly to the pressure, taking Celtic on a winning run for the remaining league games. After his full time appointment in the next season, his side always remained competing with Old Firm rivals Rangers, but narrowly lost out on the league and the League Cup. However, his Scottish Cup win was welcome. An underrated and very lively coach, Lennon has certainly lent a different image to the Celtic of recent years. Can he get his side out of the group? A big ask.
Formation and Tactics


Lennon has been advocating an effective 4-3-3 at Celtic. The defence remains pretty solid with a backline of Emilio Izaguirre, Charlie Mulgrew, Kevin Wilson and Adam Matthews. The midfield is effective and with decent range, largely through creator and captain Scott Brown. Victor Wanyama is the destroyer and James Forrest is the outlet down the right. Georgios Samaras is the drifter who causes the formational shift, linking the attack to the midfield down the left. The front two of Kris Commons and Gary Hooper have both been quite prolific for The Bhoys and will expectedly be first choice partnership.


Celtic will keep us never quite sure of their abilities. More often than not they have flattered to deceive, impressing with performances without getting the result they would like. While Barcelona completely mesmerized them last time out, hopefully they will have learnt and improved from way back then. 

  Man to Watch - Gary Hooper

A 29 goal in a season striker is a welcome addition in every single team, and when you think that the Scottish Premier League has only 12 teams the achievement is even more impressive. Celtic will certainly be needing their frontman's eye for goal in this campaign if they are to have any decent chance in the group stages.

Spartak Moscow

Performance in last year's tournament: Did not qualify.

How they qualified this year: Came second in the Russian Premier League and beat Fenerbahce 3-2 on aggregate in the Playoff Round.

The Manager

Unai Emery had almost been stereotyped into the role of 'Manager of Valencia' when he left this season for greener, er, whiter pastures in Russia with Spartak Moscow. We all know that Emery brings with him good discipline, shrewd tactical knowledge and the ability to get unflagging enthusiasm out of his players. His side have consistently been behind the best two clubs in the world, so we wonder what he could do against one of them.
Formation and Tactics


Emery pretty much pioneered a 'Barca neutralizing' 4-2-3-1 formation back in his Valencia days and it won't be too difficult to see him try and use it again in the groups. The back four will likely comprise of Kirill Kombarov, Rafael Carioca, Juan Manuel Insaurralde and Evgeni Makeev. Romulo and Demy De Zeeuw will be able to fluidly exchange the role of sweeper-cum-anchor-man when the other goes forward. His attacking midfield trio is quite obvious, with Aiden McGeady down the right, Kombarov through the centre and Bilyaletdinov down the left, all trying to feed in Artem Dzyuba.


Quintessential dark horses. No one will be willing to bet where they will finish up. That they have the ability in the team to finish up to is not to be denied. Do not forget that Barca will have to make a long journey to a bitterly cold Russia. We'll stick our necks out and say Europa League spot at the very least.

FC BATE Borisov
  Man to Watch - Demy De Zeeuw

In a team that will most strongly be noted for its attacking abilites it would be easy to forget defensive performances. But especially against Barcelona and the revolutionary tiki-taka, Spartak's man to watch will be the Dutchman Demy De Zeeuw. A strong tackler with a good passing awareness, his dual role will be to first win the ball off Barca's midfield three and then make sure a bad pass under pressure does not give away the ball. Mostly underrated, the role of conductor of the orchestra is effectively his.

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