Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Barcelona
Last season’s historic treble champions Barcelona will begin the defence of their European crown in Group E against Bayer Leverkusen, BATE Borisov and Italian giants Roma, and the Catalans are 3/1 favourites with Coral to reign supreme again.
Domestic league: La Liga
How they qualified: Dominantly rallying to victory on all fronts domestically and in Europe, Luis Enrique’s men topped the Spanish League ahead of bitter rivals Real Madrid and dispatched Juventus in the 2015 Champions League final.
Best Champions League performance: Where do we start? Barcelona have been incredible during the Champions League era, but it’s during Lionel Messi’s prime at the Nou Camp when the Spanish giants have reached incredible heights.
As well as securing the treble last term, this feat was also achieved during the 2008/09 campaign, where Messi and company sensationally cruised to victory in every competition, toppling Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Manchester United on the way to European success.
Coach: Former Barcelona midfielder Enrique was met with some criticism during the beginning of his reign as manager with the Catalan club, but that quickly faded as success swiftly followed suit.
Having enjoyed huge silverware success as player, followed by a treble in his maiden managerial term, the Spaniard will hope to continue that drive for glory in this season’s European elite club competition.
Ins and Outs: Despite having a transfer ban placed on them until next year, Barcelona still managed to strengthen their squad this summer, though those acquisitions won’t be allowed to feature until 2016.
Arda Turan was captured from title rivals Atletico Madrid, as well as Aleix Vidal arriving from Sevilla, but former attacking threat Pedro Rodriguez was lured in by Premier League champions Chelsea, while Alex Song is again on loan at West Ham United.
Key player: Obviously Messi is the main man within Enrique’s ranks, but the influence of former Anfield hero Luis Suarez is continuously growing and the Uruguayan frontman will have another massive role to play this term.
One to watch: Usual suspects aside, Thomas Vermaelen has a lot to prove this season in the Champions League, having only recently made his competitive debut, and bagging his first La Liga goal, despite signing last summer from Arsenal.
The former Gunners defender was plagued by injury last term but now has the chance to forge a strong defensive partnership with Gerard Pique or Javier Mascherano in what could be a defining season for him.
Emerging talent: Munir El Haddadi is the latest young starlet to emerge from the Nou Camp, with the Spaniard possessing an abundance of attacking talent. The deadly South American forward trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar will undoubtedly lead the line again, but this 20-year-old could make a genuine impact in games from the bench.
CL group and fixtures:
v Roma (Away), September 16th
v Bayer Leverkusen (Home), September 29th
v BATE (Away), October 20th
v BATE (Home), November 4th
v Roma (Home), November 24th
v Bayer Leverkusen (Away), December 9th