The first day of the UEFA Champions League group stage is about to start, with Barcelona vs Bayern Munich among eight fixtures between Europe’s top football clubs on Tuesday.
Barcelona’s ability to compete in Europe without Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann will be put to the test when it hosts the team that dealt the Spanish side its most humiliating defeat in recent memory.
The 8-2 shellacking Bayern handed Barcelona in the 2020 Champions League quarterfinals marked the beginning of the end of the Messi era.
The financial troubles that kept Barcelona from re-signing Messi also forced them to loan Griezmann back to Atletico Madrid.
Ronald Koeman has to find a way to account for the 58 goals the two forwards scored last season. That task now falls to Memphis Depay, who has made a promising start at Camp Nou with two goals in three Spanish league matches.
Koeman should also have Spain standout Pedri Gonzalez back in his lineup after the young midfielder rested for two weeks after playing both the European Championship and the Tokyo Olympics.
Barcelona have confirmed forward Martin Braithwaite will undergo surgery on his left knee with reports the injury will rule him out for the remainder of 2021.
The 30-year-old Denmark international had asked to be substituted late in Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Getafe last month due to pain in his left knee and missed his country’s subsequent international fixtures.
Meanwhile, Russian side Zenit St Petersburg trained on Monday, a day before their UEFA Champions League Group H match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Zenit are taking part in their ninth Champions League campaign proper – and a third in succession – while they have reached the first knockout round in the 2011-2012, 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 seasons, but have yet to progress any further in Europe’s elite club competition.
Former Barcelona winger Malcom and his Zenit teammate Claudinho were initially ruled out of the game against Chelsea after the Brazilian FA requested FIFA imposed bans on those who failed to report for international duty, but that move was overturned before the weekend.
Zenit will be mindful of the threat posed by Chelsea’s star forward Romelu Lukaku.
Messi’s PSG visit Brugge
On Wednesday, Inter Milan will take on Real Madrid in Milan and Messi’s Paris Saint Germain will visit Belgium’s Club Brugge.
After winning the Champions League three years in a row, Madrid have gone three years without getting close, the task now falling to Carlo Ancelotti to put the club back where they believe they belong.
Madrid reached the semi-finals last season but were resoundingly beaten by Chelsea, whose 3-1 win on aggregate would have been more emphatic had they not missed a cluster of chances in the second leg.
Before that, Madrid were outclassed by Manchester City and outplayed by Ajax, a pair of deflating exits in the last 16 serving as a painful reality check after the giddy years between 2014 and 2018.
Messi and Neymar have been included in Paris St Germain’s Champions League squad for their trip to Club Brugge after the pair missed the weekend’s Ligue 1 action following their return from international duty.
Argentine Messi and Brazil’s Neymar played in World Cup qualifiers last Thursday and were back in Paris late on Friday. They missed PSG’s 4-0 win over Clermont the following day.
Angel Di Maria is not part of the 22-man squad after the Argentine winger was handed a three-game suspension by UEFA for stamping on Fernandinho in last season’s Champions League semi-final against Manchester City.
Centre back Sergio Ramos’s debut has again been delayed as the Spaniard has not fully recovered from a thigh injury, while midfielder Marco Verratti was also left out of the squad with a knee injury he sustained on duty with Italy.