Barcelona start their Champions League defense in unarguably the most mouthwatering opening day tie against Inter Milan at the San Siro.
Not only is this a battle between two European giants, it is also a game where many players will be playing against their former clubs.
Barcelona do not have an easy task on their hands, that is for sure. Inter, for all their domestic successes, have not made strides in Europe in the recent years. However, the Nerazzuri might feel that, with the additions that they have made to the squad this season, they have the best chance in a long time to finally provide a serious challenge in the Champions League
Form Guide: Barcelona have made a very positive start to the new season. In two league games, they have scored five goals and conceded none. Ibrahimovic has netted in both the games, and his link-up play with Messi was evident against Getafe.
September 12 v Getafe (A) – WON 2-0 (La Liga)
August 31 v Sporting Gijon (H) – WON 3-0 (La Liga)
August 28 v Shakhtar Donetsk (A) – WON 1-0 (UEFA Super Cup)
August 23 v Athletic Bilbao (H) – WON 3-0 (Super Copa)
August 19 v Manchester City (H) – LOST 1-0 (Friendly)
As we can see, in the last five games, Barcelona have lost just once - when they had played their reserves in the Gamper Cup against Manchester City. They have won the remaining four games in comfortable fashion without key players like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
The team will also be high on confidence with the fact that they have won two trophies already.
Probable Line-up: Valdes - Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal - Xavi, Toure, Iniesta - Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry
Rafael Marquez has been included in the squad after his long injury layoff. However, it is highly unlikely that he would start, given the stature of the opponents and the importance Guardiola lays on physical fitness. Dmitryo Chigrinskiy is, of course, ineligible to play in the Champions League this season.
Players to Watch
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Ibra will be keen to prove that Barcelona got the better part of the swap deal sending him and Eto'o in opposite directions. The reception from the Inter fans is something he will have to take in his stride, as he strives to live up to his 46 million euro transfer fee. A goal against his former employers would provide him with a confidence boost as well as serve as a deterrent for the people who call him a big-game flop.
Andres Iniesta - Finally back to full fitness, San Andres will be rearing to reunite with Xavi to complete the deadliest midfield in the the world. With Xavi pulling the string and Iniesta providing the creative spark, it is difficult for Barcelona to lose.
Barcelona have their strongest starting eleven available for tomorrow's game. It is in fact, stronger than the team that took Rome by storm on May 27th. Over the course of the past season, we have seen this starting eleven wreak havoc against the strongest of opponents, and tomorrow should be no different.
Inter Milan News
Form Guide: Inter have made a good start to the season as well, the highlight of which was the 4-0 thrashing of AC Milan in the Milan derby.
September 13 v Parma (H) – WON 2-0 (Serie A)
September 5 v Lugano (A) – DREW 3-3 (Friendly)
August 29 v AC Milan (A) – WON 4-0 (Serie A)
August 23 v Bari (H) – DREW 1-1 (Serie A)
August 16 v Bahrain (A) – WON 1-0 (Friendly)
Inter have also not lost in the last few games, and have been high on confidence with the performances of new signings Eto'o, Milito and Sneijder.
Probable Line-up: Julio Cesar - Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Chivu - Zanetti, Motta, Stankovic - Sneijder -Milito, Eto’o
Dejan Stankovic has overcome the flu that struck him in recent days, while Cristian Chivu should return to left-back in place of Davide Santon. Esteban Cambiasso trained on Tuesday but is unlikely to start.
Players to Watch
Samuel Eto'o - Naturally, the first person that comes to mind here is a very familiar face for Barcelona fans. Samu has scored twice in three league games, and he will need to be contained at every opportunity. His goal against Parma was spectacular, and Pep Guardiola will be working to ensure that the Cameroonian is not given any space to work his magic. Especially with him being eager to prove a point to his former employers.
Douglas Maicon - The best player of the Nerazzuri by a mile, Maicon is a danger in defense as well as attack. He can break up opposition attacks, as well as create some spectacular ones himself. With him and Alves on opposite flanks, we will witness some fireworks for sure.
Inter have made some quality additions to the squad in Milito, Sneijder and Eto'o. With these three, and the remaining players they have on offer, Barcelona know that they do not have an easy task ahead of them.
Inter are the first stiff challenge Barcelona will be facing this season. The Nerazzuri will be looking to derail Barcelona's train before it is fully on track, and a home win would also provide a huge confidence boost to Jose Mourinho's men.
However, on the other side stands a formidable Barcelona eleven. While people have been moaning about the lack of depth, they have overlooked the full quality of the starters present in the squad. And the entire starting eleven being fit, Barcelona would be looking to sweep the board at the San Siro
Prediction: Inter Milan 1 - 2 Barcelona