Finally, the wait is over. After an exciting summer and a rather tough draw, Barcelona begins its Champions League journey in Group C, featuring Bayern München, Internazionale, and Viktoria Plzeň. Following such reinforcements in the squad, expectations would naturally go up, but just to advance through the knockouts is by no means a walk in the park for the Blaugrana.
Fortunately, we will start the Champions League run with assumably the lightest encounter of all, the one against Viktoria Plzeň. Far be it from me to disparage the ability of any opponent, but if we put on the glasses of reality, our superiority is unquestionable.
However, football is a game of accidental happenings, where the odds are often defied and the normal power rankings overturned. No matter how good you are, some unexpected difficulties and inexplicable results can slip in anytime and this happens with the best. Thus, no opposition should be taken lightly, showing a warning sign to anyone in the sport.
The reigning Czech champions are not unfamiliar with European football as they have frequently qualified for continental series in the last decade. With 6 league titles in their bag, the Plzeň-based outfit is one of the most successful teams in the country, and they are looking to extend their domestic dominance even further this season, as they started the season with a 100% success rate, winning all 6 the games played so far.
Last season, they fought a fierce battle with Slavia Praha and Sparta Praha for the title, and when it really mattered, they came in clutch and swooped it away from Slavia in the Championship round, where the regular, 16-team season’s top 6 played a short mini-championship to earn extra points to make the finale more exciting. And now, we can say it really did.
The Czechs’ attacking play wasn’t on the same level as their other two rivals’, but their defense was the best in the league. If they manage to transform their play to the European level, a massive defensive structure can cause problems for a team like ours.
On the other hand, the effectiveness of our attacking play reflects perfectly in that brutal force demonstration against Sevilla, where everything clicked and it showed how terrifyingly monstrous is the quality of our forwards, backed up with a well-working playing conception based on quick tempo, direct attack driving and a ton of movement.
From another perspective, in such a tight and strained calendar ahead, this game is the perfect opportunity to rotate the squad and give an opportunity for the backup players to show themselves. So, I would like to see numerous key positions changed, giving rest to some key players like Lewandowski, Busquets, and Pedri to give a chance to others like Memphis, Frenkie or Kessié, and even the likes of Pablo Torre or Bellerín, who can prove that they are capable to count with.
With that, a game that could be seen as a boringly obvious, devastating beating from Xavi’s men, augurs to carry exciting points to watch. Nevertheless, no other result than victory is acceptable in front of Camp Nou, as claiming all 3 points in similar must-taken results is the minimum required in such a tough battle for survival in the group of death of the 2022-23 Champions League.