FC Barcelona has been drawn into Group D for this season’s Champions League, along with Juventus, Olympiacos and Sporting Lisbon. After winning their group comfortably last year, the Blaugrana are likely in for a tougher road to the knockout rounds this season, mostly due to the presence of the Old Lady.
Home and away against Juventus are obviously the most mouth-watering of the fixtures. Last season the Italian champions got revenge for Barcelona’s Champions League Final triumph in 2015 when they knocked the Blaugrana out 3-0 in the quarterfinals. Juventus won the first leg 3-0 in Turin and shut out Barcelona again at the Nou Camp in the return leg, making it all the way to the Final once again before losing to Real Madrid. Paulo Dybala, a transfer target for Barcelona this summer, scored two goals in the tie and might be motivated to do further damage against the Catalans after the club reportedly deemed him incompatible with Messi despite them being teammates for Argentina.
Olympiacos will be a familiar opposition for Ernesto Valverde, as he managed the club on two occasions, for one season in 2008-09 and for two seasons from 2010-12, winning three domestic trophies while in charge. Olympiacos were the champions of the Greek League for the seventh straight time last season, and they also have a fairly recent victory against Juventus in the Champions League group stages under their belts. Due to Greece’s low UEFA coefficient, the red and whites had to advance to the group stage through the playoff round, and they did so by defeating Croatian side Rijeka 3-1 on aggregate.
Sporting Lisbon will be feeling unlucky for the second straight season after being drawn with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund last campaign. The Lisbon Lions have taken a step back in the past decade or so compared to their fellow Portuguese giants, last winning the league in 2001-02 while either Benfica or Porto has won it every year since. After finishing third in Liga NOS last season, Sporting qualified for the group stages through the playoff, winning 5-1 away to Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday after a 0-0 draw in Lisbon. Sporting could be a tricky opponent in this group, but the departure of star defensive midfielder William Carvalho would weaken their team if it happens.
Barcelona’s Champions League group stage fixtures will certainly not lack intrigue this season. Their matchups with Juve will be great early tests for Valverde and the away matches against Sporting and Olympiacos should present challenges as well. Anything short of going through would obviously be a disaster for the Blaugrana, but it isn’t hard to see them falling short of the top spot in the group depending on how the team performs in Turin.