Barcelona became one of the most impressive, dominant winners of the European Cup in recent history as their supreme forward trio fired them to continental glory and to cap a clean sweep of trophies last season. Their goal now is to become the first club ever to win back-to-back Champions League titles. With Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar showing little sign of slowing down, it would be dangerous to write them off doing just that.
Barcelona will come into their opening group match against Roma on Wednesday on a real high, despite it having been far from the smoothest start to the campaigns. An emphatic Spanish Super Cup defeat to Athletic Bilbao showed up a squad that was already stretched thin by fitness concerns and an inability to introduce fresh blood over the summer due to the continuing transfer ban. While new signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal waited on the sidelines, unable to play for their new club until January, last season’s captain Xavi left for Qatar and reliable performer Pedro was sold off. The likes of Messi and Neymar had arrived back late after taking part in the Copa America, and even those players who had taken a full part in preseason had to endure a draining schedule that took in both coasts of the United States and Georgian capital Tbilisi.
Given a fixture list that meant Barcelona would travel to five of the top seven clubs in La Liga last season in the first half of this campaign, it promised to be a tough start for coach Luis Enrique. When Dani Alves went down injured in the first game, leaving young midfielder Sergi Roberto to fill in at right-back, the problems rose yet further.
Yet Barcelona have won all three league games so far. That all have been by a single goal only illuminates what a challenge it has been and the incredible belief that now runs through the squad after landing the treble. On Saturday, Barcelona went to a strong Atlético Madrid side fresh from two victories of their own and prevailed 2-1. Lionel Messi started on the bench after a long trip for international duty and the birth of son Mateo, but, after Neymar had pulled Barcelona level with a superb free-kick, he came on to turn the match in his side’s favor and net the winner from Suárez ’s assist.
The greatest attacking trio around is again firing on all cylinders. It is now Roma’s task to try and stop them at the Stadio Olimpico and provide an ideal platform as they seek to reach the Champions League knockout phase for the first time in five seasons. With Bayer Leverkusen, along with Bate Borisov, also in Group E, it will be no easy challenge.
No club will ever be particularly high on confidence going up against this all-conquering Barcelona team, but Roma should certainly head into the contest in positive spirits. Rudi Garcia’s team have taken seven points from their opening three matches in Serie A, including a hugely impressive 2-1 victory over four-time defending champions Juventus. It has raised hopes that this could be the season that Roma end a title drought that stretches back to 2001.
Many of the several new faces brought in this summer have already made a positive impact. Striker Edin Dzeko, on loan from Manchester City, scored a towering header against Juventus, winger Iago Falque also scored his first goal on Saturday and on-loan Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has already come up with some big saves.
Despite a 2-0 win, Roma were not, though, at their best in a 2-0 victory over newly promoted Frosinone on Saturday. And Garcia is also faced with the task of replacing influential playmaker Miralem Pjanic, who has been sidelined for three weeks with a calf strain. Barcelona’s injury list, meanwhile, now includes Thomas Vermaelen, as well as Dani Alves and Claudio Bravo, after the former Arsenal defender was forced off with a calf problem against Atletico Madrid.
Prediction: Roma look better equipped to make an impact in the Champions League this time around after their summer transfer business and the experience gained from the completion last term. They will be desperate to avoid the same sort of humbling defeat they suffered when going down 7-1 at home to Bayern Munich last season. Roma should achieve that, but Barcelona, with Messi, Neymar and Suarez likely to be back together from the start, are likely to still have too much.
Predicted score: Barcelona over Roma, 2-1