Champions League: PSV, Inter and Tottenham await


By guest contributor Soham Banerjee (@IamSohamB).

Lionel Messi has made it clear that FC Barcelona's focus is the Champions League above all else this season, but the group stage may feel like a larger hurdle than in recent years. Included in their group are Premier League giants Tottenham, historic Italian powerhouses Internazionale Milan and Dutch champions PSV.

PSV Eindhoven

Dutch champions PSV started the Eredivisie in dominating fashion with a plethora of excellent performances. They are the only team in the Netherlands first division to start the season with a perfect record, taking 15 points from their five games. A young team full of energy and grit, PSV promises an entertaining display, particularly at home.

PSV did lose a major force in midfield from a season ago with Marco van Ginkel heading back to parent club Chelsea after scoring fourteen goals and four assists a season ago. Colombian right-back Santiago Arias also made his move to Atletico Madrid. In their place, the red and whites brought in Mexican midfielder Erick Gutierrez and reinforced with their annual promotions from a terrific academy. The names to watch for PSV play on the wings in 23-year-old Hirving Lozano and 20-year-old Steven Bergwijn, who is currently recovering from a groin injury. Gaston Pereiro, Jorrit Hendrix and journeyman Luuk de Jong are the experienced players in the middle, though Pereiro and Hendrix are both just 23 years old in their own right. This is a young, hungry team with players looking to make a name for themselves on the international stage and Ernesto Valverde should not think of them as the minnows of any group.

Matches: 9/18/18 PSV@Barcelona, 11/28/18 Barcelona@PSV 

Internazionale Milan

After a flurry of activity in the transfer window, Inter Milan has greatly improved their squad on paper. While they have yet to put things together in Serie A, tasting an opening match defeat to Sassuolo to start the campaign, it is only a matter of time before some of their new faces including Radja Nainggolan, Lautaro Martinez, Sime Vrsaljko, former La Masia star Keita Balde, Kwadwo Asamoah and Stefan de Vrij start to click.

Former La Masia prospects Milan Skriniar and Mauro Icardi are Inter Milan's most important players along the backline and forward position respectively. Add World Cup finalists Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic to the mix and the assumed third place team in the group looks even more dangerous. The San Siro has long be an extremely challenging location for the Blaugrana, and fans can expect 180 minutes of intense football between the two teams.

Matches: 10/24/18 Inter@Barcelona, 11/6/18 Barcelona@Inter

Tottenham Hotspur


Mauricio Pochettino's men have displayed their might in last season's Champions League by acing the group stage, coming in first in a group containing Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. World Cup top scorer Harry Kane leads the line, and Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris, Christian Eriksen and Heung-min Son are all some of the best at their positions in the world as well. A misstep against Watford and the 2-1 loss to Liverpool have been their two blemishes so far this season, but the issues with Tottenham were on display in both games.
Pochettino chose not to reinforce his squad in the transfer window and even with a talented, deep squad, injuries and heavy legs could pile up in a hurry. Much like Luis Suarez, there is no trusted back-up for Kane unless Fernando Llorente finds the fountain of youth. For all the complaints about Barcelona's packed schedule, Tottenham is dealing with the same issue. The only solace for the men from North London is that their home contest against Barcelona comes in the middle of match-ups against Huddersfield and Cardiff City, two teams already fighting to stay out of the relegation zone. As difficult as PSV and Inter Milan will be for both these sides, the winner of Tottenham-Barcelona battles should win the group.

Matches: 10/3/18 Barcelona@Tottenham, 12/11/18 Tottenham@Barcelona

Conclusion

With a strong bench and an inspired starting eleven, Barcelona have to work really hard to qualify to the round of 16 or even top the group in the group many football pundits deem as the ‘Group of Death’. It will be an interesting couple of months for the club and the football community overall as all eyes shift back to the biggest club competition in the world.

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