Ruby Malone reveals five things you should know about rivals Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Viktoria Plzen before they begin battling it out next week for a place in the last 16.Embed from Getty Images
Bayern are back to haunt Barca… again
Bayern Munich and Barcelona face each other in the Champions League group stages for a second consecutive season and it’s high time Barca got their own back. The Bavarians beat them 3-0 in both 2021/22 legs and condemned them to the Europa League – a competition that the Spanish giants were not familiar with, having made it through the Champions League group stages every season for almost two decades. And of course, there’s also the 8-2 demolition of Barcelona in the 2019/20 quarter-final that no one can forget!
But this is certainly not the only bragging rights Bayern fans hold over the Spaniards. The Bavarians have won their last four meetings with Barcelona (3-2 in May 2015, 8-2 in August 2020, 3-0 last September and then 3-0 in December), which is the longest winning run ever by a team against them in Europe.
Barcelona have also suffered more Champions League defeats (8) and conceded more goals (28) against Bayern than they have against any other club. The question is, will Barca’s risky spending spree this summer help them finally get some revenge?Embed from Getty Images
Did you know the origins of Inter Milan’s name?
The word ‘Inter’ in football is usually used as an abbreviation for ‘Internazionale’ or ‘International’ and this speaks to the origins of the football club. It’s said that Inter’s founding members were originally involved with the Milan Cricket and Football Club (now known as AC Milan) but didn’t agree with the club’s stance on only allowing Italian players to play for them. In 1908, they therefore decided to form their own breakaway club that accepted foreign players and named it ‘Internazionale’ in honour of this.
The reunited forward partnership of Belgian Romelu Lukaku and Argentinian Lautaro Martinez is the perfect embodiment of this and will certainly keep their Group C opponents on their toes!Embed from Getty Images
Robert Lewandowski is back!
Star striker Lewandowski’s eight-year spell at Bayern Munich ground to a halt this summer when he joined Barcelona for around £42.5million. His time with the Bavarians ended on a bitter note, with the Pole refusing to sign a new contract and pushing for a move away from the Bundesliga. He will now face his former team back at his old stomping ground, the Allianz Arena, sooner than expected (Tuesday, September 13) and will surely be looking to wreak havoc on his comeback.
Bayern’s veteran Thomas Muller reacted to the draw and reunion with his old team-mate, saying: “What a terrific story that we’re going to meet Barcelona with Robert Lewandowski. For me, a super group with super teams.”
Speaking of Muller, no player has scored more Champions League goals against Barcelona than the German. Will he manage to net more than his old forward partner Lewandowski over the two legs?Embed from Getty Images
The ultimate underdogs: Viktoria Plzen
When Viktoria Plzen were the last team drawn into Group C, a wave of groans coursed through all sympathetic football fans. In terms of getting points on the board, the draw couldn’t really have gone worse for them. But the Czech side aren’t as unfamiliar with these clubs as some might think.
Plzen have made it to the Champions League group stages three times and they have been unlucky enough to draw Barcelona and Bayern Munich in two of those seasons (as well as Real Madrid in the third… talk about bad luck!). They drew Barcelona in the 2011/12 season and lost both games (2-0 away and 4-0 at home). Coincidentally, another group opponent that year was Inter’s derby rivals AC Milan and Plzen managed a draw at home against them. Maybe hope for points on the board isn’t completely lost! The Group D meeting with Bayern Munich came two years later in 2013/14, when the Czechs lost both games to the Bavarians (5-0 away and 1-0 at home).
Despite these tough opponents, Plzen managed to finish third in the group and secure a transfer into the Europa League knockout stages all three times. Sadly, this ‘group of death’ looks like it may end this run but, hey, you never know in football – everyone loves a David v Goliath story!Embed from Getty Images
The fixture list has been kinder to some than to others!
Fixture congestion is increasingly becoming a serious pain for clubs, with many top managers (such a Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho) criticising the strain it puts on their players. This is only made worse by the 2022 Winter World Cup in Qatar, forcing teams to make up for the two-month international break in the remaining months of the season. Having three heavyweights in Group C means that major domestic games will likely fall around difficult group stage games, leading to fatigue and possible drops in performance.
Barcelona have a brutal mid-October fixture list, playing four games in 10 days, including an El Clasico. Talk about impending doom! This run kicks off with an away trip to their biggest rivals Real Madrid (October 16) and ends with their second leg Champions League game against Bayern Munich (October 26). As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a home game against Unai Emery’s Villlarreal thrown in there for good measure – a fixture that Barca lost 2-0 only three months ago. Bayern only have two games in the same 10 days, so boss Julian Nagelsmann will no doubt be watching this run intently and will aim to exploit the exertion it’ll put on the Barcelona squad.
Bayern are fortunate in that they only have to play the Bundesliga clubs who finished in the top four last season around their Champions League games against Plzen, but Inter aren’t so lucky. They have a Derby della Madonnina this Saturday, which comes four days before their group opener against Bayern next Wednesday. They also have to play Mourinho’s Roma a few days before their first game against Barcelona and Italian giants Juventus five days after their Bayern away fixture in November. Ouch.
It will be an impressive feat if these squads are still standing come the end of the group stages, never mind after the 2022 World Cup!Embed from Getty Images
Wednesday, September 7: Barcelona v Plzen; Inter v Bayern, both 8pm
Tuesday, September 13: Plzen v Inter, 5.45pm; Bayern v Barcelona, 8pm
Tuesday, October 4: Bayern v Plzen, 5.45pm; Inter v Barcelona, 8pm
Wednesday, October 12: Barcelona v Inter; Plzen v Bayern, both 8pm
Wednesday, October 26: Inter v Plzen, 5.45pm; Barcelona v Bayern, 8pm
Tuesday, November 1: Bayern v Inter; Plzen v Barcelona, both 8pm
Finishing place predictions: 1. Bayern, 2. Barcelona, 3. Inter, 4. Plzen
Bayern Munich will continue their domination over Barcelona by topping the group. New signing Sadio Mane will no doubt have a big part to play in this, with three goals in his first four games for the Bavarians. Barca will look to regain respect in Europe after being dumped out of Champions League group stage last season and their ludicrous shopping spree in this summer’s transfer window will help them secure the second spot. Hopefully Plzen will manage to get a few points on the board, but it won’t be enough to gain them third place and a transfer to the Europa League this time.
Follow Ruby Malone on Twitter @RubyGMalone