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UEFA Champions League Group G preview: Barca await Spartak visit

SoccerNews in UEFA Champions League 18 Sep 2012

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Heavyweights Barcelona start their bid for a fifth title in Europe’s premier club competition against Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.

The Spanish perennial favourites should top Group G with ease but it is the scrap for second and third that will pose the greatest intrigue.

Spartak are notoriously difficult to beat at home, and will pose a threat to even Barcelona, while Benfica and Celtic will both expect to make a big impression on the group.

Spartak have the unenviable task of being the first club to trek to Camp Nou on Wednesday after missing out on the Champions League altogether in 2011/12.

Meanwhile, Barcelona, under Tito Vilanova’s new regime, will hope to rebound from last year’s shock semi-final exit to eventual champions Chelsea.

Lionel Messi bagged an incredible 14 goals in last season’s edition and is well on his way to better Raul’s record of 76 goals in the competition, with the Argentine 25 goals away from breaking the mark.

Benfica start their journey two men down after the departure of stars Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia for a combined 48 million pounds.

Neither were replaced leaving Jorge Jesus with the monumental task of ensuring safe passage to the knockout stage for the second consecutive season without them.

Jesus has proven himself a shrewd and adaptable tactician and helped knock out Manchester United last season in the group stage.

A win over Zenit St Petersburg in the round of 16 was followed by narrow defeat over two legs to Chelsea in the last eight.

Once a fortress under Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan, Celtic Park will again play host to the elite of European football after a four-year hiatus.

Considered by many as the group’s underdog, Celtic no longer have arch rival Rangers to worry about domestically and can put more resources into a successful Champions League run.

The visit of Barcelona on November 7 will be the highlight for Celtic fans.

Striker Gary Hooper will lead the line having bagged an impressive nine goals in Celtic’s 2011/12 title-winning season, putting him on the radar of a number of English clubs.

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