Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Glasgow Celtic are all huge teams in their respective countries and will be facing FC Barcelona in the UCL group stage. Here we take a brief look at each of them:
Benfica: Familiar faces
The runners up in last year’s Portuguese championship are the side with the strongest continental track record out of FCB’s three opponents. Double European Cup winners in the 1960s, Benfica currently employ a number of players that have Spanish Liga experience. Manager Jorge Jesús’ squad includes Nolito (ex Barça B), Garay, Rodrigo, Javi García (ex Real Madrid), Aimar (ex Valencia) and this summer’s star signing Salvio (ex Atlético Madrid). The side also features Witsel and Cardozo, who lead the midfield and attack respectively. Last season they very nearly put eventual champions Chelsea out of the competition in the quarter finals.
Spartak: Emery the main danger
The third seed in the group is one of Russia’s powerhouses. Although they haven’t won a major honour for nine years, Spartak have been improving of late. Recent reinforcements include Källstrom, Romulo, former Espanyol man Pareja and Nigeria’s Emenike, who dazzled last season with 13 goals in 22 games. But perhaps the most important acquisition is not a player but the coach, Unai Emery, who did such a good job at Valencia and knows all about making life difficult for Barça. But the man in charge of the Muscovite club never managed to beat Barcelona with his previous club, nor with Almeria before that, his overall track record being four draws and six defeats.
Celtic: the new king of Scotland
Although they have 11 fewer league titles than their eternal rivals Rangers, these are happy days for the green and white half of Scotland’s biggest city. For economic reasons, their protestant rivals have been forced to disband and are now starting all over again in the Scottish Third Division. With Rangers out of the way for at least the next three years, Celtic look set to dominate the domestic championship like never before, which means manager Neil Lennon will be able to focus almost his entire attention on his club’s European campaign. Applying their typically physical but direct approach, their strengths include Wanyama in midfield and Greek international Samaras up front.