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Neymar and Messi were outstanding together against Athletic Bilbao. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.

[[DES_1]]Barça are about to get their 2014/15 Champions League bid under way against APOEL of Nicosia at the Camp Nou. Top of the Liga table with three wins out of three and no goals conceded, they’re in a buoyant mood at the moment, and now’s the time to carry that excellent form across into Europe against the Cypriot champions, the first game in a group that also includes Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain.

But they’ll need to be wary of opponent that may not hail from the most glamorous of footballing nations, but who have caught teams out in the past. In their two previous appearances in the group stages, they have always made it through to the last sixteen and have managed to draw five of the six away games they’ve played. Luis Enrique is aware that this game is anything but a ‘gimme’ and reminded his supporters at his pre-match press conference that “we need you and in return we’ll be offering you a spectacular game.”

This will be the Asturian’s first game in charge of a team in Europe’s premier club competition, for which Dani Alves is included after being declared fully recovered from his knee injury, and fellow Brazilian Douglas has been named in the side for the first time since arriving at FC Barcelona.

Montoya, Busquets, Pedro, Mascherano and Jordi Alba have all been left out along with the injured Vermaelen. But Samper, Sandro and Munir, all of Barça B, are included in the squad of eighteen.

Encouraging starts

Barça traditionally get Champions League campaign off to a good start. In fact, they haven’t lost the opening fixture since 1997/98. In eight of the last seven editions they have started at the Camp Nou, and won six of those games and drew just one.

APOEL could be considered a side that has little to lose and a lot to win. The pundits are predicting that they’ll keep things excruciatingly tight at the back as they look to shut down every option available to the Catalans. And it’s a strategy that often pays off when more modest clubs come to the Camp Nou. All in all, it’s a whole new challenge for Luis Enrique, but one that he is sure to be relishing.

Barça squad versus APOEL

Ter Stegen, C. Bravo, Piqué, Rakitic, Xavi, A. Iniesta, Messi, Neymar, Rafinha, Bartra, Douglas, Sergi Roberto, Adriano, Dani Alves, Mathieu, Samper, Sandro & Munir.

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