BARCELONA START THEIR bid for a fifth title in Europe’s premier club competition at home to Spartak Moscow this evening.
The Catalan 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 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.
The Glasgow giants, now standing alone as favourites in the SPL, have so far fared poorly without Rangers to motivate them along.
Though Celtic comfortably overcame the challenge of Helsingborgs in the Champions League play-off round, they have won just twice in five attempts on domestic duty.
Maximum points were taken from meetings with Aberdeen and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, but they have conceded four goals in their past two league games: a draw with Hibernian and a defeat to St Johnstone.