New-look Barcelona face an old friend again
The Champions League draw has been finalised. Here's a preview for Group F:
Barcelona (Soccer Power Index (SPI) chance to advance: 96 percent)
Barcelona have reached seven consecutive semifinals in this competition and will expect to make it to that habitual stage at the very least. The club is undergoing a rebuilding process under Luis Enrique, and Ivan Rakitic, Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Matthieu, Thomas Vermaelen and, eventually, Luis Suarez will add a fresh look to the old guard that survives. Lionel Messi seeks his fourth winner's medal. Anything less than Barca winning the group is difficult to imagine.
PSG (SPI: 86.7 percent)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets another chance -- he'll also face Ajax, where he played from 2001-04 -- to revisit Barcelona with PSG, who were very close to knocking out the Catalan club in the 2012-13 campaign at the quarterfinal stage until Messi, playing virtually on one leg through injury, ousted them. Financial fair play has clipped PSG's spending wings but the French champions expect to go through and may be a nasty opponent for group winners in the second round.
Champions League group stage
A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo
B: Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
C: Benfica, Zenit, Leverkusen, Monaco
D: Arsenal, Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
E: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Man City, Roma
F: Barcelona, PSG, Ajax, APOEL
G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting, Maribor
H: Porto, Shakhtar, Athletic Bilbao, BATE
Ajax (SPI: 13.4 percent)
A status as an ailing giant of the competition seems sure to continue when confronted with the rich kids they face in Group F. The hope is that the club retains its stars for another season, and then manages to get a higher price for them next summer. Much may depend on the final days of the transfer window, with players like Daley Blind for sale at the right price. Despite Frank de Boer's growing reputation, the Europa League looks the most likely possibility.
APOEL (SPI: 4.0 percent)
They were the good-news story of the 2011-12 campaign, when they beat Lyon in the last 16 before falling to Real Madrid. Striker Cillian Sheridan will be the only Irishman in the entire competition, but it is highly difficult to see them being able to repeat their previous heroics under the management of former Greece winger Giorgos Donis.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.