FC Barcelona - Royal Antwerp FC preview: no excuses for a thrilling season
Photomontage: Aarón Luna, VAVEL

The top European competition reaches the TV screens and the seats of the fans one more year. FC Barcelona makes its debut in this season's edition of the Champions League against Royal Antwerp FC, Belgian champions, in a Group H where FC Porto and FK Shakhtar Donetsk from Ukraine accompany them. The Culés start their journey next Tuesday, September 19 at 21:00h at the Olympic Stadium Lluís Companys after beating Real Betis Balompié 5-0 in LaLiga EA Sports , with a great collective performance of the whole team.

The qualification for the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League is today a matter of state in the culé set, as the blaugrana accumulate two consecutive seasons without stepping on the knockout stages of the highest European competition, to dispute the Europa League after two poor performances in group stage. In the current season, with a more affordable group a priori, it is a major objective for Xavi Hernandez's team, which seeks to heal their wounds and return to compete for the prestigious trophy.


A squad to counteract the immaturity of previous years

Ilkay Gundogan en su presentación | FC Barcelona
Ilkay Gundogan at his presentation | FC Barcelona

Barça justified last season's elimination from the Champions League with the immaturity that the team still showed. This summer, the Blaugrana leadership has put together a squad with new faces and maturity in the competition, such as Ilkay Gundogan, reigning Champions League winner with Manchester City and one of the best midfielders in the world . In addition,players such as Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix bring fresh air and quality to the club, which has been in need of players of this caliber in recent years.

The blaugrana club lands in the match after sweeping Manuel Pellegrini 's Betis , one of the most eye-catching teams in LaLiga. The Culés showed a high level and signs of what they can become with a five-goal win in front of their home crowd at the Lluís Companys. First-timers Joao Félix and Joao Cancelo were among the scorers of the night, along with Ferrán Torres, Lewandowski and Brazilian Raphinha. It was a smart decision by Xavi to rest the 16-year-old Lamine Yamal in order to rotate the squad. With Xavi, no starting place is guaranteed.

Barça will not be able to count, a priori, neither with Ronald Araújo nor with Pedri, both injured and in the process of recovery. However, the Uruguayan has already been part of the collective training two days in a row, and everything suggests that he will be available for the next LaLiga EA SPORTS match against Celta Vigo.

Royal Antwerp in fine form ahead of European opener

Alderweireld en el gol que valió una Liga para el Antwerp | FC Royal Antwerp
Alderweireld on Antwerp's league-clinching goal | FC Royal Antwerp

The gift of the UEFA Champions League fell with gusto at Royal Antwerp FC last season. A frantic last-minute goal from Toby Alderweireld, an old acquaintance in the Spanish Liga, in the final match of the Belgian league competition gave the Antwerp side the league title 66 years after their last domestic championship triumph. Now, the Belgians see the Champions League as the perfect reward for a frenetic and incredible season.

The Belgians have started the season very well in their league. They arrive at Montjuic with a streak of two draws and four wins, the last one, a 0-3 thrashing of Westerlo away from home. They managed to qualify for the Champions League after beating AEK Athens 3-1 on aggregate in the qualifying round. Barça will also have to keep an eye on striker Vincent Janssen, who has scored five of the Belgian side's 13 league goals.

The team will be able to count on a full squad for its first Champions League game of the current season. The only doubt is the presence of center-back Björn Engels, who has a hamstring injury. The decision will be left to Mark van Bommel, coach of the Belgian team and former FC Barcelona player.

Xavi: "I can see hope in the players' faces".

Xavi en el entrenamiento antes de enfrentar al Betis | FC Barcelona
Xavi in training before the match against Betis | FC Barcelona

This morning at the Ciutat Esportiva del Barça, the blaugrana coach, Xavi Hernández, gave the media the respective press conference prior to the clash against Royal Antwerp FC in the UEFA Champions League: "It is an illusion to be back in this competition, it is time to take a step forward and believe it again to be great in Europe . It is the competition that will give us the step forward to be competitive. We want to give continuity to Saturday's game. We face it with great enthusiasm," began the Spanish coach, who has high hopes for the team ahead of the current campaign in Europe.

"The objective at the moment is to advance from the group. Later, we'll see, but right now, to advance from the group. Last year we played well, but the results didn't go our way. Tomorrow the competition starts and the objective is to reach the round of 16," he said after the club's two disastrous seasons in the Champions League.

Now, Xavi has a much better-prepared squad, with mature, high-caliber and high-level players. Despite the important departures, the club seems to have found the key and the level offered by the Culés in the last game may be the prelude to an improved proposal from the Terrassa coach.

Refereeing of the match

The Romanian Radu Petrescu, 40 years old, will be in charge of refereeing the first game of the blaugrana in the Champions League. The Romanian Catalin Copa will be in charge of the VAR.

Call-ups for the match

FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Iñaki Peña, Astralaga, Joao Cancelo, Iñigo Martínez, Araujo, Kounde, Christensen, Alejandro Balde, Marcos Alonso, De Jong, Gündogan, Gavi, Oriol Romeu, Sergi Roberto, Fermín López, Casadó, Lewandowski, Ferran Torres, Joao Félix, Raphinha, Lamine Yamal

Royal Antwerp FC: Call-up to be confirmed

Possible line-ups for the match

FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Cancelo, Koundé, Christensen, Balde, Romeu, De Jong, Gavi, Joao Félix, Ferran and Lewandowski.

Royal Antwerp FC: Butez, Van Den Bosch, T. Alderweireld, Samuel Vines, J. Bataille, Mandela Keita, A. Yusuf, J. Ondrejka, Michel Balikwisha, Arbnor Muja and V. Janssen.