Rome — When Lionel Messi and Barcelona open their Champions
League title defense at Roma on Wednesday, the Giallorossi will be eager to
show they can no longer be pushed around by European powers.
Roma's humiliating 7-1 loss at home to Bayern Munich last
season came seven years after a defeat by the same score to Manchester United.
Roma was eliminated from the group stage a year ago.
"Barcelona is an immense club, the defending champion,
they've won their first three Liga matches, but there's no point in saying
great things about this squad," Roma coach Rudi Garcia said. "We're
going to play respectfully, but also with ambition."
Just like last season in the run-up to that Bayern match,
Roma has had a strong start to Serie A, beating last season's Champions League
runner-up Juventus 2-1, and showing strong potential with an impressive array
of new players in Edin Dzeko, Iago Falque, Mohamed Salah, and Wojciech
But Garcia will be without key playmaker Miralem Pjanic due
to a right calf strain. That might open space for the 38-year-old Totti, whose
next goal will be his 300th for Roma.
Bayer Leverkusen hosts BATE Borisov in the other Group E
Also read: FIFA probes complaint into Chelsea loan of Salah to Roma
Here are some other things to know about the group:
MESSI'S 100th: Lionel Messi is set to make his 100th
appearance in the Champions League and look to add to his record 77 goals in
the competition — a mark he shares with Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
Last November, Messi broke Raul Gonzalez's record of 71
goals in 142 matches; Messi needed 91 games to surpass it.
Messi scored his first goal in the Spanish league on
Saturday, the winner as a second-half substitute at Atletico Madrid. That took
his record haul of Liga goals to 286.
Barcelona is without Messi's injured partner on the right
flank, Dani Alves, but center back Gerard Pique will be well rested after
missing the first three Spanish league games due to suspension for screaming at
a referee in the Spanish Super Cup.
RANK OUTSIDER: BATE Borisov has sprung Champions League
surprises in the past, most notably a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich three years
ago, but there is little indication the Belarusian club will produce anything
similar this season.
A dismal group stage last year saw BATE lose 5-0, 6-0, and
7-0 against Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk, arguably weaker opponents than any it
will face in Group E.
BATE's only notable summer signing was former Barcelona
midfielder Alexander Hleb, now a 34-year-old journeyman who last plied his
trade with mid-table Turkish teams.
While BATE is a past master at getting through Champions
League qualifying — in four of the last five seasons — this year's campaign was
unimpressive. BATE won by one goal against Irish and Hungarian teams before
scraping past Serbia's Partizan Belgrade on away goals.
However, BATE faces few domestic distractions, with an
eight-point lead in its chase for a 10th successive Belarusian Premier League
LABORING LEVERKUSEN: Bayer Leverkusen has a scoring problem.
Roger Schmidt's well-organized side has failed to score in its last two
Bundesliga games, while three goals in four league games altogether do not
instill confidence ahead of the visit of BATE Borisov.
Despite his free kick prowess, Hakan Calhanoglu has not yet
found his creative spark in midfield and Leverkusen has been struggling for
goal chances. An average of seven per game is the worst in the Bundesliga.
That could change against BATE on Wednesday. Leverkusen
already showed in the side's qualifiers against Lazio that it can play quick
incisive attacking football.
And if the players fail to rise to the occasion, new signing
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is waiting to make his mark.For
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