Champions League Group H Preview






To Win Group H
Barcelona 1/5
AC Milan 9/2
Ajax 16/1
Celtic 50/1

Barcelona: Lionel Messi

In the case of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, the world ran out of superlatives a long time ago.

His qualities have been widely publicised, while his goalscoring record speaks for itself. Subsequently, records continue to fall at the feet of the 26-year-old, who may just be the greatest footballer ever.

Nevertheless, questions continue to follow the player, who has made the extraordinary appear mundane, whenever he doesn’t achieve perfection.

Thus, following last year’s semi-final hammering by Bayern, all eyes are on Messi and his teammates to see if the 2009 and 2011 Champions League winners have a response to being comprehensively decimated.

Now, the brilliant Argentine must come up with a response and look to improve upon a 60-goal season where he merely won a sixth La Liga title.

Five goals in his opening two league matches is quite the start, but it’s the Champions League that remains the acid test, and Messi’s riposte to the last campaign will be well worth looking out for.

AC Milan: Mario Balotelli

In the eight months since arriving at AC Milan from Manchester City, Mario Balotelli has visibly grown from an oft-frustrating, mercurial talent laced with potential to a No. 9 who is consistently making decisive contributions for his side.

Leading the line for Masimiliano Allegri’s side as the first-choice central striker, Balotelli has begun to show a maturity far exceeding anything that he has shown at either Inter Milan or Manchester City and which has subsequently led to 14 goals in 17 appearances for the Rossoneri.

Physically strong, excellent at using his body to protect the ball, ferocious shooting power and an underrated ability to link play, the Italian international is growing into the player who Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli always believed he would be.

The enigmatic forward always makes for interesting viewing, but as he matures it is becoming increasingly for his footballing qualities than anything else, and that only bodes well both for Milan and the Azzurri.

Ajax: Siem De Jong

As is the norm with modern football, more big names have departed Ajax and the Amsterdam Arena this summer—in this case Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen and Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld—but the excellent attacking midfielder and club captain Siem de Jong remains.

The 24-year-old, a mixture of technical quality and positional intelligence, has played his part in Ajax’s three successive Eredivisie triumphs, with a career average of one goal every three games.

De Jong suffered a collapsed lung in early August, but the four-time European champions will be counting on him as soon as he returns to fitness.

Celtic: Nir Biton

The 21-year-old defensive midfielder is the current Israel under-21 international skipper and arrived at Celtic from FC Ashdod towards the end of the transfer window.

Tall and imposing, Biton is something of a replacement for Victor Wanyama, the midfield destroyer who left for Southampton earlier in the summer.

Strong in the tackle and positionally disciplined, Biton will need to be at his best if the Scottish club are to frustrate their more technical opponents and are to stand any chance of escaping the group.