FC Barcelona vs Royal Antwerp FC
Competition/Round: 2023-24 Champions League, Group H, Matchday 1
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Pedri, Ronald Araujo (out)
Antwerp Outs & Doubts: Björn Engels, Ortwin De Wolf, Kobe Corbanie, Jacob Ondrejka
Date/Time: Tuesday, September 19, 2023, 9pm CET (Barcelona), 8pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 12.30am IST (India, Wednesday)
Venue: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Montjuïc, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Radu Petrescu (ROU)
VAR: Ovidiu Haţegan (ROU)
How to watch on TV: TUDN (USA), TNT Sports 4 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), SONY TEN 3 (India), Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), others
Following a sensational victory over Real Betis to return from the international break in style, Barcelona begin their continental journey this season as they welcome Belgian champions Royal Antwerp to the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium for their Champions League group stage opener on Tuesday night.
Barça come into this one after a breathtaking showing and a truly impressive victory against a good Betis team, with a brilliant team display and exceptional individual performances all across the lineup. It was the best version of Xavi Hernández’s vision for this team, and it sets the standards for what they can be this season.
Because of just how dominant they looked at the weekend, it is easy to look at Barça going up against a team making their first-ever group stage appearance in the Champions League at home and expecting another domination. But this is 2023, and football has changed.
Just because you don’t know a team well, it doesn’t mean they are weak and don’t have a chance. Antwerp won the Belgian league last season and went through a gauntlet to get to the group stage, and a quick scan of the squad shows a number of high-level veterans who have played significant roles in the biggest leagues in Europe and play alongside some very exciting prospects.
They are coached by a familiar face in former Barça midfielder Mark van Bommel, and the Dutchman is saying his team won’t be afraid to test themselves against the mighty Blaugrana and will try to play their aggressive, physical, attacking style at Montjuïc.
Barça are obvious favorites, even if Xavi Hernández rotates his side and makes some changes to the team that beat Betis, as the local press expects. Even with a weaker team the Blaugrana will have more than enough to get the win, but it might not be as easy as many think.
Antwerp deserve respect, not only from us as fans, but more importantly from Xavi and the Barça players. If the Catalans don’t take this for granted and play with the same urgency as they did at the weekend, they should make this easy. If they don’t, it could be a frustrating night.
It’s time to hear that beautiful anthem again, and it’s time to start an European journey that hopefully doesn’t end in embarrassment again. And it’s important to set the tone in the first game, showing the rest of Group F that they’re fighting for second place.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Iñigo, Balde; Gündogan, Romeu, De Jong; Yamal, Lewandowski, Félix
Antwerp (4-2-3-1): Butez; Bataille, Alderweireld, Coulibaly, De Laet; Keita, Vermeeren; Muja, Ekkelenkamp, Balikwisha; Janssen
Everyone is expecting Barça to steamroll an unknown team, but that’s not how football works these days. I don’t think this will be easy from minute one and it might take a while for Barça to separate and finally establish their dominance, but they will look like the better team eventually and get off to a winning start in the group: 3-0 to the good guys.