Champions League 2014-15: Group F preview

Sports Mole takes a closer look at the four teams that make up Group F of this season's Champions League.

BARCELONA

Previous European Cup/CL best: Winners: 1992, 2006, 2009, 2011

Manager - Luis Enrique: The 44-year-old began his managerial career with Barcelona B in 2008, before spending one season each with Roma and Celta Vigo. Enrique was given the hotseat at Barcelona in the summer and will manage in the Champions League for the first time this season. As a player, however, he had plenty of experience representing Barcelona and Real Madrid in Europe, winning the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Super Cup with the former.

Key Player - Lionel Messi

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 12, 2014© Getty Images

Seen by many as the greatest player of all time, Messi has struck 356 goals in 428 games for Barcelona since making his first-team debut in 2004. He has scored 68 goals in 89 European games for the Catalan outfit, including seven in eight last season. His ever-expanding trophy cabinet boasts six league titles, three Champions Leagues and three Ballon d'Or awards.

Sports Mole says: Barcelona are four-time winners of the Champions League, while they have also finished as runners-up on three occasions. They were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Atletico Madrid last season, but before that, had reached at least the semi-finals in six consecutive campaigns. They have not won it since 2011, however, when they beat Manchester United 3-1 in the final. Their summer spending was with the aim of returning to the top of European football and it is difficult to see them not topping this particular group.

Did you know?: In 2009, Barcelona became the first Spanish club to win the continental treble consisting of La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League.


PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN

Previous European Cup/CL best: Semi-finals: 1995

Manager - Laurent Blanc: The Frenchman has been in charge of the capital side since 2013, replacing Carlo Ancelotti when the Italian moved on to Real Madrid. He led PSG to a league and cup double last season, while he also won Ligue 1 with Bordeaux in the 2008-09 campaign. As a player, he won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with Barcelona in 1997 and the World Cup with France in 1998. His playing career ended with a two-year spell at Manchester United, who he represented 24 times in European competition.

Key Player - Zlatan Ibrahimovic

PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Saint-Etienne during the Ligue 1 match on March 16, 2014© AFP

Ibrahimovic's haul of trophies is bettered by very few. He has won league titles for Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and PSG, but he has surprisingly never won the Champions League. A UEFA Super Cup arrived for Barcelona in 2009, however, and his goal record in Europe is sensational. He netted 10 goals in seven Champions League games last season and has 44 European goals in total. Ibrahimovic's international record is also superb – scoring 50 times in 100 appearances for Sweden.

Sports Mole says: PSG made the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season, eventually losing to Chelsea despite winning the first leg at home. They were also eliminated at the quarter-final stage in the 2012-13 campaign, which was the first time that had been in the Champions League since the 2004-05 season. They have previously won the Intertoto Cup [2001] and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup [1996]. Their big spending in recent seasons has been with the aim of making an impression in Europe and they will be confident of advancing from this particular group.

Did you know?: PSG are one of only two French clubs, the other being Marseille, to win a major European club competition.


AJAX

Previous European Cup/CL best: Winners: 1971, 1972, 1973, 1995

Manager - Frank de Boer De Boer is one of the most decorated individuals in Dutch football history, representing his country 112 times and acting as assistant manager of the national team from 2008 to 2010. The 44-year-old has been in charge of Ajax since 2010, leading the club to four league titles. As a player, De Boer had a glittering career, winning five league titles with Ajax and the Champions League in 1995. He also won the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup during his time in Amsterdam.

Key Player - Viktor Fischer

Ajax's Viktor Fischer in action against Salzburg during their Europa League match on February 20, 2014© AFP

The 20-year-old is widely regarded as one of the best young talents in European football and he has already made six appearances for Denmark. His record at club level is also impressive, netting 13 league goals in 47 games for Ajax. He has played 10 times in Europe over the last two seasons, but is yet to get off the mark in terms of goals. Ajax will need some magic from the youngster if they are to make an impression in the group.

Sports Mole says: Ajax have struggled to make their mark in European football in recent seasons, with the last of their four European Cup wins coming in 1995. Indeed, Ajax have not made it out of the group stages of the Champions League since the 2005-06 season, when they made it to the round of 16. Last season they finished third in the group, before exiting the Europa League at the last-32 stage. It is a big ask for the Dutch outfit once again and a spot in the Europa League might be the best that they can hope for.

Did you know?: Ajax have a host of Dutch legends on their staff. Edwin van der Sar is the marketing director, Marc Overmars is the technical director, while De Boer's assistant is Dennis Bergkamp.


APOEL

Previous European Cup/CL best: Quarter-finals: 2012

Manager - Giorgos Donis: The Greek has been in charge of APOEL since 2013, having previously had managerial spells with the likes of AEK Athens and PAOK. He won the league and cup double in his first season in charge of APOEL and is highly regarded at the club. As a player, Donis won the Greek league on two occasions with Panathinaikos, in addition to representing his country on 24 occasions.

Key Player - John Arne Riise

John Arne Riise of Fulham celebrates after scoring the winning goal in the penalty shoot-out during the Capital One Cup Second Round match between Burton Albion and Fulham at the Pirelli Stadium on August 27, 2013© Getty Images

As a whole, APOEL's squad has limited European experience. The same cannot be said for Riise, who joined the Cypriot side on a free transfer this summer. The former Norway international won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 and was also part of the team that finished runners-up in 2007. Riise has also won two UEFA Super Cups during his career and has made more than 100 appearances in European football.

Sports Mole says: APOEL's greatest moment in European competition occurred in the 2011-12 season, when they made the quarter-finals of the Champions League before losing 8-2 to Real Madrid on aggregate. This season is the first time that they have qualified for the group stages since that historic campaign, but they failed to make it out of the group stages of the Europa League last season. It is a serious ask for the minnows to qualify from this group and it might be a learning experience once more.

Did you know?: In 2012, APOEL became the only Cypriot team to ever reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.


Group F fixtures

Wednesday, September 17
Barcelona vs. APOEL
Ajax vs. PSG

Tuesday, September 30
PSG vs. Barcelona
APOEL vs. Ajax

Tuesday, October 21
APOEL vs. PSG
Barcelona vs. Ajax

Wednesday, November 5
PSG vs. APOEL
Ajax vs. Barcelona

Tuesday, November 25
APOEL vs. Barcelona
PSG vs. Ajax

Wednesday, December 10
Barcelona vs. PSG
Ajax vs. APOEL

Prediction: 1. Barcelona 2. PSG 3. Ajax 4. APOEL


Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi vies with Athletic Bilbao's French defender Aymeric Laporte during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Athletic Club Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2014
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TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Barcelona55001721515
2Sevilla541071613
3Atletico MadridAtletico5320104611
4Valencia52309369
5Real Sociedad430111749
6Real Betis530267-19
7Real Madrid52219548
8Villarreal52126517
9Athletic Bilbao52124317
10Leganes52123307
11Levante41305416
12Celta Vigo520367-16
13Las PalmasLas Palmas520358-36
14EibarEibar5203310-76
15GironaGirona512235-25
16Espanyol512238-55
17Getafe511335-24
18Deportivo La CorunaDeportivo5113611-54
19AlavesAlaves500508-80
20Malaga5005111-100
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