Published September 15, 2015
ROME (AP) 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 Szczesny.
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 match.
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 title.
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.
Associated Press writers Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, James Ellingworth in Moscow and Ciaran Fahey in Berlin contributed.
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf