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September 9, 2011

Defending champions Barcelona should have a smooth group stage in Europe

Since its name was changed from European Cup to UEFA Champions League in 1992 no team has been able to clinch back-to-back titles, something that Messi and company will try to achieve this season.

By Andrew Hill

Memories about the most recent UEFA Champions League edition are still fresh, as for second time in history it gave football fans the excitement of a Spanish classic in semi-finals, as well as a superb exhibition from Barcelona in the final against Manchester United. The new ones will begin to be written on round one, to be disputed between September 13 and 14.

That championship confirmed that Barcelona is the best team in Europe as of press time, and this season their biggest challenge will be to become the first squad ever to clinch back-to-back championships since the competition changed its name from European Cup to Champions League in 1992, year in which the Catalans won their first title in history in injury time against Sampdoria.

Barcelona will begin their title quest on Group H, where they will have their toughest rival in Italian giant Milan. And Bate Borisov from Belarus and Viktoria Pilsen from Czech Republic -considered the underdogs- complete the group.

The rest of the contenders that they could face in the knockout phase- taking for granted their classification to the next round- will come out from one of the other seven groups that make up the group stage:

In Group A Bayern Munich from Germany, Manchester City from England, Napoli from Italy, and Villareal from Spain compose the toughest of all groups, which is known as “The Group of Death”. The German and English clubs look like the stronger teams, but that doesn’t make Italians and Spaniards any less dangerous.

Manchester United will have in Benfica their toughest rival in Group C.

Inter (Italy), CSKA (Russia), Lille (France) and Trabzonspor (Turkey) make up Group B, with the Italians as favorites to clinch first place. As for the Tuskish their participation is a surprise, because they came to replace Fenerbahce after the competition forced them to withdraw after being accused of match-fixing in their country.

2010 Runner ups Manchester United (England) will have in Benfica (Portugal) their toughest rival in Group C, which is completed by Basilea (Switzerland) and Otelul Galati (Romany). The Red Devils will try to reach their third final in four seasons, where they could clinch their fourth title in history.

With 9 titles Real Madrid (Spain) holds the most trophies in Champions League history, and along Barcelona is one of the favorites to win the competition. They will be in Group D with Lyon (France), Ajax (Netherlands) and Dynamo Zagreb (Croatia), rivals that don’t really represent a threat for clinching a playoff berth.

In Group D Chelsea (England), Valencia (Spain), Bayern Leverkusen (Germany) and Gent (Belgium) will be after one of the two knockout phase tickets at stake. The Belgian team is the only one in the group that hasn’t made it to a Champions League, where the experience hasn’t been positive for Spaniards, Germans and Englishmen, since they’ve finished as runner-ups.

Arsenal (England), Marseille (France), Olympiakos (Greece) and Borussia Dortmund (Germany) make up Group F, with Gunners and Die Schwarzgelben as favorites.

And the 32 teams are completed by Group G, where Porto (Portugal), Shakhtar (Ukraine), Zenit (Russia) and APOEL (Cyprus) will also be fighting for a knockout phase ticket.

About the Author
When it comes to sports, Andrew Hill translates his passion into truthful and objective information of interest for the sports betting industry. As of today he specializes in the coverage of European soccer and NCAA basketball for BetIAS’ website.

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