Madrid turn sights to retaining Champions League

September 16, 2014 2:00 AM

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Real Madrid ended a 12-year wait for La Decima — a 10th European Cup — by winning the Champions League last season.

Now the Spanish club has a new target: Achieving what no team has managed in 25 years — retaining the trophy.

The Champions League returns this week, with Madrid's all-star line-up seemingly the team to beat again this season ahead of their first match at home against FC Basel today in Group B.

No team has successfully defended Europe's most prestigious club title since AC Milan in 1990, before the competition underwent a facelift and turned into the financial beast that is the Champions League.

As in recent years, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea will be among the favourites to challenge for the title.

With four strong teams involved, Spain is aiming to continue its run of outperforming the other major European leagues in the Champions League.

Spain put two teams into last year's final, when Madrid beat crosstown rival Atletico Madrid 4-1 after extra time, and has had two sides in the semi-finals for the past four seasons. Barcelona won the title in 2011.

Like Madrid, Atletico begin their campaign today at Olympiakos in Group A. On Wednesday, Barcelona play APOEL in Group F and Athletic Bilbao host Shakhtar Donetsk in Group H.

If the start of the Premier League season is anything to go by, Chelsea will be England's most competitive side in the Champions League.

The Spain international's seven goals in four games have guided Chelsea to four straight wins and first place in the Premier League.

the most benign-looking group of England's four representatives, too, placed with Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and NK Maribor. Chelsea start at home against Schalke on Wednesday in Group G.

Manchester City advanced from their group last season for the first time, losing in the last 16 to Barcelona. The English champions, who travel to Bayern on Wednesday in Group E, will be expected to progress further this season.

Today, Arsenal are away to Borussia Dortmund in Group D and Liverpool's first match in the Champions League in five years is at home against newcomer Ludogorets in Group B — the same group as Real Madrid. There is no Manchester United in the competition for the first time since the 1995-96 season.

New Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri may have started winning over his doubters with two wins out of two in Serie A, but the real test will come in the Champions League.

At AC Milan, Allegri won just 11 of his 34 Champions League matches in charge, drawing another 13, and never went past the quarter-finals.

Juventus, who host Malmo in Group A today, started their domestic campaign with a 1-0 win at Chievo Verona and a 2-0 victory at home to Udinese on Saturday.

France's two Champions League teams — Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco — have experienced strikers facing their former clubs in the first round of fixtures.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored so many wonderful goals for PSG and Sweden over the past two years, he may well have lost count. PSG play Ajax in Group F on Wednesday and the Dutch hosts will be hoping Ibrahimovic isn't in the mood for another goal on the same ground where he scored one of his best ever.

Ten years ago, when playing for Ajax, Ibrahimovic scored a mesmerising solo effort against NAC Breda — dribbling past several players before caressing the ball home.

Ibrahimovic has scored five goals in four games this season but PSG have looked very patchy and is overly dependent on their captain.

After losing their two biggest stars in the transfer window — Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez — Monaco have struggled and are languishing in 18th place in the French league.

The 33-year-old Dimitar Berbatov has been left as Monaco's main striker and will be up against his former team Bayer Leverkusen, where he made his name in European football.

There are two newcomers in this season's Champions League, Ludogorets from Bulgaria and Malmo from Sweden.

Ludogorets advanced from the play-offs in memorable fashion when a defender — Cosmin Moti — saved two penalties in a shoot-out win over Steaua Bucharest after the team's goalkeeper was sent off late in extra time.

Malmo reached the European Cup final in 1979 when they lost to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. They also played in the 1990-91 European Cup and are Sweden's first group-stage representative in 14 years.


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