PARIS: Chelsea’s chances of successfully defending their Champions League crown will be given a stiff early examination when they take on Italian champions Juventus at Stamford Bridge tonight.
Roberto Di Matteo’s men will host the Serie A title-holders four months to the day after winning the trophy in a dramatic penalty shoot-out against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, and they would appear to come into the Group E game in great nick. However, Di Matteo knows the rest of the continent will up their game every time they play the defending champions.
“Every opposition is going to play with extra motivation playing against the holders of the Champions League so it makes our lives more difficult,” said the Italian. “I’m aware no team has defended the trophy and I’m not surprised because it’s such a difficult competition to win. To win it twice in a row has proven impossible so far, because it’s so competitive.”
Juve are making their first appearance in the competition in three years, but they have not lost a Serie A game since the start of last season.
‘No early exit this team’
Meanwhile, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has vowed not to repeat the mistakes that cost his side a shock group-stage exit 12 months ago. The Red Devils entertain old foes Galatasaray, who famously knocked them out of the competition in 1993.
“If we don’t go through, we will be criticised and pilloried for it and quite rightly,” said Ferguson, who is expected to field his strongest starting line-up for the Group H encounter, including Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. “We’ve had our warning and I don’t anticipate going out this time. We’ve had opportunities in the competition. We’ve lost two finals to Barcelona and won two in the last decade or so but we want to do better. Certainly, we’ll do better than last year — no question about that.”
Ryan Giggs has backed Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa to play a key role in their bid for Champions League glory this season. “Shinji is that kind of player who will thrive in Europe, where possession is key,” said Giggs. “He keeps the ball and gets into positions where he is hard to pick up. Robin will be vital as well. He has the experience of playing in Europe with Arsenal. The goals he has got will hopefully give us that extra edge this season. I am sure they will both be very good additions in Europe for us.”
Barca tackle Spartak Moscow
Fresh from winning their first four Liga games under Tito Vilanova, Barcelona play host to Spartak Moscow at the Camp Nou in their Group G opener.
Last season’s runners-up Bayern begin their latest bid for a fifth European Cup with a home clash against Valencia in Germany, and it’s a game that skipper Philipp Lahm will not be taking lightly by any means.
“Wednesday will be a proper test,” said Lahm. “Valencia are a top team, they’re almost always in the Champions League, and almost always one of the best three clubs in Spain.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2012.
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