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Tuesday 18 September 2012

English clubs set for Champions League openers

Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal take to the European stage this week

  • Chelsea won their first UEFA Champions League trophy last season

  • Roberto Mancini and David Silva meet the press before Man City's match against Real Madrid

  • Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud returns to Montpellier on Tuesday

  • Manchester United take on Galatasaray following a 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic

  • In-form Chelsea play Juventus on the back of an unbeaten start to the League campaign

Barclays Premier League clubs start their quest to win a 13th European Cup for teams from England this week as the Champions League competition begins.

English clubs have shone on the European stage over the past eight years, with the Premier League having a representative in seven finals and claiming three victories.

Chelsea, who defeated Bayern Munich to win their first European Cup in May, commence their defence on Wednesday night, hosting Italian champions Juventus at Stamford Bridge.

"It is important now that we go to the second stage"
Roberto Mancini

Before then arguably the most attractive tie of the week pits the champions of Spain and England against each other at the Bernabeu on Tuesday evening as Real Madrid and Manchester City meet.

This is City’s second Champions League campaign - last year they did not advance past the group stage - and they have been handed a tough draw with fellow domestic champions Borussia Dortmund and Ajax making up their group.

"Our mentality is not to go there - to Madrid or anywhere - for a draw, or to lose," said Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini. "We want to win always.

"But we know it will be a tough game. We play against one of the best teams in the world, but we want to do our job well. It will be a fantastic game, and a fantastic for moment for everyone at the club.

"It was a good experience last year - we did a good group but it was not enough. I think the group will be stronger this year but it will be difficult for all the teams.

"It is important now that we go to the second stage. After February anything can happen, but now it is difficult to say what we can do."

"There is a great desire in the team"
Arsene Wenger

Also in action on Tuesday are Arsenal, who begin their 15th successive Champions League campaign at the home of French champions Montpellier.

The Gunners will be without goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who has an injured ankle after playing his first match of the season in the 6-1 win over Southampton on Saturday.

Montpellier, whom striker Olivier Giroud, now at Arsenal, helped to the Ligue 1 title last season, have had a sticky start to the new campaign, with four points from five matches, but Arsene Wenger says he is not taking Rene Girard's side lightly.

"We take on this match very seriously because we know how important it is for us," said the Arsenal boss, who will be absent from the touchline as he begins a three-match UEFA ban. "We look like a team who plays together, we are willing to do well. There is a great desire in the team."

"As long as he is at the helm his ambition to win will never diminish"
Roberto Di Matteo on Roman Abramovich

Chelsea start their attempt to become the first club to win successive European Cups on Wednesday and manager Roberto Di Matteo says his side are not resting on their laurels after last season's triumph.

"The owner [Roman Abramovich] has never lost his ambition," said Di Matteo. "He always wants to win with this club and continue to drive for excellence. As long as he is at the helm his ambition to win will never diminish."

Three-time champions Manchester United who are looking to play a third European Cup final at Wembley, having beaten Benfica in 1968 and lost to Barcelona two years ago, are at home to Galatasaray, the Turkish champions, on Wednesday.

United failed to make it out of the group stage last season after losing 2-1 to FC Basel in their final match and manager Sir Alex Ferguson is determined that there will be no repeat this time around.

"We want to be up there in terms of the number of trophies won in European football"
Sir Alex Ferguson

"We've lost two finals to Barcelona and won two other finals in the last decade or so but we want to do better," he told the club's official website. "Certainly we'll do better than last year - no question about that.

"The European Cup is incredible. There's an atmosphere in the build-up to a European final and great charisma about it.

"Also, without question, it elevates your status within the game like the Real Madrids and AC Milans. We want to be up there in terms of the number of trophies won in European football."

English clubs have won the European title 12 times, the same as Italian teams, but one behind those from Spain.

The final will take place at Wembley Stadium, London on 25th May 2013.

Champions League groups

Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb.
Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiacos, Montpellier.
Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga.
Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund.
Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, FC Nordsjaelland.
Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov.
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic.
Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj.

Arsenal fixtures

Sept 18 Montpellier (A); Oct 3 Olympiacos (H); Oct 24 Schalke (H); Nov 6 Schalke (A); Nov 21 Montepllier (H); Dec 4 Olympiacos (A).

Manchester City fixtures

Sept 18 Real Madrid (A); Oct 3 Borussia Dortmund (H); Oct 24 Ajax (A); Nov 6 Ajax (H); Nov 21 Real Madrid (H); Dec 4 Borussia Dortmund (A).

Chelsea fixtures

Sept 19 Juventus (H); Oct 2 FC Nordsjaelland (A); Oct 23 Shakhtar Donetsk (A); Nov 7 Shakhtar Donetsk (H); Nov 20 Juventus(A); Dec 5 FC Nordsjaelland (H).

Manchester United fixtures

Sept 19 Galatasaray (H); Oct 2 CFR Cluj (A); Oct 23 Braga (H); Nov 7 Braga (A); Nov 20 Galatasaray (A); Dec 5 CFR Cluj (H).

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Key Points

  • Chelsea start their defence of the European Cup at home to Juventus
  • Manchester City travel to Real Madrid, nine times the European champions
  • Arsenal face Montpellier away while Manchester United host Galatasaray