Chelsea looking for another Champions League miracle

After last year's remarkable heroics by the holders the continent's giants are now lying in wait, writes Steve Tongue

Several months on, as a new Champions' League campaign begins, the story of the last one still seems as incredible as ever.

Chelsea sack their manager, not least because they are on the verge of going out of Europe; Roberto di Matteo, promoted from coach, inspires them to overcome a 3-1 deficit to Napoli in extra-time; then enjoys a comfortable win over Benfica after leaving out three senior players, just as André Villas-Boas had done; next his team knock out Barcelona after being 2-0 down in the Nou Camp with John Terry sent off; then, minus four suspended players, the underdogs somehow win the final on penalties in an "away" game with Bayern Munich, who have 35 attempts on goal and 20 corners.

Frank Lampard, one of those players suicidally discarded by Villa-Boas, cannot help but smile as he looks back on it all. One of the most satisfying aspects, he suggests, is not starting the competition by being asked if Chelsea can finally achieve Roman Abramovich's dream and win the thing at last. "It's lovely, it's absolute magic, not to have to answer that question," he said. "It was a frustrating question in the end, we always batted it back in the same way and said that we were confident and we'd try and that we had the squad to do it. And finally we did it, when the odds were most against us, more than any other year."

Didier Drogba's winning penalty with his last kick for the club even carried with it the huge bonus of re-entry this season for a team who finished only sixth in the Premier League and were able to replace bitter rivals Tottenham, who this week face Lazio in the Europa League instead. Like Manchester City, Chelsea have been drawn in a group of four champions, although in their case the prospect is a little less daunting. Nordsjaelland from Denmark should not cause undue problems and although an away game with Shakhtar Donetsk is rarely straightforward, the Ukrainians are possibly not the force of old.

Juventus, with Gianluigi Buffon in goal and Andrea Pirlo to run the midfield, are a different proposition and it is as well that Chelsea have home advantage for their first game on Wednesday.

"It's a very tough game," Lampard said. "A huge club in world football, they've invested money in their team, they have won Serie A last season and it's going to be a tough game for us to start with. The first game is always very important."

Among the other contenders, he naturally mentions Barcelona and Real Madrid, who are the pair very much in the bookmakers' minds as clear favourites. On the basis of the draw as much as anything else, the odds-layers have Manchester United as the most-favoured British team.

The side they may for once have been generous in assessing are Carlo Ancelotti's Paris Saint-Germain, who contrived to lose the French League to little Montpellier (Arsenal's first opponents) last season but have subsequently splashed even more cash in signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from Milan. The Italian club's prospects have receded as a result in a group containing Zenit St Petersburg, while PSG will be expected to progress against Porto and the Dynamos of Kiev and Zagreb.

Arsenal's experience should see them through in a section tougher than United's but one that is easier than City's. The English champions face Real Madrid and Ajax as well as Borussia Dortmund, who were much the strongest side from the fourth pot of seeds.

Celtic, having come through a qualifying round, may have to be content with the excitement of a double-header against Barcelona and a nostalgic return to Lisbon, scene of their own incredible European triumph, 45 years before Chelsea's.

Chelsea v Juventus (Wednesday)

Background

As defending champions, Chelsea squeezed Tottenham out of the fourth Champions' League place when they would otherwise have been condemned to Thursday nights in the Europa League. Juventus won Serie A without losing a game to achieve a record 28th title.

Who to watch for

Juve have signed Lucio, the powerful Inter defender, Paul Pogba from Manchester United and, more unexpectedly, Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner.

What they're saying

Chelsea's Frank Lampard: "If we want to be a club that creates a real mark in Europe, we've done it once and we want to do more."

Opponents' form

Juventus went straight to the top of Serie A with two wins ahead of today's game away to Genoa (2pm).

Manchester United v Galatasaray (Wednesday)

Background

Finishing third last season after losing the last group match in Basle was a shock to prevent any United complacency this time. Turkish visitors have twice won at Old Trafford, where Galatasaray drew 3-3 back in 1993.

Who to watch for

Burak Yilmaz scored 33 goals for Trabzonspor last season. Midfielder Hamit Altintop is back in Turkey from Real Madrid.

What they're saying

Sir Alex Ferguson: "After the experience of last year we don't want to make any stupid errors this time."

Opponents' form

Lead the table after three games despite conceding six goals.

Celtic v Benfica (Wednesday)

Background

The Scottish champions are back after an absence of four seasons, taking heart from having reached the knockout stage on the two occasions they have drawn Benfica. Deprived of Old Firm games, these matches (Barcelona and Spartak Moscow make up the group) should be the highlight of their season.

Who to watch for

Oscar Cardozo was joint top scorer in Portugal and midfielder Nicolas Gaitan was strongly linked with Manchester United and Liverpool.

What they're saying

Celtic manager Neil Lennon: "This is what we've worked so hard for, it's very, very exciting for us all."

Opponents' form

Benfica will hope to maintain the momentum of winning their first two games 5-0 and 3-0.

Montpellier v Arsenal (Tuesday)

Background

Montpellier's rise from 14th place the previous season to pip wealthy Paris Saint-Germain to a first French title was an extraordinary achievement. They were still forced to sell top scorer Olivier Giroud to Arsenal.

Who to watch for

Few household names, even in French households. Emanuel Herrera from Chile is Giroud's replacement.

What they're saying

Arsenal's Giroud: "It will be difficult for me because there is a lot of emotion and I have so many good memories of last season."

Opponents' form

Were given an extra day's rest by playing on Friday night, but the 3-1 defeat by Reims means they have only one win in five and are in the bottom half of the table.

Real Madrid v Manchester City (Tuesday)

Background

It is the other Manchester club who have the history with Madrid, but City continue to make their own. In a group of four champions (Borussia Dortmund and Ajax are the others) they cannot afford as slow a start as in last season's competition.

Who to watch for

A chap called Ronaldo might be worth keeping an eye on. Luka Modric is not bad either.

What they're saying

City's James Milner: "To get a group of champions is a bit unlucky, but you play in the Champions League to play against these sort of teams. We were unlucky last year. Maybe we didn't play our best football but we got 10 points and that would probably have got us through in any other group."

Opponents' form

A shock defeat away to city rivals Getafe left them in the middle of the early-season table before last night's trip to Sevilla

Odds to win Champions' League (from William Hill)

5-2 Barcelona; 4-1 Real Madrid; 8-1 Manchester United; 9-1 Manchester City; 12-1 Bayern Munich, Chelsea; 16‑1 Arsenal, Juventus, PSG.

Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice