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Soccer Champions League

The UEFA Champions League Returns

Mitchell Gunn-US PRESSWIRE

The soccer season is only a month or so old, and already we welcome back the pageantry and cacophony of the UEFA Champions League.

Tuesday night sees the first round of group fixtures and it would be an unwise to suggest that this season will be a laid-back affair. Last season Chelsea clawed to victory, courtesy of a powerful Didier Drogba display and a vintage performance from a penalty-bombarded Petr Cech. Doubles are the rarest of things in European soccer. Who will triumph this time around?

Aside Chelsea, England will have their league champions Manchester City taking part, as well as traditional competitors Manchester United and Arsenal.

Spain will be represented by champions Real Madrid, the love-them-or-hate-them globetrotters from Barcelona, Valencia, and Malaga.

Other big names include Juventus, the winners of Serie A in Italy; Borussia Dortmund, the German champions; Bayern Munich; Porto and Benfica of Portugal; Ajax; Paris St. Germain; Shakhtar Donetsk; Celtic.

It is the usual mix of intimidating titles. It is, after all, the most marketable cross-border competition in the sport, bar the World Cup.

There are, of course, some minnows involved. Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia, BATE Borisov of Belarus, CFR Cluj of Romania, and FC Nordsjælland of Norway will all be hoping not to be on the wrong end of record-breaking results.

Who will triumph? It is hard to tell. Barcelona, Bayern, and United are always in the mix. Real Madrid have poor league form coming in, but have a dizzying abundance of talent on their books. Could City take to the next step, much like big-budget PSG hope to?

It will be intriguing and heavily hyped, but the UCL never lets you down. There will be moments of immense joy and sublime skill that even the uninitiated will bow in reverence of.

On Tuesday look out for Real hosting City, and on Wednesday keep your eyes on holders Chelsea taking on Juventus at Stamford Bridge.