Champions League

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290552 Chelsea, Group E Chelsea%2C+Group+E Champions League

Champions league titles: 1


Last season’s shock winners have reloaded with Eden Hazard and Oscar and now appear to have Fernando Torres firing again. As unlikely as it may sound, this is a team that not only is going to challenge for the Premier League, but is going to be a favorite in the Champions League too.

 

The problems for Chelsea are in the back where John Terry, Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic aren’t getting any younger -- there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Ryan Bertrand. One man to keep an eye on is Juan Mata. He looks exhausted as the season starts. What happens come December?

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289561 Manchester United, Group H Manchester+United%2C+Group+H Champions League

Champions league titles: 3 (1 as the European Cup)

 

United reacted angrily to their “noisy neighbors” snatching away the title in the dying seconds last season by going out and signing Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. The former you know about; the latter’s the one to keep your eye on. Brilliant with Borussia Dortmund, he’s being tapped to steer the offense and pick up the reins from Paul Scholes and Nani.

 

Key for the Red Devils is the play of David De Gea and Nemanja Vidic. The former has to become a full-time Premiership keeper – the latter has to stay healthy and marshal an erratic defense.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290554 Manchester City, Group D Manchester+City%2C+Group+D Champions League

Champions League titles: 0


The reigning Premier League champs have made only tentative steps to reload their arsenal with Jack Rodwell being their lone import at press time. But they still possess a lot of tools and should fare better with a year of European experience under their belts. Carlos Tevez and David Silva remain potent weapons and Sergio Aguero will be back soon enough to provide bite.

 

Yaya Toure is their not-so-secret weapon and Vincent Kompany is clearly one of the best defenders anywhere. If City lack something, it is freshness: they feel like a team that has stood pat rather than one that has looked to grow. How that affects them in the Premier League and the Champions League is open to debate.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289562 Arsenal, Group B Arsenal%2C+Group+B Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Arsenal is the weakest of the English teams going into the group stage. They have lost Alex Song and Robin van Persie and their replacements — Santi Carloza, Oliver Giroud, Lukas Podolski — have so far failed to gel. At press time, Arsenal had yet to win a game or even score a goal.

 

That doesn’t mean they will not be a force to be reckoned with: this is an historically powerful team, behind only Manchester United and Liverpool in terms of top-flight titles, and they frequently go deep in this competition. But this is a side that is in something of an unwanted rebuilding mode. If the Gunners continue to lose their best players, one has to wonder if they will be in this competition in 2013-14.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290553 Real Madrid, Group D Real+Madrid%2C+Group+D Champions League

Champions League titles: 9 (6 as the European Cup)

 

The kings of Spain have got off to a rough start this season but they are loaded with talent. New signing Luka Modric will help their midfield immensely and Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the deadliest players in the game. Jose Mourinho knows that he cannot stand still, and has been working on retooling his squad but so far the early results are discouraging: Real started the season with two losses and has to buckle down if they hope to retain their title.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290555 Barcelona, Group G Barcelona%2C+Group+G Champions League

Arguably the best club team on the planet, Barcelona boasts the unquestioned number one player in Lionel Messi. The Catalans are tough for any team to handle, to say nothing of taking the ball away from. It’s not uncommon for Barcelona to hog 70% or more of possession and pass teams into the ground.

 

Where they are showing some signs of strain is in the heart of the field: no one doubts Xavi and Andres Iniesta’s talent, but this is a tired bunch that has won it all for both club and country. The pressure finally grew too great for Pep Guardiola, and this year his assistant, Tito Vilanova, has the reins.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290722 Valencia, Group F Valencia%2C+Group+F Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Two-time runners up, Valencia will be an interesting team to play. They have talent: Ever Banega, David Albeda and Andres Guardado make up a solid midfield and Robert Soldado remains a potent attacking force. Valencia’s problem is that they are the third best team in Spain, which means they finished a dispiriting thirty points behind second-place Barcelona.

 

They don’t lose a lot of games and play a pretty potent attacking style but Los Che don’t have the fizz or power of the two other Spanish giants. You get the sense they are also resigned to being No. 3 – and that hurts them in this competition.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290559 Borussia Dortmund, Group D Borussia+Dortmund%2C+Group+D Champions League

Champions League titles: 1

 

Dortmund isn’t the first German team that comes to mind — but they should be. The reigning Bundesliga champs have avoided the self-defeating silliness that tends to surround rivals Bayern and don’t seem to be impacted by player dealings. They lost a star in Shinji Kagawa to United but still boast Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczyowski and Mario Goetze to make things happen and have a great deal of fiber at either end of the field.

 

Robert Lewandowski has been superb for them up top, one-time American Neven Subotic is a stalwart at the back. Dortmund are also eager to avoid their flop last year in Group F, where they lost four games. This is a multi-tool team that is going to be handful for anyone to face.
 

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290557 Bayern Munich, Group F Bayern+Munich%2C+Group+F Champions League

Champions League titles: 4 (3 as the European Cup)

 

Last year’s finalists were stunned on their home soil by Chelsea. Bayern were probably the better team, but could not close the deal. This team is going to have to overcome that heartache and you would think they have the tools to do it. Arjen Robben, when healthy, can be unstoppable; Franck Ribery is a genius, Xherdan Shaqiri is a fine acquisition and players like Rafinha, Luiz Gustavo and Bastian Schweinsteiger are excellent.

 

Key to this team’s success though might lie with Mario Gomez. When he’s hot, so is Bayern. When he’s not, he can be appalling, and his consistency up top will be a major storyline this season.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290560 Schalke 04, Group B Schalke+04%2C+Group+B Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

No, Virginia, it’s not all about Jermaine Jones. Schalke is a pretty decent team with a curious habit of making others’ lives difficult in European play. Domestic form doesn’t seem to matter: Schalke have shown that on the big stage, they shine.

 

They return to the Champions League after a year toiling in the Europa League – a competition that saw them battle all the way to the quarters — and look like they have a squad that can cause folks some headaches. Edu, Jefferson Farfan and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are big game players and they have some good movement in Joel Matip, Tranquillo Barnetta, and yes, even the foul-prone Jones.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290558 Juventus, Group E Juventus%2C+Group+E Champions League

Champions League titles: 2 (1 as the European Cup)

 

Where to start? Their Serie A title win last year was clouded a bit by the suspension of their manager, Antonio Conte, for his role in a match-rigging scandal. Conte is now out ten months and the Old Lady is going to have to adjust. But this is a pretty solid team with the likes of Alessandro Matri, Sebastian Giovinco and the ageless master, Andrea Pirlo, still pulling the strings.

 

Alessandro Del Piero has moved on, but this is a still a slick and speedy attacking side that can prise apart defenses. And they still have the best keeper in the business, Gigi Buffon, between the pipes. They are very experienced and very organized.
 

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290561 AC Milan, Group C AC+Milan%2C+Group+C Champions League

Champions League titles: 7 (4 as the European Cup)

 

A glittering side that is smarting from last year’s second place Serie A finish and looking to advance beyond last year’s quarterfinal loss to Barcelona. The players Milan brings to the table are impressive: Sulley Muntari, Pato, Giampaolo Pazzini, Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng are all quality. Milan has also brought in a lot of new talent, whether on transfers or reclaimed loans and they look to have a very deep pool to draw from. But they did lose some very big names: Zlatan

 

Ibrahimovic has moved along as have Allesandro Nesta and Mark van Bommel. They lost some experience with those moves and the key for Massimiliano Allegri will be to quickly fuse this bunch into a coherent team – all the while under the watchful eye of the mercurial Silvio Berlusconi.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290562 Montpellier, Group B Montpellier%2C+Group+B Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

This is a pretty eclectic mix, a team that took their first ever Ligue 1 title last year behind the heroics of Oliver Giroud, but Giroud has moved on to another “French” team (L’Arsenal). Key for HSC will be the play of Younes Belhanda: he has to make up all the firepower that Giroud brought to the table and spark Emanuel Herrera and Souleymane Camara up top.

 

A number of people are likely to think that without Girous, this is a team here only to make up the numbers. Don’t be fooled: Rene Girard has crafted a pretty resilient team that has a lot of self-belief. They should give people all they can handle.
 

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290564 Paris Saint-Germain, Group A Paris+Saint-Germain%2C+Group+A Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Monied, powerful, stocked with talent — and a perennial disappointment. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. A team with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez should be tearing up Ligue 1. It hasn’t worked out that way and Carlos Ancelotti is under the gun to quickly turn these stars into not only a Ligue 1 force but a European superpower as well.

 

But make no mistake: if PSG can get themselves going, they boast a lot of weapons. If they descend into finger-pointing and blamestorming, then their stay in European play will be short.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290569 FC Porto, Group A FC+Porto%2C+Group+A Champions League

Champions League titles: 2 (1 as the European Cup)

 

The back to back Primeira Liga champs have a really big attack and a far better midfield and defense than you think. Man of the hour is obviously Hulk, the bustling forward who is highly coveted by a number of teams in the Premier League. James Rodriguez runs alongside him and Kleber, Silvestre Varela and Jackson Martinez are in the mix.

 

Play starts out of the back with Nicolas Otamendi and Maicon, but the puppeteer remains Joao Moutinho, who works alongside Lucho Gonzalez. They did lose Fredy Guarin and Alvaro Pereira in big money deals but the bottom line remains the same: Porto’s a team you don’t want to play.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290567 Shakhtar Donetsk, Group E Shakhtar+Donetsk%2C+Group+E Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

If you didn’t know this team was from Ukraine, you might confuse them for Santos: the residents of the Donbass, one of the great cauldrons of Eastern European soccer, are loaded with Brazilian talent. Willan, Luiz Adriano, Douglas Costa, Fernandinho and Taison are just the notable members of a ten-man Brazilian contingent.

 

Helmed by Dario Srna and boasting – for now – Croatian hitman Eduardo (also a Brazilian, but let’s not get too technical here) this is a tough team to play. The orange and black underwhelmed in last year’s group stage but don’t expect a repeat: this is a team that won 25 games last season in a far-better-than-you’d-expect Ukrainian league.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289563 Olympiacos, Group B Olympiacos%2C+Group+B Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

It’s hard not to love a club that plays in a grudge match called “the derby of the eternal enemies.” Along with Panathinaikos (notably, not in this year’s Champions League) Olympiakos are one of Greece’s greatest clubs with a long track record in European play. However: they have never made it past the quarters and on the strength of their current squad it is hard to see them making inroads.

 

David Fuster and Rafik Djebbour continue to be their dangermen; keeper Roy Carroll is a curiosity. The one-time Manchester United netminder has been playing at the lower levels for some time but has the distinction of winning a title as a player-manager in the lone game he managed the team. (It was Barnet in the Herts Cup.)

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290571 FC Nordsjaelland, Group E FC+Nordsjaelland%2C+Group+E Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

American Michael Parkhurst will lead the backline of the Wild Tigers out as they taste the Champions League for the first time. A baby of a club — just 21 years old — Nordsjælland is known for an aggressive attacking style and a packed, passionate crowd at tiny Farum Park. This is uncharted territory for the Danes: the furthest they have ever made it in Europe was last season’s play-off round exit to Sporting that denied them a taste of the group stages.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290566 FC BATE Borisov, Group F FC+BATE+Borisov%2C+Group+F Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Belarus’ best-known club — and no, that it is not an oxymoron — is also the only team from the small dictatorship to have ever appeared in the Champions League. BATE is a comparatively young club, dating only back to 1973; many of its best players were sucked into the former Soviet Union and it is only in recent years that the nation has begun to assert itself as a soccer power.

 

BATE isn’t an easy team to play; for European matches it moves out of the tiny Borisov grounds (capacity 5,402) to Dynamo Minsk’s 40,000 seater. The team’s best result in this competition was a shock 1-1 draw with AC Milan last year. Former Arsenal and Barcelona man Alexander Hleb is closing out his career with the club.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290570 Anderlecht, Group C Anderlecht%2C+Group+C Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Anderlecht came perilously close to disaster in the playoffs, nearly losing to minnows AEL Limassol before two late, late goals put them through. Anderlecht is a better team than people think: a two-time UEFA Cup winner and two-time European Cup semifinalist, the Belgians are very tough to play at their home, Constant Vanden Stock.

 

Sacha Kljestan steers the Belgian club’s midfield; the American has been a key component of the team’s recent successes. Far and away the most famous and successful club in Belgium, this is their first appearance in the Champions League since 2006-07.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290568 Dinamo Zagreb, Group A Dinamo+Zagreb%2C+Group+A Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

The kings of Croatian football, Dinamo have run riot over the Prva HNL for the last two decades, winning 14 titles since 1994. They’ve been less successful in Europe, where their best showing was a semifinal appearance in the now-defunct Cup Winner’s Cup…way back in 1961. (They did win the 1976 Balkan Cup, however.)

 

But this is their first back-to-back Champions League group stage appearance and anything has to be better than last year’s run. They lost all six games, conceding 22 goals. To be fair, they were cannon fodder in a group with Lyon, Ajax, and Real Madrid. Their best player is Brazilian Sammir; Josip Simunic is their uncompromising defender.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31290572 Malaga, Group C Malaga%2C+Group+C Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Spain’s Malaga is often an afterthought, with good reason. Despite a long history, it’s best results all have come at the lower levels, where the club has won the second division title a handful of times. But since being taken over by a wealthy Qatari businessman, things have changed.

 

Malaga have completely overhauled their squad, spending to bring in Jeremy Toulalan, Martin DeMichelis and Isco among a dozen others. Malaga got to the group stages by knocking off Panathinaikos and looks like they could present some problems. Fun fact: the Malaga strip has a barcode on it; fans can hit it with their iPhones and it will give them all sorts of goodies.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289569 Braga, Group H Braga%2C+Group+H Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Sporting Braga aren’t one of Portugal’s big three teams, but over the past few decades they have become one of the “best of the rest.” They won the Intertoto Cup in 2008 and got their best European result ever when they were runners up in the 2010-11 Europa League, losing to Porto 1-0 in the final.

 

This year they squeaked in on PKs after playing Udinese to a stalemate. Their team has several big names: Keeper Quim is a long-time vet who played in the 2008 World Cup; Helder Postiga, Elderson and Leandro Salino are all class talents.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289567 Zenit, Group C Zenit%2C+Group+C Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Zenit has been a crushing team in the Russian league, winning the title back to back and doing far better than one would have expected in last year’s Champions League. But they are a limited team: a lot of their flair comes from one man, the heroic midfielder Danny, who was badly missed by Portugal at this summer’s Euros due to an ACL injury. He’s back now and with Bruno Alves, Domenico Criscito and Roman Shirokov, Zenit comprise a very compelling team. Keep in mind that they are also a team no one wants to play: the Russian travel is brutal.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289564 Ajax, Group D Ajax%2C+Group+D Champions League

Champions League titles: 4 (3 as the European Cup)

 

One of the great teams in European soccer, Ajax’s luster has faded in recent decades with the decline of the Dutch soccer league. Most of the nation’s top talents no longer play in the Eredivisie and Ajax looks to develop talent and then sell them on. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) and Vurnon Anita (Newcastle) moved this summer and there are many others coming through the ranks.

 

Ajax still has solid players like midfielder Siem de Jong (brother of Moenchengladbach’s Luuk) and old head Christian Poulsen. This is a respectable Ajax team – just not one good enough for this level. Fun fact: No one at the club can wear the number 14. That belonged to Johan Cruyff and the club retired it in 2007.
 

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289566 Benfica, Group G Benfica%2C+Group+G Champions League

Champions League titles: 1 (2 as the European Cup)

 

One of the two biggest and most successful teams in Portugal, Benfica owns most of that nation’s major records. Most league titles? Check, with 32. Most cups? Yep, that too, with 24. What they have not been is a European power for decades: their glory years on the continent are fifty years passed. This year might be different: Benfica has the pieces to be a dark horse in this tournament, if not an outright spoiler.

 

Oscar Cardozo is a solid forward but their depth is really in midfield where Axel Witsel, Ola John and Javi Garcia hold court. They also have strength in the net where old hand Artur has proven to be tough to beat. Keep an eye on this squad: a favorable draw should see them in the knockout stages.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289565 Celtic FC, Group G Celtic+FC%2C+Group+G Champions League

Champions League titles: 1 (1 as the European Cup)

 

The Hoops are making their triumphant return to the Champions League after a long absence: Celtic last tasted the group stages in 2008-09 but showed flickers of their former glory last season when they narrowly missed out on escaping the Europa League group stages.

 

No one is confusing this team with the greats that used to rule Scottish football, however, this is a hard-working side that faces no steady competition and is a cut below most. Gary Hooper and Giorgios Samaras roam up top, Kris Commons and Joe Ledley steer the ship and Fraser Forster backs them. They’re good enough to run all over the rest of the SPL, but Europe may be too big an ask for Neil Lennon’s men.
 

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289568 Dynamo Kiev, Group A Dynamo+Kiev%2C+Group+A Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

The former kings of the Soviet league, Dynamo now faces tough competition in a surprisingly tough Ukrainian league that has been buoyed by post-CCCP money. Dynamo doesn’t have the flashiest of squads – they faced a tough playoff with Borussia Moenchengladbach to get here — but they have some grit in Andriy Yarmolenko and loanee Taye Taiwo.

 

Ideye Brown has been the eye-catching goalscorer but Niko Kranjcar and Oleh Husev have been chipping in as well. Dynamo is certainly not a team you want to play against, but they’re not kings of the walk as they once were.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289570 Spartak Moscow, Group G Spartak+Moscow%2C+Group+G Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

“The Meat” are one of the great Russian sides, a feisty team that since 1922 has consistently played smart, attacking soccer. Helmed now by Unai Emery, who led Valencia through two solid seasons, this Spartak side is looking to play a more flowing game.

 

They nipped Fenerbache in the playoffs with talismanic forward Ari providing the chop; Emmanuel Enike is his partner up top. Kim Kallstrom is the experienced hand in the midfield with Aiden McGeady and Demy de Zeuw in support. Spartak are going to give some teams some real trouble.

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289572 Cluj, Group H Cluj%2C+Group+H Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

The Transylvanians are one of the eccentrics of this competition, downing wee Basel to take their place. The Railwaymen have been around for a long time, but have rarely made an impact on the European stage. But what is unusual about this team is their Portuguese flair: they have eleven guys who speak the language, with two Brazilians in Rafael Bastos and Ronny.

 

One-time Portugal U-21 star Cadu captains and helms the defense with French import Nicolas Godameche bringing the heat in midfield. No, Cluj are not flashy nor are the Romanians sexy. They may well be cannon fodder.
 

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289573 Lille, Group F Lille%2C+Group+F Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

Lille scraped into the Champions League after a tough fight with Copenhagen. Copenhagen are not world beaters – neither are Lille. This is a pretty average French squad that by rights is just making up the numbers. Remember, they lost their best player, Eden Hazard, to Cheslea.

 

While big things are expected of Marvin Martin, they aren’t a complete team yet. Salomon Kalou and Mathieu Debuchy are competent without being spectacular, but no one really stands out as a goal-scoring force.
 

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Champions League 185 8 Champions League gallery: club summaries 31289571 Galatasaray, Group H Galatasaray%2C+Group+H Champions League

Champions League titles: 0

 

One of the two traditional Turkish powers, Galatasaray are famed for their uncompromising style of play and rowdy fans. Johan Elmander and Hamit Altitop remain key players and Milan Baros is still scoring goals. They’ve added Felipe Melo on loan and Fernando Muslera is the backstop.

 

You don’t want to play them in Turkey, where their crowds make life difficult. On the road they are less of a threat but they can stalemate as well as anyone.
 

Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2012/08/29/082912-Soccer-CL-Group-Teams-Gallery-DG-G32_20120829200333279_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2012/08/29/082912-Soccer-CL-Group-Teams-Gallery-DG-G32_20120829200333279_107_80.JPG
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