Chelsea to take on Juventus first

Football Champions League: City, Madrid, Ajax in same group

Chelsea will start the defence of the Champions League trophy they won so dramatically last season with a Group E match against former winners Juventus at Stamford Bridge.

The Italian champions, who have lifted the European Cup twice, should give Chelsea a stern test on Sept 19 before Roberto di Matteo's side face Danish newcomers FC Nordsjaelland and Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk.

An intriguing series of games is in prospect in Group D with nine-times European champions Real Madrid joined by English champions Manchester City, Dutch league winners Ajax Amsterdam and German champions Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern Munich, who lost to Chelsea in last season's final on penalties in their own Allianz Arena stadium, will face Valencia, Lille and BATE Borisov of Belarus in Group F.

Manchester City, regarded as the richest club in the world following the hundreds of millions invested in it by the club's Arab owners over the last four years, failed to negotiate the group stage in their first Champions League campaign last season.
The English champions have a tough task again, travelling to Real in their first game on Sept 18 before hosting Dortmund.

Bayern Munich, who also finished runners-up to Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season, face Valencia, who they beat on penalties in the 2001 Champions League final, Lille and BATE. "I see Valencia as our strongest opponents in this group, but in any case its our duty to reach the quarterfinals, preferably by winning the group," Bayern captain Philipp Lahm told reporters.

Barcelona, the strong favourites last year until they lost to Chelsea in the semifinals, face their old rivals Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Celtic.

The rivalry between Barcelona and Benfica goes back to the early days of European club soccer and the 1961 final when Benfica beat Barcelona 3-2 in Berne to win the first of their two European Cups, a game still remembered as a classic.

Manchester United, the three-times European champions who failed to get past the group stage last season but are back for a record 18th appearance in the competition, will face Braga, Galatasaray and CFR Cluj and should progress comfortably.
The competition starts on Sept 18-19 with the group stage ending in the first week of December.

Group stage draw

* Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb
* Group B: Arsenal, Schalke 04, Olympiakos Piraeus, Montpellier HSC 
* Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga
* Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund
* Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Nordsjaelland
* Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov
* Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic
* Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj

First matches to be played on Sept 18 and 19.

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