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If the Champions League were about determining the best side in Europe, last season’s final would have seen Chelsea play AC Milan, with Barcelona narrowly beaten in the semi-final. Thankfully it is not
so predictable and retains the capacity to bestow glory on unlikely candidates, something from which Liverpool and Porto benefited in the past two seasons.
As the group stages begin next week, Liverpool, surely, cannot enjoy such luck again, and may struggle to progress from a pool that includes Chelsea, Real Betis and Anderlecht. The most surprising aspect of their triumph last season, though, was less their resilience as the utter lack of fight shown against them by Juventus in the quarter-final. They surely will not be so supine again. As Milan faltered, Juve pipped them to the Serie A title last season, and the addition of Patrick Vieira alongside Emerson gives them a fearsome central midfield. Milan themselves have signed the Czech left-back Marek Jankulovski from Udinese, but fears persist about the age of their defence.
Real Madrid improved after the arrival of coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo last season, and they look much better balanced this campaign, with David Beckham likely to replace Luis Figo on the right as Thomas Gravesen adopts the central holding role. Barcelona, however, have not really addressed their inability to convert enough of their scoring opportunities.
With German football sliding, and Lyon having to deal with the departure of their coach Paul Le Guen, that leaves England as the only other nation whose clubs can be expected to challenge. Chelsea look best equipped, and their summer signings should ward off the fatigue that set in towards the end of last season. As recent history has proved, though, there is more to the Champions League than cold logic.