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*que epic champions league theme song*

It’s finally back. We are only weeks away from the first Champions League match of the year, let’s take a look at the group stages.

Group A

Inter Milan

Werder Bremen

Tottenham

FC Twente

This is by far the “group of death”. Tough draw for newcomers to the Champions League, Tottenham, drawn into a group with treble winners Inter Milan, Dutch champions FC Twente, and the Ozil-less but still hard-to-beat Werder Bremen. Despite this challenge I think Tottenham are strong enough to finish second behind Inter Milan and see themselves into the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in club history.

Group B

Lyon

Benfica

Schalke

Hapoel Tel Aviv

It seems like everyone and their mother raided Benfica this transfer window so I’m not sure who they have left to take the field anymore. They have lost their first two games of the Portuguese Liga so far and if that is any indication of how the season is going to unfold for them then you can lock in Schalke to finish ahead of them for the second spot behind Lyon.

Group C

Manchester United

Valencia

Rangers

Bursaspor

Clearly United will finish atop this group, and Valencia will more than likely surpass Rangers for second place. Or will they? They just lost their two best players in David Silva and David Villa; looking at their roster nothing really stands out to me, outside of Juan Mata, it’s a pretty bland list of players. That’s not to say that Rangers have an attractive roster, however, it may not be as easy for Valencia to qualify as some may think.

Group D

Barcelona

Panathinaikos

Copenhagen

Rubin Kazan

Cake walk for Barca. They get a chance to avenge their home loss to Rubin Kazan in the group stages last year and should breeze into the knock-out stages. As for second place, I think Panathinaikos should have no trouble securing that position.

Group E

Bayern Munich

Roma

Basel

CFR Cluj

Sometimes not a lot needs to be said. Bayern Munich and Roma.

Group F

Chelsea

Marseille

Spartak Moscow

MSK Zilina

There is an interesting story line here as Didier Drogba will encounter Marseille, the club he used to play for and one which he still loves dearly. It should be an emotional return to Marseille for Drogba, one where we should expect him to shine. Both Chelsea and Marseille should see themselves through to the next round.

Group G

AC Milan

Real Madrid

Ajax

Auxerre

Some people are calling this group the “group of death”, while a case can be made for that , I disagree. I don’t see Auxerre challenging any of the other teams in their group, and the clear cut favorites are obviously Real Madrid and AC Milan. Ajax have a shot and they are a good team but it will take an impeccable performance by them coupled by a major slip-up by either AC Milan or Real Madrid for them to advance. Needless to say, I don’t see that happening, and I expect Real Madrid and AC Milan to get out of this group.

Group H

Arsenal

Shakhtar Donetsk

Braga

Partizan

Fresh off shocking the world by defeating Sevilla in the play-off, Braga find themselves in a rather attractive situation with their first ever appearance in the Champions League. Arsenal should finish first in the group but the second spot is up for grabs and I believe it will come down to Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga. Shakhtar recently acquired Eduardo from Arsenal, so that match up should be of some intrigue; but if Braga can carry the momentum from their victorious efforts against Sevilla, they could very well see themselves into the knock-out stages for the first time in club history.

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After what was thought to be a rather lackluster World Cup, many potential converts to the beautiful game were led further away and found themselves completely disinterested. True fans of the beautiful game can see beyond goals and find beauty in the little intricacies of the game – newcomers to the beautiful game come from a culture of constant scoring (see: NFL, NBA) and fail to notice other details. To those failed converts I say: come watch the English Premier League.

The Premier League season has started with a flurry of goals across the board. Chelsea began their title defense against newly promoted West Bromwich Albion, managed by former Chelsea legend, Roberto Di Matteo. Chelsea welcomed Di Matteo and his squad with a 6-0 drumming and Drogba netted a hat-trick. That same day newly promoted Blackpool welcomed themselves into top flight football by embarrassing Wigan 4-0. Sunderland and Birmingham fought to a 2-2 draw, Aston Villa plowed past West Ham 3-0, Wolverhampton shocked Stoke City 2-1, and Manchester United welcomed Newcastle back to the Premier League with a 3-0 bashing. Week 1 of the Premier League saw a total of 26 goals scored in 10 matches. That equals to an average of 2.6 goals per game. No goals scored in soccer? Let’s see how week 2 shaped out.

No way a team can score 6 goals in two consecutive games, right? Certainly not in top flight football, right? Chelsea’s “playstation” football continued into week 2 where they met the team they demolished 8-0 in the final game of last season. They invaded DW Stadium and took home their second consecutive 6-0 victory. Malouda continues his hot start to the season with another goal, Anelka bagged a brace, as did Kalou, Yossi Benayoun scored his first goal as a Chelsea player, and Drogba had himself a hat-trick in assists; Drogba’s unselfish style is a symbol of the chemistry this squad has built.

Arsenal brought Blackpool back down to earth and gave them a dose of what real Premier League football is like. Blackpool were playing with a disadvantage for the majority of the match when defender Ian Evatt saw a red card in the 30th minute when he took down Marouane Chamakh just inside the penalty box, denying him a scoring opportunity – resulting in an immediate red, and penalty shot for Arsenal. Arshavin made no mistake at the spot and handed his team a 2-0 lead, and from there the goals kept coming. Theo Walcott made the most of his place in the starting XI with a lovely game which he stamped with a hat-trick. Marouane Chamakh was able to notch his first goal as a Gunner in the 83rd minute giving his new squad a 6-0 victory over The Tangerines.

So that makes two games ending in 6-0, in the same week. But wait….there’s more.

Is this really an indication of how important James Milner was to Aston Villa? Fresh off a fantastic performance against West Ham, the James Milner-less Aston Villa completely fell apart against newly promoted Newcastle. John Carew squandered an opportunity to put Villa up early by missing a penalty shot in the 10th minute. Two minutes later the wonderful mustache of Joey Barton put the Magpies in the lead, and they never looked back. Kevin Nolan bagged a brace, and Andrew Carroll netted himself a hat-trick as Newcastle annihilated Aston Villa 6-0. Perhaps Randy Lerner will think again about keeping interim manager Kevin MacDonald for the rest of the season.

Three games in the same week end in 6-0, that’s unheard of. Other scores in week 2 include: Birmingham City 2-1 over Blackburn, Gareth Bale leads Tottenham past Stoke City with a goal of the year candidate 2-1, Bolton deal another blow to West Ham with a 3-1 victory, Wolverhampton pull back a late equalizer against Everton to draw 1-1, and Fulham take advantage of Nani’s missed penalty to head home a late equalizer at Craven Cottage 2-2. There is still one more game left to be played in week 2, Manchester City host Liverpool on Monday. However, so far in the 9 games played in week 2, 35 goals have been scored. Resulting in an average of 3.89 goals per game. Even if 0 goals are scored in tomorrows Man City vs Liverpool game (highly unlikely), week 2 will end in at least 3.5 goals scored per game.

Goals Galore is not just occurring in the English Premier League, it’s spreading across Europe. Inter Milan recently dealt a blow to Roma winning 3-1 in the Super Cup final. Barcelona bounced back from a 3-1 first leg defeat to thrash Sevilla 4-0 in the second leg of the Spanish Super Copa, led by a Messi hat-trick, giving them a 5-3 aggregate victory. The Young Boys recently wrestled Tottenham to a 3-2 victory in the first leg of the UEFA Champions league play-off, and Werder Bremen dealt Sampdoria a 3-1 whooping in their first leg play-off.

There you have it, folks. Contrary to popular belief, goals do get scored in soccer.

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It seems like moments after Werder Bremen issued a warning to Real Madrid that if they do not step up their offer for Ozil he would play for Bremen in their upcoming UEFA Champions League qualifying match — they stepped up and offered what is being reported as €15 million and it was accepted. Had they not stepped up and had the bid accepted and Bremen played Ozil in their upcoming UEFA Champions League match, then Ozil would not be eligible to play for Real Madrid in the Champions League this season.

Ozil becomes the second German to sign for Madrid, joining his fellow countryman Sami Khedira. Madrid now have unbelievable depth coupled with enormous talent at the midfield position. Let’s take a look at that depth shall we?

Angel Di Maria

Xabi Alonso

Sami Khedira

Kaka

Mesut Ozil

Fernando Gago

Pedro Leon

Rafael Van der Vaart

Esteban Granero

Sergio Canales

Lassana Diarra

Mahamadou Diarra

Are you kidding me???? There will be no tired legs out there for Madrid that’s for sure. Jose Mourinho has a boat load of talent to experiment with in the midfield and with so many competitions nowadays, it’s never a bad thing to have an excess of talent in a certain position. It’s especially convenient when you can keep all the egos in check, which we all know Jose Mourinho can do.

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The battle for a Champions League spot is about to begin. 20 teams face-off with only 10 spots to be filled. The final draw has been made and these are the teams that will fight in a two-legged series for the coveted spot in the biggest club tournament in the world:

Young Boys (SUI) v Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)

Sporting Braga (POR) v Sevilla (ESP)

Werder Bremen (GER) v Sampdoria (ITA)

Zenit St Petersburg (RUS) v Auxerre (FRA)

Dynamo Kiev (UKR) v Ajax (NED)

Salzburg (AUT) v Hapoel Tel-Aviv (ISR)

Rosenborg (NOR) v Copenhagen (DEN)

Basel (SUI) v FC Sheriff (MDA)

Sparta Prague (CZE) v MSK Zilina (SVK)

Partizan Belgrade (SRB) v Anderlecht (BEL)

The Young Boys of Switzerland took down Turkish giants Fenerbache 3-2 on aggregate and defeated the giants in Turkey 1-0 in order to advance. However, Tottenham should have little trouble advancing past them for their first ever appearance in the Champions League. They did have one appearance 48 years ago, however, the tournament was then known as simply the European Cup. Harry Redknapp and the Spurs worked too hard last season to let it all crumble into nothing by losing against a team like the Young Boys.

Sporting Braga took care of Scottish giants Celtic in order to advance to this stage with a spot in the Champions League within their grasp. They defeated Celtic 3-0 in the 1st leg, and took the loss in the 2nd leg 2-1 but their efforts in the 1st leg allowed them to advance swiftly. Now they face Sevilla, a much stronger team with more talent across the board. Sporting Braga have done well to get this far but their run ends here as Sevilla will prove to be too strong with like the likes of Luis Fabiano and Jesus Navas leading the charge.

The most intriguing match-up of the play-off is Werder Bremen vs Sampdoria. These two teams are pretty much equally matched and it should be a very entertaining play-off. If Mesut Ozil ends up staying at Werder Bremen this season, then Bremen’s chances of advancing are higher than if he moves on to another club. However, regardless of whether he stays or leaves, I think Sampdoria will edge out the German side for a spot in the Champions League. The attacking force of Pazzini and Cassano will prove to be too much for Bremen as they valiantly bow out of the competition.

Zenit St. Petersburg vs Auxerre is another interesting match that should be quite entertaining. The Russian side just signed Portuguese defender Bruno Alves for a whopping €22 million. I believe these two teams are very evenly matched and it will be a tight play-off that could see a stint of extra time to ultimately determine the winner. I will tip Zenit to edge past the French side and see themselves to another Champions League berth.

Andriy Shevchenko will be looking to get to one more Champions League before he possibly calls it a career. Unfortunately, his team will have to defeat Dutch runners-up Ajax. With Uruguay star and goal-scoring phenom Luis Suarez leading the Ajax attack, and stalwart Dutch keeper Martin Stekelenburg minding the net, it will be extremely difficult for Kiev and Shevchenko to advance.

As for the rest of the play-off matches here are my predictions:

Salzburg (AUT) v Hapoel Tel-Aviv (ISR)Salzburg advance

Rosenborg (NOR) v Copenhagen (DEN) – Copenhagen advance

Basel (SUI) v FC Sheriff (MDA) Basel advance

Sparta Prague (CZE) v MSK Zilina (SVK)Sparta Prague advance

Partizan Belgrade (SRB) v Anderlecht (BEL) – Anderlecht advance (LOOK FOR ROMELU LUKAKU OF ANDERLECHT!!!!!)

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