Barcelona leads Spanish charge in Champions League
15 September 2015, 18:43
Madrid — Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League lately, and the odds are stacked in their favor again when the group stage begins this week.
There will be five of them fighting for this year's title, the most ever for a country in the tournament's group phase.
That's because Europa League winner Sevilla joins the four teams who qualified through their league positions.
Among those, of course, are defending champion Barcelona and 2014 winner Real Madrid, who are both having terrific starts to their seasons.
Barcelona leads the Spanish league after three straight wins, including at rival Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Real Madrid is coming off two remarkable victories — 5-0 over Real Betis and 6-0 at Espanyol, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring five goals in the latest one.
Barcelona will debut at Roma on Wednesday, while Real Madrid hosts Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
Here are other things to watch for this week:
PRESSURE TO SUCCEED
English teams have much to prove in Europe. And it's not just about last season's failure to be represented in the last eight of either continental competition for the first time in 22 years.
Manchester United is back after its rare season-long absence from Europe, but captain Wayne Rooney is set to miss Tuesday's game at PSV Eindhoven through injury, leaving manager Louis van Gaal with a shortage of options.
United has won the European Cup three times but neighbor Manchester City has never advanced beyond the round of 16. After spending another $250 million on new talent, City is running out of excuses — especially with Tuesday's opponent, Juventus, struggling domestically.
While City leads the early Premier League table, Chelsea has opened its title defense with three losses in five games. Failure to beat Macabbi Tel Aviv on Wednesday would heighten the sense that Chelsea's slump is more than a blip.
For once, the pressure in London is on Jose Mourinho rather than Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose team opens against Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday.
Last year's runner-up Juventus will be looking to the Champions League for respite from domestic woes after its worst ever start to the Italian league.
The four-time defending champion lost both its opening matches for the first time and needed a late penalty to rescue a 1-1 draw against Chievo Verona on Saturday.
With top players Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal having departed and new signees like Mario Mandzukic still settling in, Juventus has a long way to go to match its form from last season, when it came close to winning the treble.
"We're in a period of transition but that shouldn't be used as a way of excusing ourselves, that's not the way we do things at Juventus," Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta said ahead of the team's opening match at Manchester City.
Midfielder Claudio Marchisio will miss the match and could be out for a month after injuring his right thigh on his comeback from a similar injury.
Borussia Moenchengladbach's joy of returning to Europe's premier competition after a 37-year absence has been tempered by its worst ever start to the Bundesliga.
Lucien Favre's side has lost all of its four games and is last in the standings with 11 goals conceded and just two scored. Friday's 3-0 home defeat to Hamburger SV was compounded when captain Martin Stranzl, who had just returned from six months out with a knee injury, sustained a fractured eye socket and a concussion. He will be out for six to eight weeks.
The team faces the daunting trip to Sevilla with Granit Xhaka suspended and injuries ruling out Alvaro Dominguez (back), Fabian Johnson (calf) and Patrick Herrmann (knee).
"If I had the choice, I'd rather have three points next Saturday in Cologne (in the Bundesliga) than in Seville," sporting director Max Eberl said.
MIND THE TRAPP
Paris Saint-Germain's new goalkeeper Kevin Trapp is already under pressure just five games into the season.
PSG dropped its first points in Friday's 2-2 home draw with Bordeaux after two glaring mistakes by Trapp. He spilled a routine header from a corner and let the ball slip over the line for the first goal, then allowed the ball to be taken away from his feet for the second.
Signed by coach Laurent Blanc in the offseason from Kaiserslauten, Trapp relegated Salvatore Sirigu to the bench. That move is already being questioned, even before Trapp's first Champions League game.
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