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Liverpool, Milan return to big stage
Trevor Huggins | September 12, 2005 11:22 IST
Liverpool will open their title defence in earnest while AC Milan will awake from their nightmare in Istanbul when the Champions League group phase kicks off this week.
Four months after one of football's most thrilling finals, when Liverpool came from 3-0 down in the second half to beat AC Milan in a penalty shootout, the two clubs join 30 others in Europe's showcase competition.
Real Madrid, bidding for a 10th European crown after some heavy spending on the transfer market, Primera Liga rivals Barcelona, cash-rich Chelsea and Juventus will all fancy their chances of reaching the final in Paris.
Liverpool have taken the hard road to Seville, where they face Betis on Tuesday, after UEFA ruled the Merseysiders would have to fight their way through all three qualifying rounds.
Betis will hold no secrets, though, for Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez or the group of Spanish players - minus injured striker Fernando Morientes - he will be taking with him.
Liverpool's Premier League rivals Chelsea, beaten by Benitez's men in last season's semi-finals, are at home to Anderlecht in the other Group G game.
Holding midfielder Claude Makelele and left back Asier Del Horno will be missing from Chelsea's line-up. New signing Michael Essien will probably take Makelele's role with William Gallas moving across from central defence to cover at full back.
Anderlecht coach Frank Vercauteren told Reuters: "When you play, you always play to win, but when you play Chelsea, not losing is just as important.
"This game...is also a mental challenge for us, and everyone wants to play. "Defender Vincent Kompany has a back problem with a trapped nerve. But he will play through the pain against Chelsea."
Milan have a relatively painless tie on paper at home to Fenerbahce as they try to turn the page on last May's defeat.
Strike pairing Andriy Shevchenko and Alberto Gilardino will be pitched into attack, with Christian Vieri held in reserve.
Milan's biggest rivals in Group E, PSV Eindhoven, are at home to Schalke 04.
PSV's Brazilian defender Alex misses out after a knee injury last weekend, while new signings Michael Ball and Arouna Kone are cup-tied after European duty for Rangers and Roda JC Kerkrade.
Schalke will be without their German international forward Gerald Asamoah for at least two months after suffering a serious knee injury at the weekend.
Real Madrid have a tricky start in Group F away to French champions Olympique Lyon whose tails will be up after winning five of their six games in Ligue 1.
Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane will both miss out for Real, though, with the Brazil striker serving a two-match ban and the French playmaker laid low by a groin strain.
Spanish rivals Barcelona are away to Werder Bremen in a modest Group C that also features Udinese and Panathinaikos.
Artmedia Bratislava, who defied the odds by reaching the group phase from the first qualifying round, get their first tangible reward at home to Inter Milan in Group H.
Inter, poor in a 3-2 defeat to Palermo on Saturday, are likely to be without captain Javier Zanetti and Serbian defender Sinisa Mihajlovic who both missed the Serie A match with injuries.
Another rank outsider, Swiss club Thun, start out at Highbury on Wednesday against a faltering Arsenal side who will be missing injured captain and main striker Thierry Henry.
Juventus and Bayern Munich were both drawn in Group A but miss each other on Wednesday.
The Italians, edged out by Liverpool last season, are away to Bruges, while Bayern travel to Rapid Vienna.
Manchester United, winners in 1999, have an intriguing game in Group D away to a Villarreal side whose recent success is largely down to a striker who Reds manager Alex Ferguson discarded, Uruguayan Diego Forlan.