England's giants face French tests
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For the start of the 2008-2009 Champions League, Chelsea and Liverpool, who intend to take Manchester United's crown, will face French teams Marseille and Bordeaux, while Manchester United faces Spanish Villareal.
Seeking to follow in the footsteps of titleholders Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool set out Tuesday on their Champions League adventures with early French tests in their opening pool games.
While Liverpool, who travel to a Marseille side against whom they enjoyed mixed fortunes last season, and United have both savoured European success, Chelsea fans are hoping this will be the season in which they finally break their duck.*
John Terry's missed penalty in Moscow handed United the title last May, costing Avram Grant his job as coach, while under previous coach Jose Mourinho the Londoners twice found Liverpool a bridge too far before gaining semi-final revenge.
Under Luiz Felipe Scolari the Blues are already top of the Premierhip following Saturday's win at Manchester City, and will be odds on favourites to put three points on the board against a Bordeaux side held at home by Marseille in the French league on Saturday.
As a former Manchester United player, Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc will be doubly happy if his side can establish cross-Channel bragging rights in Group A.
But his side have started the season slowly with just seven points from five games - six behind table-topping Lyon.
For Scolari, his baptism in the event cannot come quickly enough although he has respect for Bordeaux.
"We know quite a lot about Bordeaux," said the Brazilian.
"We've seen tapes of their games from last season and some from this year, and we have some additional information from other people. They've warned us to be careful, especially in this first match."
Bordeaux have defenders Mathieu Chalme and Benoit Tremoulinas suspended, meaning a chance for Franck Jurietti and Argentine Diego Placente.
Brazilian midfielder Fernando returns from a ban.
The other encounter in the group pits AS Roma against Romanian newcomers Cluj.
While Cluj have nothing to lose Roma, in contrast, must shrug off a 3-1 weekend loss at Palermo which left the Italians on a solitary point from two league games.
Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez swiftly bolstered his reputation in winning the Champions League in his debut season at Anfield in 2005 with a heart-stopping win over AC Milan, though the same opponents secured revenge two years later.
But Benitez, with the club's cashflow-minded US owners at his back, has not only to show his European savvy anew, but also doff his cap in the direction of critics who suggest it is about time the Premiership trophy arrived at Anfield.
Liverpool's last league title came 18 years ago.
A first league win over United under Benitez's tenure on Saturday has boosted the Spaniard even if he may not risk the fit again Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
"That was our best performance of the season and we now feel we can go into a Champions League game in good heart and spirit," Benitez told liverpoolfc.tv.
Last season, Liverpool stumbled to a home group loss against Marseille but when the chips were down rattled through the rest of their programme, including a 4-0 win in France.
Marseille will hope former Liverpool man Boudewijn Zenden, who played in the 2007 loss to AC Milan, will be on his game and coach Eric Gerets will keep his fingers crossed that Mathieu Valbuena, who scored a cracker to shock Anfield last autumn but who hasn't played since summer groin surgery, can play some part.
PSV Eindhoven meet Torres' former club Atletico Madrid in the same Group D.
In Group B, Jose Mourinho will bid to do with Inter Milan what he managed to with Porto on a shoestring budget in 2004 but then failed to manage with cash kings Chelsea in the three following seasons and that's win the Champions League.
Last season saw the Italians crash out to Liverpool.
Inter, fourth after a win and a draw to date in Serie A, travel to Greece to face Panathinaikos while Cypriot minnows Anorthosis head for Germany to tackle Werder Bremen and make their competition bow as the first side from the island to play in the group stage after knocking out Greek side Olympiakos.
Barcelona, the 1992 and 2006 champions, host Sporting Lisbon in their first Group C match while Switzerland's FC Basel take on Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine.
Barca, without a trophy since their win over Arsenal in 2006, are struggling to impress this term and dropped points in a 1-1 home draw with Racing Santander on Saturday having started the canpaign with a loss at little Numancia.