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Barcelona lead Spanish charge in Champions League

Published:Tuesday | September 15, 2015 | 9:00 AM

MADRID (AP):

Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League lately and the odds are stacked in their favour 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 winners Sevilla join the four teams, which qualified through their league positions.

Among those, of course, are defending champion Barcelona and 2014 winner Real Madrid, which are both having terrific starts to their seasons.

Barcelona lead the Spanish league after three straight wins, including at rivals AtlÈtico Madrid on Saturday. Real Madrid are 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 tomorrow, while Real Madrid host Shakhtar Donetsk today.

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 are back after their rare season-long absence from Europe, but captain Wayne Rooney is set to miss today's game at PSV Eindhoven through injury, leaving manager Louis van Gaal with a shortage of options.

United have won the European Cup three times, but neighbours Manchester City have never advanced beyond the round of 16. After spending another US$250 million on new talent, City are running out of excuses - especially with today's opponents, Juventus, struggling domestically.

While City lead the early Premier League table, Chelsea have opened their title defence with three losses in five games. Failure to beat Macabbi Tel Aviv tomorrow 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 tomorrow.