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‘Clash’ of contrasts on the cards
- CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Zidane's Real threaten to massacre rivals
Maldini's Milan focus on defensive organisation

Paris: Reigning champions AC Milan and record nine-time winners Real Madrid kick off the new Champions League season on Tuesday as most people’s bets to win the title.

Few would be surprised to see either Real Madrid’s flamboyant array of stars or AC Milan’s more disciplined collection of talent in the May 26 final at Schalke 04’s stadium in Germany.

Real Madrid’s purchase of David Beckham and AC Milan’s buying of exciting Brazilian Kaka in the pre-season will add spice to their midfields in a further quest for European supremacy.

Question marks remain over the defensive capabilities of Real Madrid, particularly after they sold tough-tackling, defensive midfielder Claude Makelele to Chelsea two weeks ago.

English Premiership side Chelsea, who took their spending to over £111 million after being bankrolled by Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich, are also in action.

Real Madrid host Marseille, AC Milan entertain Ajax, Chelsea visit Sparta Prague and Manchester United play at home to Panathinaikos in the pick of the day’s ties.

Real have not signed a replacement for Makelele, whose absence in the second leg of last season’s semi-final against Juventus played a decisive role in the Italian club’s victory. The resilience of Fernando Hierro, who was let go by the club, will also be missed.

President Florentino Perez might say players such as Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham, Raul and Roberto Carlos would make up for a shaky backline as long as they score lots of goals.

Certainly Real’s stars warmed up for midweek action on Saturday with a 7-2 blitzing of Real Valladolid.

AC Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti, whose side has won both their Italian league matches to date, would surely disagree and assert the need for defensive rigour.

Ancelotti’s purchase of veteran Brazil international defender Cafu from Roma to add to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and rugged defensive midfielder Gennaro Gatusso shows his insistence on a solid backline.

Chelsea’s new purchases meanwhile are an unknown quantity at the highest level and coach Claudio Raineri is demanding they combine as a team. “I have built Chelsea for three years,” Ranieri said.

“Now we are born again, and we must build to be like Real Madrid, the Italians and Bayern Munich, for sooner or later one of them arrives at the Champions League final. Chelsea have fantastic players, but we must work to be a team like those clubs.”

In other matches, Scotland’s Rangers host VfB Stuttgart, Partizan Belgrade meet FC Porto, Besiktas of Turkey host Lazio and FC Bruges are at home to Celta Vigo.

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