Champions League 2012/13: In it to win it

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Less than a week after Chelsea’s famous win against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, thoughts have already begun to turn towards next year’s competition.

With Europe’s major domestic leagues already over, teams already know their fate when it comes to the premier club competition on the continent next season.

As holders, Chelsea secured their automatic qualification into the group stages, knocking Tottenham Hotspur out of the qualifying play-off round in the process. Their fourth-place finish in the Premier League counts for the Europa League, and that’s scant consolation for manager Harry Redknapp.

Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal all qualified automatically thanks to the Premier League’s high co-efficiency ranking (CHECK), meaning four teams from England will be competing in the last 32.

Spain will enjoy the same luxury, providing Malaga can win their play-off match in August. The big-spenders in La Liga would join Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia on the big stage.

In Germany, domestic double winners Borussia Dortmund will lead the Bundesliga pack into battle, with Bayern Munich following behind as they look to go one better next season.

Schalke, who reached the semi-final in 2010/11, have also qualified automatically, whilst Borussia Monchengladbach have the chance to make it another four after reaching the play-off round.

The return of Italian giants Juventus will be something to look forward to, whilst AC Milan join them as runners-up from Serie ‘A’. Udinese have the chance to join them, beating Catania on the final day to pip Lazio to third-place and a spot in the play-offs.

Napoli also missed out after an impressive campaign at Europe’s top table last term, with Inter Milan and Roma also off the pace domestically.

A new name enters the competition from France, with Ligue 1 champions Montpellier set to take their bow in the competition after stunning the traditional powers.

Paris St. Germain were second, and will also be a threat in the group stages with some major finances at their disposal this summer. Lille could make it three, but they’ll have to win in the play-offs as well.

Winners Porto and runners-up Benfica represent the improving Portuguese league, whilst Braga have a good chance of making the group stages via the play-off round. Chelsea’s win meant they were promoted to that stage from the third qualifying round.

Andrey Arshavin helped inspire Zenit St. Petersburg to the title in Russia, and they’ll be back in 2012/13 looking to improve on a poor showing last time out. Spartak Moscow can join them if they win their play-off – another team promoted to that stage thanks to the Blues’ win.

Ajax will again represent the Dutch after an impressive end-of-season run led to the Eredivisie title. Feyenoord must negotiate two qualifying matches to join them in the last 32, however.

Shakhtar Donetsk will represent the Ukranian league, whilst Dynamo Kyiv will also have to win twice to make it into the competition proper.

Turkish champions Galatasaray and Greek winners Olympiakos are also in the hat, with Fenerbache and Panathanaikos needing to navigate a couple of qualifying rounds to get in.

The other automatic spot is taken by the winners of the Danish Super-Liga, with FC Nordsjaelland currently on top spot, closely followed by FC Copenhagen. The runner-up will go into the third qualifying round.

Scottish duo Celtic and Motherwell will join them at that stage, with Rangers’ omission from Europe helping the later on this occasion. Two teams from Romania will also enter at this stage, with Club Cluj and Vaslui taking their chance in Liga 1.

A handful of lower nations are represented in the first and second qualifying rounds, with Northern Irish outfit Linfield one of the six teams to enter in the opening stage.

They will all look to reach stage two, where the biggest team on show is last season’s conquerors of Manchester United – FC Basel.

AEL Limassol will be looking to follow in APOEL Nicosia as the representatives from Cyprus, whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have his mind on the big games ahead if his Molde side can get through three tough matches.

Partizan Belgrade are also dangerous, whilst Shamrock Rovers from Ireland and The New Saints from Wales will be dreaming of the riches that lie ahead.

Feel free to pick your winner from that lot!

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