The UEFA Champions League Returns: Five Players to Watch in Week 1
The anticipation is looming as the UEFA Champions League is on the doorstep.
It was only a few months ago when José Mourinho and Inter Milan lifted the cup in a 2-0 effort over Bayern Munich, the Italian club's first European Cup since 1965.
Internazionale is back in the draw along with 31 other European clubs as the opening fixtures of group play loom.
Last year's Champions League hero was Diego Milito. Who's form will leave a lasting impact during the tournament?
Here are five players to watch in Week 1 of group play.
Alexander Frei, FW, FC Basel
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The striker for the Switzerland-based club is in great form for FC Basel of the Swiss Super League, netting six goals in eight fixtures so far this season.
Hailing out of Group E with the Bundesliga's Bayern Munich—last year's Champions League runner-up—the Serie A's Roma, and Romania's CFR Cluj, Basel surely will be tested against some of Europe's top squads.
Frei leads his club with his six goals, but no other player has more than a single score. If Basel is to push through the group stages, Frei must continue to play true to his form.
Luis Suárez, FW, Ajax
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Ajax will need all the goals it can get in Group G with AC Milan, Real Madrid, and AJ Auxerre battling the Dutch-based club. Some regard that draw one of the more difficult in the Champions League.
World Cup breakout performer Luis Suárez of Uruguay has scored six times for his Eredivisie club, which has yet to lose a game this season (6-0-2).
A brilliant start in for the striker in Ajax's opening fixture with Real Madrid is expected, as his scoring form is hardly matched by anyone in the group at this point. But expect plenty of help from fellow in-form scorer Mounir El Hamdaoui.
Gonzalo Higuaín, FW, Real Madrid
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The easy pick for one of the most recognized clubs in the world is Cristiano Ronaldo, but everyone will be watching him.
Much maligned for his poor efforts during the season for Real Madrid last year, a World Cup filled with goals for Gonzalo Higuaín put the goal-scoring mindset back into the 22-year old.
With the firepower up front with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, the Argentine Higuaín may not even find himself with a first-eleven selection for every fixture.
Nevertheless, he consistently put himself in position to score in South Africa, and a couple of good breaks for Higuaín could see the Spanish giants easily into the Round of 16.
David Villa, FW, Barcelona
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After a highly anticipated move from Valencia to Barcelona over the transfer window, David Villa has already netted a goal in two matches for the La Liga champions.
Zlatan Ibrahimović returned to Italy a couple of weeks ago, so the scoring will be heavy from Villa and Lionel Messi.
Of course, Messi hardly needs an introduction, but he, too, will have all eyes on his feet.
Opposing teams will have to honor one or the other, leaving multiple chances for the talented duo.
Against the Group D opposition—FC Copenhagen, Panathinaikos, and Rubin Kazan—Barcelona will not shy away from doing what it does best, score goals.
Zlatan Ibrahimović, FW, AC Milan
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After much chatter about Zlatan Ibrahimović's contentment at Barcelona, he was loaned back into the league where he so aptly demonstrated his talent and skills, the Serie A.
Ibrahimović did his business for Inter Milan in his previous stint in Italy, but this time around he joins Inter rivals AC Milan on loan, a team in dire need of a big-bodied striker in the box.
Milan also reeled in Brazilian star Robinho, another potent goal-scorer who is looking for a rebound after a tumultuous stint for Manchester City.
The rotation up front remains to be seen for the Italian club, but no doubt there is some sickening talent in the final third.
AC Milan will have plenty of ammunition to battle against the likes of Real Madrid, Ajax, and AJ Auxerre.