Champions League welcomes first-timers and a host of regulars
The 32 teams are set for the 23rd UEFA Champions League season, with the draw to be held on Thursday (11:45 a.m. ET on ESPN3). Here are five notes from the field...
* Real Madrid, Barcelona and (perhaps surprisingly) Porto are the three participating clubs with the most UCL berths, as each makes its 19th appearance this season. Manchester United has also made 19 appearances, but of course did not qualify this season for the first time since 1995-96.
* United's absence ended what was the longest active streak of UCL appearances at 18 seasons. Real Madrid now claims that honor, entering their 18th straight UCL campaign. Arsenal has the second-longest current run at 17 straight UCL seasons, after qualifying via the playoff route for the seventh time.
* There are two debutants in this season's Champions League: Malmo and Ludogorets. Malmo is the fourth different Swedish club to qualify, and the first since Helsingborg in 2000-01. Ludogorets is the second Bulgarian side to reach the group stage, and the first since Sofia Levski was eliminated there in 2006-07.
* The other two clubs with minimal Champions League pedigree are Maribor and Athletic Bilbao. Maribor is the only Slovenian club ever to qualify and is making their second appearance, first since going out in the group stage in 1999-00. Athletic Bilbao is ending the longest UCL drought, having made their only previous appearance in 1998-99.
* Three Americans are on the rosters of Champions League clubs. Anderlecht's Sacha Kljestan is the most likely to play, and his goal against Olympiacos last December is the most recent scored by an American in Champions League. Julian Green, who made one UCL cameo last season, hopes to see the field again for Bayern Munich. And David Yelldell is entering his fourth season as a backup keeper for Bayer Leverkusen, though he hasn't played with the first team since 2011.
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