London: The Champions League returns to the spotlight on Tuesday as Real Madrid, one of the most decorated clubs in the competition, take on Manchester City, the English champions whose vast spending power has fast-tracked them to European heavyweight status.
The Group D match between the champions of the two strongest leagues in the continent needed no extra billing but Real manager Jose Mourinho has already raised the stakes by saying “money cannot buy trophies or history”.
While Real have won the title nine times to City’s none, Roberto Mancini’s City will not travel to the Bernabeau with any inferiority complex even though their first foray into continent’s blue riband event did not go to plan last season when they failed to survive the group phase.
Not least because of Real’s terrible start to the new domestic season, which has seen them lose two of their opening four games and languishing down in 13th position.
Holders Chelsea begin the defence of their title at home to Juventus in Group E on Wednesday, while Barcelona begin Champions League life post-Pep Guardiola against Spartak Moscow.
Manchester United take on Turkish club Galatasaray on Wednesday in Group H hoping to avoid the problems of last season when they surprisingly failed to reach the first knockout round. The usual round of summer transfer activity has re-arranged the furniture at some of Europe’s leading clubs but many of the usual suspects will be out in force as the 32 teams qualified for the competition kick off this week.
Real Madrid are already eight points behind Barca in La Liga after defeat by Sevilla on Saturday, a loss which has set the alarm bells ringing in the Spanish capital. “My players’ heads are not focused, for many of them football is not a priority,” Mourinho said. “But I am the coach and if there are heads that are not focused, it is my fault.” He will hope that the visit of City will get their minds back on the job, particularly that of Cristiano Ronaldo who regularly tormented City while playing for Manchester United.
Real have never lost their opening home game in European Cup or Champions League, racking up 40 wins and two draws, and with the group also containing Borussia Dortmund and Ajax Amsterdam they will want to put down an early marker.
After two consecutive Champions League semi-final defeats with Real Madrid, Mourinho played down any pressure he was feeling to return the famous piece of silverware to the club's bulging trophy cabinet for a 10th time.