Madrid in disarray ahead of Champions League start?
LONDON, England (AP) — Struggling in the Spanish league and with their star player and coach publicly unhappy, the last thing beleaguered Real Madrid needed was a Champions League opener against a Manchester City side desperate to muscle in on Europe's elite this season.
A trip to the Santiago Bernabeu looked to have consigned City to the harshest of starts to the continent's premier club competition but the English champions will be relishing the chance to pile more misery on Madrid.
The Spanish giants have dropped eight points from a possible 12 in the defence of their La Liga title, leaving the team in the unusual position of mid-table and prompting heavy criticism from coach Jose Mourinho about the players' lack of commitment and spirit.
Add in Cristiano Ronaldo's comments at the start of the month about feeling "sad" for "professional reasons" and Madrid appear to be in disarray ahead of the standout match of the first round of group fixtures.
"We are having a bad run, but we have to think of Tuesday's (tomorrow's) game as a chance to boost our morale," Brazilian defender Marcelo said. "Today we are all sad, but we have to move forward."
Chelsea welcome Italian champion Juventus to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to begin the defence of a title won in a penalty shootout four months ago in Munich, while Barcelona are at home to Spartak Moscow as they go in search of a fourth Champions League trophy in seven years.
The highlight of this week's games, however, is undoubtedly Madrid-Man City, which pitches the competition's most successful team with a cash-rich upstart hungry for European success after climbing to the top of English football last season.
"To play the first game away will be very tough but at the same time I think it will be a fantastic game for everyone," City manager Roberto Mancini said.
Madrid, bidding for their 10th European Cup title, are coming into the game off a 1-0 loss at Sevilla that appears to have triggered a state of alarm in the Spanish capital.
Madrid and City were placed in the hardest of the eight pools along with Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, who meet in Germany tomorrow in Group D.
Also that night, AC Milan will look to join Madrid in putting their domestic problems aside when the Italian team hosts Belgian side Anderlecht at the San Siro in Group C.
A 1-0 loss to Atalanta on Saturday marked the first time Milan have lost their opening two Serie A home matches in 82 years.
Spanish team Malaga host Zenit St Petersburg in the group's other match and is one of three clubs making their debuts in the competition, along with Montpellier and FC Nordsjaelland of Denmark.
Montpellier are at home to Arsenal in Group B, where 2011 semi-finalist Schalke travel to Olympiakos. Also tomorrow, Dinamo Zagreb host FC Porto and Dynamo Kiev visit Paris Saint-Germain, the expensively assembled French club which is back in the Champions League for the first time since 2004.
Barcelona, led by the peerless Lionel Messi and their galaxy of midfield maestros, again start as the competition favourite and will be buoyed by their perfect start to the Spanish league this season.