Every match appears crucial in the Champions League’s ‘Group of Death’, with Manchester City hosting Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
The undisputed toughest pool of the 2012/13 competition, Group D features the title-holders of four major European leagues, with City (English Premier League) and Dortmund (Bundesliga) joined by Ajax (Eredivisie) and Real Madrid (La Liga).
City were placed in a similarly unforgiving group last season, and finished third behind Napoli and eventual runners-up Bayern Munich.
Last month they came close to making a stunning start to this campaign, leading 1-0 and then 2-1 away to Real, but conceded late on to lose 3-2 in arguably the match of the tournament so far.
Dortmund also endured a disappointing return to elite competition in 2011/12, finishing bottom of a group containing Arsenal, Marseille and Olympiakos.
Like City, Juergen Klopp’s men went on to claim their domestic title, and will be determined not to suffer a repeat of continental disappointment.
Dortmund made a solid, if unspectacular, start on matchday one, beating the weakest team in the group – Ajax – 1-0 at home.
A tougher challenge looms this week, with Klopp taking his players to face Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled squad at Etihad Stadium.
A host of stars are in contention to grab the spotlight, with the likes of City’s Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Carlos Tevez going up against Dortmund stars Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski.
City triumphed 2-1 away at Fulham in the league on Saturday, courtesy of a late winner from substitute Edin Dzeko.
Dortmund warmed up for the clash in far more impressive fashion, hammering Borussia Moenchengladbach 5-0 at home.
In the other Group D fixture, Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid renew acquaintances with Dutch side Ajax, after the two clubs were also drawn together at this stage of the tournament last season.
Real defeated Ajax 3-0 home and away last term, and any result other than a winner for the Spanish champions would be a surprise.
Mourinho’s men have been shaky early in their title defence, but they finally found form with a 5-1 hammering of Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday, star man Cristiano Ronaldo netting a hat-trick in the romp at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Ajax also enjoyed a morale-boosting victory last weekend, downing Eredivisie leaders Twente 1-0 at home to move three points off the top of the table.
But they must surely produce an extraordinary performance if they are to interfere with Real’s intended march to the latter stages of Europe’s elite club competition.
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