Real Madrid host Manchester City as Group D of the UEFA Champions League kicks off in stunning style on Tuesday.
The champions of Spain and England meet at the Santiago Bernabeu in the most-anticipated match of the group stages, with City desperate to improve on last season’s showing in the competition.
Roberto Mancini’s men failed to make it out of a difficult group – which contained Napoli, Villarreal and eventual finalists Bayern Munich – despite winning 10 points from their six matches last term.
And progression will be even tougher this year for the Etihad Stadium outfit, with the group also including Borussia Dortmund (champions of Germany) and Ajax Amsterdam (champions of Holland).
It has every right to be called the ‘Group of Death’ and not one match will be easy for any side, something City midfielder James Milner is well aware of.
“To get the group of champions is obviously a bit unlucky,” Milner said.
“But you play in the Champions League to play against these top teams. And we know we can beat anyone on our day. It will be a very tough group but it’s down to us to play well.”
The former Leeds United and Aston Villa man said his side were ‘unlucky’ last season but they had learnt from their experience.
The true test of that will come in Madrid on Tuesday, with Jose Mourinho’s men sure to come out breathing fire after a lacklustre start to La Liga so far.
Whereas City are unbeaten and sitting fourth in the English Premier League, Real Madrid have won just once and sit 14th domestically, with reports continuing to circle about the future of Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo’s admission that he was ‘sad’ for professional reasons in the wake of Real’s 3-0 La Liga win over Granada has filled plenty of column inches and Mourinho needs to make his main man happy if Real are to stay in touch with table-toppers Barcelona, who are already eight points clear.
The other match sees Ajax travel to the Westfalenstadion to face Borussia Dortmund.
In front of an always raucous home crowd, Juergen Klopp’s side will be favoured to win and they have performed well in the Bundesliga this season, winning two of their three matches including a 3-0 success over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.
The acquisition of attacker Marco Reus from Borussia Moenchengladbach has proved a wise one, with the 23-year-old proving a handy replacement for Shinji Kagawa, who joined Manchester United in the off-season.
Ajax will be no easybeats though, with Frank de Boer’s men also unbeaten in the league this campaign.
The Dutch giants have become accustomed to losing their best players in recent years and despite the off-season departures of defenders Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Gregory van der Wiel (Paris Saint-Germain) and utility Vurnon Anita (Newcastle United) – for a combined total of approximately 20 million pounds – have coped well.
Midfielders Thulani Serero, Tobias Sana and Siem de Jong have all scored three times in the Eredivisie this season as Ajax sit third on the table and they are sure to present the Germans with a challenge.