LONDON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - 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.
”This (City) is a team being created to lift the Champions League, that’s their aim,“ Mourinho told The Sun in the build-up to the clash. ”A lot of top managers and clubs have never won a Champions League. So if I have won it twice and Real have won it a record nine times... well we should say ‘Thanks to God’.
”And if a third comes for me and a 10th title comes for Real Madrid this season - amazing.
“We will accept it all with a smile. But there is no pressure on us. There is no obsession to win it here.”
Chelsea came from a mid-season fog to snatch the Champions League in dramatic fashion against Bayern Munich last season but have since parted ways with talismanic striker Didier Drogba.
They have started the season strongly, however, and are top of the Premier League standings after four games.
Juventus have also started the Serie A season well although they will be hoping to improve on a dismal record away to English clubs in Europe. They have not won any of their last 11 visits to Premier League clubs, losing eight and drawing three.
The other opening round match in Group E features Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk, embarking on their eighth Champions League campaign, up against Denmark’s FC Nordsjaelland, one of two teams making their debuts in the Champions League.
The other one is French champions Montpellier who begin their Group B campaign at home to Arsenal, one of the competition’s permanent fixtures.
The harsh economics of football will come into sharp focus for Montpellier as they come face to face with former striker Olivier Giroud - tempted away from France by the riches of the Premier League during the summer.
It could be a tough baptism for Montpellier who have started the French season with something of a hangover, while Arsenal have hit form, thrashing Southampton 6-1 on Saturday.
French hopes of success in the tournament this season may rest with big-spending Paris St Germain who begin their first Champions League adventure since 2004-05 with a home game against Dynamo Kiev.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of several high-profile signings at the club as they look to flex their muscles again on the biggest stage, has already taken to life in the French capital, scoring five goals for his new club since switching from Milan. (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Justin Palmer)