Madrid hopes for rebound match against Man City

Madrid hopes for rebound match against Man City

MADRID - The Associated Press
Madrid hopes for rebound match against Man City

Real Madrid players Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain (top) look dejected during the team’s La Liga defeat against Sevilla.

Real Madrid will go into tonight’s Champions League opener against Manchester City looking to spark a turnaround after a poor start that has presented coach Jose Mourinho with perhaps his toughest test yet at the Spanish club.

Madrid will host the Premier League champions on the back of only one victory in four league games, leaving it eight points behind leader Barcelona.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s pouting has perhaps played a part in Madrid’s stumbles but Mourinho is also under scrutiny after publicly criticizing his team’s play, which has appeared meek since beating Barcelona to win the Spanish Super Cup last month.

Madrid’s timing couldn’t be worse with the Premier League champions visiting the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to open a tough Group D, in which neither can afford many slipups with German champion Borussia Dortmund and Dutch champion Ajax also in the mix.

“The only way to go after our 10th Champions League title is to play well, plan well and be highly motivated to win,” Mourinho said on the club’s website.

There has been little positive to spin from Madrid’s start to Mourinho’s third season in charge, as all hopes are on the European title since the Portuguese coach has won every other trophy available since his arrival from Inter Milan in 2010.

Madrid’s home form has at least been spectacular in the competition with only one loss - to Barcelona - in 12 matches, and it scored 24 goals in six games last season.

Mourinho said his team deserved its losses with its defense particularly patchy this season, especially on set plays, but at least it can count of fullback Fabio Coentrao, who had been suspended in league play.

Tonight’s match will present Ronaldo’s first return to the Bernabeu since declaring he was “sad” for “professional reasons.”

City could have the resources to exploit any lapses with Sergio Aguero expected to return from injury, and fellow striker Mario Balotelli also back. Playmaking midfielder David Villa should start after coming off the bench in City’s 1-1 draw against Stoke on Saturday, when former Madrid player Javi Garcia marked his debut with a goal.

Carlos Tevez has scored three goals to continue his City rejuvenation one year after refusing to play against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. That led to the Argentina striker being cast aside for six months, but he has returned stronger and could even offer Mourinho a lesson on treating his own unhappy star players.

“Carlos is improved with his behavior,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “He worked serious in preseason. I think he is another player with us.”

Mancini, who is without defender Micah Richards, wants a better start from his team in the competition this time around after failing to get past the group stage in its debut last season.

“Our first game in Madrid will be very important, not only for the result but for our mentality going forward. We have a very tough group again this year,” the Italian coach said. “Maybe you can be lucky some time but it’s difficult for us, like it is for Madrid, Borussia and Ajax.”

Dortmund, meanwhile, is hoping to make a bigger impact in the competition after finishing bottom of its group on its return to the competition last season.

The Bundesliga champions at least warmed up with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday to stretch its unbeaten league run to 31 games.

“That’s the football that we want to and have to play if we want to be successful,” Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp said ahead of Ajax’s trip to Germany. “We’ve set the bar at where we need to be in the next days.”

Ajax will be without striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (shoulder), midfielder Eyong Enoh (knee) and defender Nicolai Boilesen (hamstring).

Ajax is undefeated in the Dutch league after five matches with a league-leading 17 goals as it bids to start strong to reach the knockout stages for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

“We’re going there full of confidence,” Ajax defender Daley Blind said. “We just need to give everything and see how it goes.”