September 19 – Manchester City begin their title defence of the Champions League at home to Red Star Belgrade to kick off the European club season in earnest tonight.
Following a busy summer of football with the Women’s World Cup taking centre stage and domestic seasons returning back to action, memories of City’s first-ever Champions League win – a 1-0 victory over Inter Milan in a tedious final in Istanbul – may seem distant, but Pep Guardiola’s mind on Tuesday will no doubt flashback to that June night when his club at long last lifted the European Cup. With an insatiable desire for victory, the Spaniard is confident that City have what it takes to retain their title, a feat last achieved by Real Madrid in 2018.
“It’ll be easier,” said Guardiola, who will be without the injured John Stones, Jack Grealish, Mateo Kovacic and Kevin de Bruyne for their home opener against Red Star. “The most difficult to win is the first one. It is incredible for us but it is just one. It’s important the players don’t feel relaxed.”
“For our club to win the Champions League is incredible but in perspective how many (clubs have) won one Champions League? A lot. We haven’t done anything special with just one, but we are incredibly proud.”
Top of the Premier League table, City will be favourites to reach the final at Wembley with other traditional powerhouses like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich currently lagging well behind, both in terms of match performance and resources. It will be the first Champions League season without Lionel Messi, who is stateside, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is in Saudi Arabia, though making waves in the Asian Champions League tonight in Iran.
Owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, Newcastle United return to Europe’s premier competition for the first time since the 2002/03 season. They kick off their campaign against AC Milan at the San Siro.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Dortmund is another standout fixture on Tuesday. Since Qatar Sports Investment took over the Parisian club in 2011, PSG have won nine Ligue 1 titles, but the Champions League trophy remains elusive. They reached the 2021 final but succumbed to Bayern Munich 1-0. Instead, City, last season, became the first state-backed club to win the competition.
“When a club is obsessed with something, it’s never a good sign,” said PSG manager Luis Enrique.
“You have to have ambition but obsession doesn’t work in any area of life. You have to wait and see how the competition goes, football is a wonderful sport, any result is possible. You can play an incredible game and lose, play badly and win. As a club, we play all competitions to win them, that’s the objective. It’s very ambitious but it’s necessary.”
This will be the last season of the existing 32-team format in the group phase before the competition moves to a Swiss model featuring 36 clubs in the group stages in a league model.
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