Champions League

Real Madrid remain the team to beat in CL

2017-09-12 08:20
Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo (Getty Images)

Madrid - Such is Real Madrid's confidence in creating more Champions League history that while others have spent hundreds of millions trying to catch up, the back-to-back European champions were happy to cash in.

Real made a profit of over €75 million in the transfer market thanks to the departures of Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez and Danilo.

Yet they remain very much the side to beat as the Champions League returns on Tuesday having ended a near three-decade long wait for a team to retain the trophy.

"We are the champions so everyone faces us with extra motivation," warned former Real striker Emilio Butragueno, now the club's director of institutional relations.

Madrid coped with that challenge admirably last season, dismissing Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus in the latter stages.

Their quest to become the first side since Bayern in the mid-seventies to win three in a row starts with a more modest test in the form of APOEL Nicosia at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Tougher tasks lie in wait in the form of Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur in Group H.

Dortmund even beat Madrid to top spot in the group stage last season. But Real have mastered the art of saving their best for when the competition really gets going for the contenders in the knockout stages in the new year.

"We have a stupendous squad but this is a competition that takes you to the limit in all aspects," added Butragueno.

"You can have a big squad with all the resources, but when the moment of truth arrives you need to not have injuries, for your players to be in optimum form and have luck. There are so many factors."

Strength in depth

Real's strength in depth was used intelligently by coach Zinedine Zidane to win the club's first La Liga and European Cup double for 59 years last season.

It is also why one of the richest clubs in the world didn't feel the need to go wild in a hyper-inflated transfer market following Neymar's world record €222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Instead, Real continued their policy of snapping up the best young talent in Spain in Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos to add to the likes of Isco and Marco Asensio.

Despite a slow start to their campaign in La Liga, Zidane already seems to be playing the long game this season.

The Frenchman rested a host of first-team regulars including Luka Modric, Isco and Gareth Bale on their return from international duty for a disappointing 1-1 draw against Levante on Saturday.

"I am not going to revolutionise what I want to do with this team due to one bad game," Zidane insisted afterwards.

Real will be bolstered for the visit of the Cypriot champions in midweek by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The World Player of the Year's absence due to a five-game domestic ban for pushing a referee has exposed the one flaw in Real's squad in a lack of back-up to Karim Benzema.

Having not replaced Morata, Bale was forced to act as an auxiliary striker against Levante after Benzema went off injured.

Yet even an enforced rest for Ronaldo could ultimately work in Real's favour come the end of the campaign.

The Portuguese scored 10 goals from the quarter-finals on last season as Zidane's rotation policy left him far fresher and freer of injuries than in previous years.

With a fit Ronaldo come the knockout stages, Real will remain the team to beat as the rest of Europe tries to end their hegemony.

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Fixtures
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Sevilla v Maribor, Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan 20:45
Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk, Etihad Stadium 20:45
APOEL v Tottenham Hotspur, Neo GSP 20:45
Spartak Moskva v Liverpool, Otkrytiye Arena 20:45
Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid, Signal-Iduna-Park 20:45
Monaco v Porto, Stade Louis II. 20:45
Napoli v Feyenoord, Stadio San Paolo 20:45
Besiktas v RB Leipzig, Vodafone Stadyumu 20:45
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
Qarabag v Roma, Bakı Olimpiya Stadionu 18:00
Juventus v Olympiakos Piraeus, Allianz Stadium 20:45
Sporting CP v Barcelona, Estadio Jose Alvalade 20:45
Atletico Madrid v Chelsea, Estadio Wanda Metropolitano 20:45
PSG v Bayern Munchen, Parc des Princes 20:45
Basel v Benfica, St. Jakob-Park 20:45
Anderlecht v Celtic, Stade Constant Vanden Stock 20:45
CSKA Moskva v Manchester United, VEB Arena 20:45
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur, Estadio Santiago Bernabeu 20:45
Manchester City v Napoli, Etihad Stadium 20:45
Maribor v Liverpool, Ljudski vrt 20:45
APOEL v Borussia Dortmund, Neo GSP 20:45
Spartak Moskva v Sevilla, Otkrytiye Arena 20:45
RB Leipzig v Porto, Red Bull Arena 20:45
Monaco v Besiktas, Stade Louis II. 20:45
Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk, Stadion Feijenoord 20:45
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Qarabag v Atletico Madrid, Bakı Olimpiya Stadionu 18:00
Juventus v Sporting CP, Allianz Stadium 20:45
Bayern Munchen v Celtic, Allianz-Arena 20:45
Barcelona v Olympiakos Piraeus, Camp Nou 20:45
Benfica v Manchester United, Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica (da Luz) 20:45
Anderlecht v PSG, Stade Constant Vanden Stock 20:45
Chelsea v Roma, Stamford Bridge 20:45
CSKA Moskva v Basel, VEB Arena 20:45
Tuesday, 31 October 2017
Celtic v Bayern Munchen, Celtic Park 21:45
Sporting CP v Juventus, Estadio Jose Alvalade 21:45
Atletico Madrid v Qarabag, Estadio Wanda Metropolitano 21:45
Manchester United v Benfica, Old Trafford 21:45
PSG v Anderlecht, Parc des Princes 21:45
Basel v CSKA Moskva, St. Jakob-Park 21:45
Olympiakos Piraeus v Barcelona, Stadio Georgios Karaiskaki 21:45
Roma v Chelsea, Stadio Olimpico 21:45
Wednesday, 01 November 2017
Besiktas v Monaco, Vodafone Stadyumu 19:00
Liverpool v Maribor, Anfield 21:45
Porto v RB Leipzig, Estadio Do Dragao 21:45
Sevilla v Spartak Moskva, Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan 21:45
Shakhtar Donetsk v Feyenoord, Oblasny SportKomplex Metalist 21:45
Borussia Dortmund v APOEL, Signal-Iduna-Park 21:45
Napoli v Manchester City, Stadio San Paolo 21:45
Tottenham Hotspur v Real Madrid, Wembley Stadium 21:45
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