Man City cannot afford to slip up in Munich
BAYERN MUNICH v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, SingTel mio TV Ch 111)
James Milner has called on Manchester City to step up and challenge for the Champions League, but after yet another harsh draw, they won't have it easy.
They start with the hardest game possible, away to German giants Bayern Munich.
There's no margin for error here. Unlike so many other clubs, they are under pressure from the start.
City won't have it easy against CSKA Moscow or Roma, so they need to take at least a point from what will be a very tough challenge.
Anything less and the risk of an early elimination will immediately present itself.
Because of Uefa's coefficient system, where performances over the past five years are used to calculate seedings, City have had to work their way up from fourth seeds, passing through some of the most difficult selections that were possible.
As second seeds, they would have hoped for easier than this. Liverpool, third seeds in their first season back, landed Basel and Ludogorets. City can only look on enviously.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini was furious last weekend when he felt his team were denied a win at the Emirates Stadium.
The draw meant that City have just a single point from their last two games, hardly the return they would have expected.
And yet the champions have played well this season.
David Silva looks in irrepressible form, Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis have formed a formidable partnership and there is strength in depth in all positions, save for the frontline where three injury-prone strikers will be wrapped in cotton wool after every training session.
They are not in perfect shape, but nor should they consider themselves a lengthy outside bet.
That's in spite of the good start that Bayern have made to the season.
After their now traditional defeat by Borussia Dortmund in the Super Cup, a fixture they've lost to their Westphalian rivals three times in six years, they beat Wolfsburg, picked up a point away at Schalke and then beat Stuttgart 2-0 at the weekend.
Under Guardiola, they tend to play a back three, though they are perfectly capable of shifting their shape several times in the same game if required.
They have a good blend of attributes, mixing the technical with the physical, particularly with their striker Robert Lewandowski.
Snapped up on a Bosman transfer from Dortmund in the summer, the Pole is a crucial pivot for Bayern.
He has the strength to hold the ball up well, but also the awareness and the touch to bring other players into the game.
Demichelis, who will have faced Lewandowksi during his time with the Bavarians, will have his work cut out.
Bayern also have a new hero, as if they needed one.
The veteran Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso made his debut at the weekend after a move from Real Madrid.
Alonso is the archetypal Guardiola player, intelligent, technically brilliant and brave.
In fact, Guardiola felt he was too brave last Saturday, suggesting that he'll have to curb his enthusiasm if he wants to last the season.
"Any player who runs the field back and forth like he did will be dead within a month," said his manager.
That game was also notable for a goal from the returning Franck Ribery, who missed the summer's World Cup through injury.
While the Frenchman is likely only to be used as a substitute against City, when it comes to reinforcements, you won't find much better across the continent.
And herein lies the biggest obstacle for Manchester City.
While Pellegrini has one of the strongest squads in Europe, it's not quite as strong as the one commanded by Guardiola.
While City can pay wages that attract the best players in the world, so can Bayern.
All the advantages enjoyed by the English champions are null and void here. These are two teams on a very similar level.
Let the battle commence.
- Bayern Munich v Man City
- Roma v CSKA Moscow
- Barcelona v APOEL Nicosia
- Ajax v Paris St Germain
- Chelsea v Schalke
- Maribor v Sporting Lisbon
- Porto v BATE Borisov
- Athletic Bilbao v Shakhtar Donetsk
SCHOLES: Big-spending City need to win Champs League
EX-DEVIL’S TIP: Paul Scholes believes that Liverpool are dark horses for this season’s Champions League. ST FILE PHOTO
Paul Scholes believes Manchester City have "little excuse" not to go far in this season's Champions League.
Manuel Pellegrini took the Citizens to the last-16 stage of the competition in 2013-14 - the club's best-ever performance in Europe's premier tournament.
But Scholes expects an even better showing this time around after Pellegrini further strengthened his squad over the summer.
"Champions League will be their main focus for the season. Their owners will want to see them push on in the Champions League," he told ITV.
"They have a tough group this year but, with the players they have, they need to go on to win it, and there's really little excuse not to do well."
City midfielder James Milner echoes that sentiment too, saying that City are now capable of making a big impression in the Champions League.
Having reached the knock-out stage for the first time last season, after two previous failures, they are aiming higher.
Milner told uefa.com: "I think year on year we should get better and we will keep improving the more experience we have as a group in the Champions League.
"It is a lot of games that we have played now, a lot that we have learnt over the years that we have been in it.
"So I think having won the Premier League a couple of times, and been fortunate enough to win every trophy domestically, we now want to prove ourselves on the European stage.
"And I believe we have a good enough team to do that."
The EPL champions begin their latest challenge in Europe's elite competition as they face German giants and five-time champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
City were drawn in the same group as the German side in both 2011-12 and last season and they won on their last trip to Bavaria - when Milner scored the winner in a memorable 3-2 success - last December.
But, if City are to extend their supremacy to the continent, they must watch out for Liverpool, says Scholes.
The former Manchester United midfielder expects the Reds, who ended a five-year absence in the Champions League by qualifying last season, to do well upon their return.
REDS COULD UPSET
And he thinks the "hostile" atmosphere at Anfield could prove to be an advantage over City in Europe.
"Liverpool are the dark horses of the competition this year," he added. "Brendan Rodgers has done a fantastic job. The style of play he's adopted is exciting to watch and the players seem to have taken to him.
"I feel they will do well with the players they have. The big advantage they have is a home crowd. Anfield is always a hostile place to go, which is something Manchester City lack."
City also face CSKA Moscow and Roma in Group E. - PA Sport.