Manchester City will be out to show they have learned from last season’s mistakes when the English Premier League titleholders travel to Ajax on Wednesday with their Champions League ambitions hanging in the balance.
As tournament debutants a year ago, City had the misfortune to be drawn in the same group as experienced campaigners and eventual finalists Bayern Munich as well as a gifted if volatile Napoli of Italy.
Although Roberto Mancini’s men garnered ten points – normally enough to progress from the groups – defeats on the road to both rivals ensured an early exit.
This time around, lightning has struck again in that Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund pose arguably even bigger obstacles in a Group C exclusively containing champions of four top leagues.
City are off to a poor start again, following up a last-gasp loss which was minutes away from being a momentous opening win in the Bernabeu with a fortuitous home draw with Dortmund.
A win in Amsterdam is vital to City’s hopes as they look to chase down what is already a five-point deficit to Real and three to Dortmund while they will also be praying Real claim a win in Germany that would as good as stake their claim to ultimate top spot.
Sadly for Mancini and company, history is not on their side regarding the second part of the equation as Real have lost 16 and won only one of 23 of their previous away matches against German sides.
The solitary success came at Bayer Leverkusen, the side Real would defeat in the final a year later for the last of their record nine wins in club football’s most lucrative event.
City must shrug off their own bouts of European travel sickness and not succumb to the late killer goal as they did in Madrid, administered by former Manchester United favourite Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Blues hope Spanish star David Silva may recover to play a part following hamstring trouble, assistant manager Brian Kidd said.
Kidd said medical staff were “looking at him thinking he might be in with a chance of playing on Wednesday against Ajax. With a couple of days for it to settle down, we will get a better picture.”
With six points in their pockets already after getting out of jail against City, Real will be feeling they have the group by the throat.
Coach Jose Mourinho is keen to end the side’s decade-long Champions League drought, not least as that achievement would make him the first man to coach three different teams to glory.
German midfielder Sami Khedira is hoping at least for a place on the bench following a hamstring pull which forced him out of the weekend win over Celta Vigo and Germany’s 4-4 thriller with Sweden last week.
Mourinho said that Dortmund would provide the stiffest opposition for them.
“I’m not sure (if Manchester City are our biggest opponents), Borussia Dortmund have been champions of Germany twice in a row.
“They are well organised and very experienced, with many international-calibre players from Germany, and the top two from Poland. Their stadium and fans are impressive too.”
Elsewhere Wednesday, Arsenal and Spanish debutants Malaga will be out to make it three wins out of three and, in so doing, take a significant step to making the last 16.
Arsenal, having overcome Olympiakos and out of sorts French champions Montpellier, should overcome their hangover from a weekend loss at Norwich with three points at home to a Schalke side who have four points but who have never won in five visits to England.
Having qualified for the first time for the Champions League, Malaga have put aside talk of financial difficulties by winning their opening two matches.
The Andalusians now host an AC Milan side which despite its pedigree is struggling in Serie A after losing key players like Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the summer.
Nonetheless, the Italians have four points under their belts and, even if the Spaniards can keep their momentum going, the Italians will be favoured to qualify alongside them.