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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012

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Feeling down: Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates are off to one of the worst starts in the club's history. AFP-JIJI

City looking to heap more misery on Real


LONDON — Struggling in the Spanish League and with its star player and coach publicly unhappy, the last thing beleaguered Real Madrid needs is a Champions League opener against a Manchester City side desperate to muscle in on Europe's elite this season.

A trip to the Santiago Bernabeu looked to have consigned City to the harshest of starts to the continent's premier club competition but the English champions will be relishing the chance to pile more misery on Madrid on Tuesday.

The Spanish giants have dropped eight points from a possible 12 in the defense of their La Liga title, leaving the team in the unusual position of mid-table and prompting heavy criticism from coach Jose Mourinho about the players' lack of commitment and spirit.

Add in Cristiano Ronaldo's comments at the start of the month about feeling "sad" for "professional reasons" and Madrid appears to be in disarray ahead of the standout match of the first round of group fixtures.

"We are having a bad run, but we have to think of Tuesday's game as a chance to boost our morale," Brazilian defender Marcelo said. "Today we are all sad, but we have to move forward."

Chelsea welcomes Italian champion Juventus to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to begin the defense of a title won in a penalty shootout four months ago in Munich, while Barcelona is at home to Spartak Moscow as it goes in search of a fourth Champions League trophy in seven years.

The highlight of this week's games, however, is undoubtedly Madrid-Man City, which pitches the competition's most successful team with a cash-rich upstart hungry for European success after climbing to the top of English soccer last season.

"To play the first game away will be very tough but at the same time I think it will be a fantastic game for everyone," City manager Roberto Mancini said.

Madrid, bidding for its 10th European Cup title, is coming into the game off a 1-0 loss at Sevilla that appears to have triggered a state of alarm in the Spanish capital.

"My players' heads are not focused, for many of them football is not a priority," Mourinho said. "But I am the coach and if there are heads that are not focused, it is my fault."

Madrid and City were placed in the hardest of the eight pools along with Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, who meet in Germany on Tuesday in Group D.

Also that night, AC Milan will look to join Madrid in putting its domestic problems aside when the Italian team hosts Belgian side Anderlecht at the San Siro in Group C.

A 1-0 loss to Atalanta on Saturday marked the first time Milan has lost its opening two Serie A home matches in 82 years.

Defoe powers Spurs


READING, England — Jermain Defoe capped a superb individual display with two well-taken goals in Tottenham's 3-1 win over Reading on Sunday, earning manager Andre Villas-Boas a relieving first Premier League victory at the club.

The England striker was again preferred up front to Emmanuel Adebayor and justified the faith shown in him by Villas-Boas by opening the scoring in the 18th minute and completing a convincing win with a fine solo effort in the 74th.

Left winger Gareth Bale scored Spurs' other goal, a scuffed finish in the 71st following good work by Kyle Walker down the right, but it was Defoe who will take all the plaudits after destroying Reading's defense.

"Jermain is showing his abilities, the amount of shots he has on target is amazing," Villas-Boas said. "As the lone striker up front, he is linking well with the colleagues."

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