Ronaldo, Bale look to steer Madrid to 10th European Cup

With the world's two most expensive players in its side, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Real Madrid thinks it's in position to spoil Bayern Munich's attempt to become the first team since 1990 to defend its European Cup title when football's top club competition resumes this week.

Team last won Champions League trophy in 2002

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale, centre, recently acquired from Tottenham, could be the key to the team's success this season along with fellow star Cristiano Ronaldo. (Alberto Saiz/Associated Press)

With the world's two most expensive players in its side, Real Madrid thinks it's in position to spoil Bayern Munich's attempt to become the first team since 1990 to defend its European Cup title when football's top club competition resumes this week.

Having signed Gareth Bale from Tottenham this summer for a world-record fee of 100 million euros — eclipsing the 93 million euros it paid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 — Madrid can compete on all fronts this season and will be bidding for a first Champions League trophy since Zinedine Zidane scored the winner against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final.

Since then, Madrid's fierce rival Barcelona has won the trophy three times and Madrid is confident it can end the Catalan's side dominance this year with its formidable pairing, although playmaker Mesut Ozil left for Arsenal.

Bale had an immediate impact at Real, scoring Saturday on his debut in a 2-2 draw at Villarreal, and Ronaldo signed a new contract that will keep him at the Spanish club for the next five seasons.

"Madrid, with its history, has always tried to bring in the best players and that has worked well," said Ronaldo, who won the Champions League with Manchester United in 2008. "As far as winning the European Cup, we could have won another title these years but sometimes it's just not possible. I don't have doubts that sooner or later the 10th European Cup will arrive and I am convinced that it will be this year."

Madrid, which begins its Group B campaign at Galatasaray on Tuesday without injured midfielder Xabi Alonso and defender Raphael Varane, lost in the semifinals of the lucrative competition over the past three years, last season to Borussia Dortmund.

To boost its chances of renewed success, Madrid has also parted ways with former coach Jose Mourinho to hire Carlo Ancelotti, who won the European Cup twice with AC Milan.

"Real Madrid have not made it into the final of the Champions League since 2002 and that's amazing when you think about it," Ancelotti said. "I think it's been too long for a club of Madrid's stature."

Ozil is arguably the best passer in European football and by letting him leave, Ancelotti is laying the foundations for a more direct approach, one that relies less on craft and more on the explosive pace of Bale and Ronaldo

Madrid, whose other opponents in the group stage are Juventus and FC Copenhagen, was not the only major club to replace its coach during the off-season as nearly all the Champions League contenders had the same idea: Chelsea re-hired Mourinho, Manchester City signed Manuel Pellegrini, United replaced Alex Ferguson with David Moyes, Barcelona appointed Gerardo Martino and Bayern has gone for Pep Guardiola.

Changes to Bayern Munich

Bayern is still adapting to life under its new coach, but the signing of Mario Goetze from last season's finalist Borussia and the addition of Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona are likely to pay long-term dividends.

"We're a bit lethargic, we play football without emotion, we're doing the minimum," said Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer. "That's not enough for the level of football that we want to play."

Sammer said Bayern will need to make a "different appearance" at home against Russian league leader CSKA Moscow in Group D on Tuesday with more "emotion and passion" to deliver the "last two or three per cent that we're missing." Bayern's other opponents are Manchester City and Viktoria Plzen.

Looking to win its fourth Champions League in nine years, Barcelona will also be trying to get its unofficial title of best team in the world back after being thrashed by Bayern in the semifinals last season. The club has been placed in a difficult Group H with Ajax, Celtic and Milan.

"There's [...] a bitter taste after what happened in the semifinal against Bayern Munich, where there was a big gap between the two teams - we didn't go into it in our best shape. But that's the past and we have to look forward," Barcelona's Lionel Messi said.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are the only two teams in Spain to have a perfect start to the league season with four wins in as many rounds. Messi has been the driving force behind his team's start with a league-leading six goals in just three appearances. New signing Neymar is fitting in with two assisted goals for Messi already.

Manchester United, playing in the Champions League without Ferguson for the first time, will start its campaign in a group containing Bayer Leverkusen Real Sociedad and Shakhtar. According to Moyes, Ferguson told him to brace himself for a difficult group phase.

"He said he thinks it's one of the hardest draws United have ever had in the Champions League," Moyes said ahead of Tuesday's home match against Leverkusen. "If that's coming from him, it must be tough."

Chelsea is in Group E with Basel, Schalke and Steaua Bucharest.


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