Carlo Ancelotti has labeled Manchester City as UEFA Champions League favourites, but the Real Madrid head coach insisted there could be some surprise at the end.
Madrid, the most successful team in Europe’s premier club competition with 14 wins, including lifting the trophy five times in the last decade, are often tipped to advance to the later stages early on.
But Real, who opened their Group C campaign against Union Berlin at the Bernabeu on Wednesday, were ruthlessly knocked out at the semi-final stage by Pep Guardiola’s treble-winning City side in May.
The Premier League giants have a target on their backs, according to Ancelotti, who nevertheless hinted that no team can ever take anything for granted.
“City are the favorites because they have the team that saw them win last season and they haven’t changed much,” Ancelotti told a news conference.
“However, in the UEFA Champions League, as always, there are surprises at the end.
“Real Madrid is a team that will fight until the end. We never see ourselves as favourites, and I don’t think City do.
“But they won it last year, they can win the UEFA Champions League. You could say they are the favorites.”
Luka Modric has started just once this campaign and Toni Kroos just twice, with Ancelotti favoring younger options such as Jude Bellingham and Aurelien Tchouameni in the middle of the park.
Ancelotti acknowledged that Modric, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner and widely regarded as one of the best midfielders of his era, was adapting to less playing time, but the Croatian will feature on Wednesday.
“He’s fine, I talk to him every day like I do with all the players,” Ancelotti said. “It’s a personal relationship that we have.
“Not playing as much as he used to can sometimes affect him a bit. But that doesn’t affect the personal relationship, which is still fantastic and will be fantastic. He will play (against Union).
Lucas Vazquez will replace the injured Dani Carvajal at full-back for Madrid, who face an unknown quantity who have never played against the Union before.
The Bundesliga side, who finished fourth in the division last season, are the dark horses in a group that also includes Serie A champions Napoli and Portugal’s Braga.
A trip to the Spanish capital for the Champions League’s most prolific side presents a daunting challenge for Union, who are in the competition for the first time in their history.
“They are a new team in the Champions League, but the fact that they are here means they have done very well,” added Ancelotti.
“They are well organized defensively, they are solid and they play with intensity. We have studied them carefully and we hope to perform well. We will have to play at a high intensity.
“We are ready, like last year. The Champions League is a special competition for us. We will treat the game as something special. We want to start well.”