Real to challenge Bayern’s supremacy


ZURICH — With the world’s two most expensive players in their side, Real Madrid think they are in position to spoil Bayern Munich’s attempt to become the first team since 1990 to defend their 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 — eclipsing the €93 million they 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 rivals Barcelona have won the trophy three times and Madrid are confident they can end the Catalan’s side dominance this year with their 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, who begin their Group B campaign at Galatasaray today 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 their chances of renewed success, Madrid have 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, were not the only major club to replace their coach during the off-season as nearly all the Champions League contenders had the same idea: Chelsea rehired Mourinho, Manchester City signed Manuel Pellegrini, United replaced Alex Ferguson with David Moyes, Barcelona appointed Gerardo Martino and Bayern has gone for Pep Guardiola.

Bayern are still adapting to life under their 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 would need to make a “different appearance” at home against Russian league leader CSKA Moscow in Group D today with more “emotion and passion” to deliver the “last two or three percent that we’re missing”.

Bayern’s other opponents are Manchester City and Viktoria Plzen.

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