After finally winning the UEFA Champions League for the first time last season, Manchester City are preparing to do so all over again. Pep Guardiola's side will begin their European campaign against Serbia's Crvena zvezda, which will likely serve as the first of a few lopsided victories during the group stage for City. A victory on Tuesday will add to the narrative that the reigning champions are virtually unbeatable, and the bad news for everyone else is that Guardiola thinks a second Champions League win will be less difficult than the first.
"It'll be easier," he said on Monday, per Reuters. "The most difficult to win is the first one. It is incredible for us but it is just one."
Here's what to know before the match.
How to watch and odds
- Date: Tuesday, September 19 | Time: 3 p.m. ET
- Location: Etihad Stadium -- Manchester, England
- Watch: Paramount+
- Odds: Manchester City -2500; Draw +1400; Crvena zvezda +3000
To absolutely no one's surprise, City have a perfect 15 points out of 15 to start their Premier League season and already collected their first accolade with last month's UEFA Super Cup win. Another not so surprising stat? Erling Haaland already has seven goals in five league games, which only adds to the team's seemingly invincible status.
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City, though, will have to rely on their depth against Zvezda. Jack Grealish, Mateo Kovacic, and John Stones will not be available after missing last weekend's win against West Ham United, though they should be back for the upcoming Premier League fixture against Nottingham Forest. The reigning champions will also be without Kevin de Bruyne as he continues a longer recovery from a hamstring injury.
Guardiola has one of the deepest benches in the game, so calling upon the other players on the roster probably will not be much of an issue. Look no further than Saturday, when the team came from behind to beat West Ham 3-1. Winger Jeremy Doku shined in only his second appearance for City and scored the equalizer, his first for the club. Julian Alvarez is also emerging as a mainstay in the lineup with three assists in the league this season.
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The big question this Champions League season will be about what it takes to beat City. The answer likely will not come against Zvezda in one of the most unbalanced games on the schedule for matchday one, but that's not necessarily a reflection on Zvezda. There might not be a single team in Europe that can actually answer the question.
City's attackers are firing on all cylinders, which should allow the reigning champions to ace their first test of the Champions League season, regardless of who earns playing time. Pick: Manchester City 3, Crvena zvezda 0