MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid will go into Tuesday's Champions League opener against Manchester City looking to spark a turnaround after a poor start that has presented coach Jose Mourinho with perhaps his toughest test yet at the Spanish club.
Madrid will host the Premier League champions on the back of only one victory in four league games, leaving it eight points behind leader Barcelona.
Cristiano Ronaldo's pouting has perhaps played a part in Madrid's stumbles but Mourinho is also under scrutiny after publicly criticizing his team's play, which has appeared meek since beating Barcelona to win the Spanish Super Cup last month.
Mourinho said Monday his relationship with his players hadn't changed after Saturday's 1-0 loss at Sevilla, adding he wouldn't make changes just for the sake of sending a message.
"I will try to field the team that I think will show up," said Mourinho. "I'm convinced that tomorrow I'll have a team out there. Maybe we won't be as relaxed, or filled with the same conviction and confidence we usually have against an opponent like City, coming off a game which was terrible.
"I'm sure we'll be at our best. I could be wrong, but that's what I think."
Madrid's timing couldn't be worse with the Premier League champions visiting the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to open a tough Group D, in which neither can afford many slipups with German champion Borussia Dortmund and Dutch champion Ajax also in the mix.
There has been little positive to spin from Madrid's start to Mourinho's third season in charge, as all hopes are on the European title since the Portuguese coach has won every other trophy available since his arrival from Inter Milan in 2010.
Mourinho is already downplaying expectations, however.
"The Champions League motivates me as much as the league does. Playing Manchester City motivates me as much as playing Getafe," Mourinho said. "It's like any other game. That's just the natural aspect of my job."
Madrid's home form has at least been spectacular in the competition with only one loss — to Barcelona — in 12 matches, and it scored 24 goals in six games last season. Tuesday's match will present Ronaldo's first return to the Bernabeu since declaring he was "sad" for "professional reasons."
City could have the resources to exploit any lapses with Sergio Aguero available after returning from injury, and fellow striker Mario Balotelli also back. Playmaking midfielder David Villa should start after coming off the bench in City's 1-1 draw against Stoke on Saturday, when former Madrid player Javi Garcia marked his debut with a goal.
Carlos Tevez has scored three goals to continue his City rejuvenation one year after refusing to play against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. That led to the Argentina striker being cast aside for six months, but he has returned stronger.