There are eight Champions League group stage matches today, but let's be honest: we're all focused on one. Manchester City facing off against Real Madrid has all the flair of a late knockout stage match, but thanks to those magical little plastic balls in Monaco, we get to see it twice in the group stages.
So to help pass the time until kickoff, here's five questions surrounding today's match for us to ponder.
5. Can Roberto Mancini take the next step?
Roberto Mancini successfully sailed City through the turbulent waters of the 2011-12 EPL season and won the club's first league title since 1968. Well done sir, but that's just the beginning. Aside from trying to repeat as league champions, the real prize for City and their ownership is now the Champions League. It's easily the biggest prize in club football and winning it provides a level of validation that cannot be attained in any other way. Despite the relative success that Mancini has experienced with City, if he wants his name etched on the ledger of the "great" coaches in the sport, he needs success in the Champions League. He knows it and to do it, he'll have to get his team out of the dreaded group of death. Fortunately for Mancini, this is the right time to be playing Real Madrid.
4. Is the Special One slipping?
Jose Mourinho really has nothing else to prove when it comes to coaching football. He's won a pile of trophies that Smaug would proudly use as a bed, but that's not enough for him. That's part of what makes him great, an apparent burning desire to be better, to keep winning and proving that he is The Special One...or The Only One...I get confused. Madrid are floundering at the moment, nine points back already of Barcelona in La Liga and there are serious concerns about the mental state of this team going in to the Champions League. Now, Los Blancos could come out today and Hulk smash City all over the place, but in doing so it would buck the trend that we've been seeing from Madrid so far this season. Mourinho is great and he'll have to prove it all over again today.
3. The White Knight Rises?
Cristiano Ronaldo had an excellent 2011-12 season in helping lead Madrid to the La Liga title. He showed up in big matches (for the most part) and seemed to settle down in terms of the soap opera-esque drama that has often swirled around him. This was supposed to be the year that he put his foot on the throat of the football world and made it his...well you know. Instead, he's sad? Whatever Ronaldo's issues, we're back again to having the storyline be about everything other than what he's accomplishing, or capable of accomplishing, on the pitch. If I could explain what this guy's deal was, I'd be filthy rich and they'd probably write books about me. Sadly, I don't know and neither does anyone else apparently. Madrid need Ronaldo focuses and fired up, not sad and mopey.
2. So What Happens if City Loses?
There's disappointment amongst the fans and owners of the club, but they have a bit of a built-in excuse since this match is against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Not that City wants to use that, but it would hardly be some kind of stunning moment if they were to struggle in today's match and get beat. The real effect for City would be more of a mental one I think. After exiting the group stages last year from a tough group, there could immediately be that "here we go again" feeling, like the stars are aligned against them. In reality, all a City loss would mean today is an increased level of importance on their matches against Ajax and Dortmund. Look, playing away to the other teams in the group will not be a walk in the park, but City is getting what should be their toughest match (Dortmund fans can make a case against that statement of course) out of the way first. If they fall, there's time to regroup, if they win or draw, confidence is higher than ever.
1. So What Happens if Madrid Loses?
Panic like you've never seen before! Sulpher raining from the skies, the oceans will boil and four dark shadows will gallop across the land on horseback announcing the coming end of days! If your first thought is that's absurd, your correct. If your second thought is, wait, maybe he's describing the newsroom at Marca, you're also correct. I don't honestly think Madrid loses today, but they certainly could if City are on their game. Considering some are ready to write off the La Liga season already (not really, but it makes an easy joke), a loss for Mourinho's men today might actually be catastrophic in some sense. They've really only played one good match this year (the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup) and that alone is plenty of reason for concern.
If you've ever watched boxing, you've likely seen a punch-drink fighter who just got blasted by a great punch from his opponent. They'll often wobble around the ring, desperately covering up their face in an attempt to just get to the end of the round. They are in survival mode. You're starting to get that feeling about this Madrid team, or at least the feeling that they could be close to that. City have nothing to do at all with Madrid's current state, but a solid shot to the jaw in the form of a win by City at the Bernabeu could send a herd of drama llamas stampeding across Central Spain.
For more on the Merengues, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid. For more on the Citizens, check out Manchester City blog Bitter and Blue. You can follow all of the matches in our UEFA Champions League Tuesday StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.