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Sunday 21 October 2018

Lopetegui to embrace pressure as Real boss

Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui. Photo: Reuters
Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui. Photo: Reuters

Julen Lopetegui is ready to embrace the pressure head on of trying to guide Real Madrid to a fourth successive Champions League success.

Los Blancos open the defence of their European crown tonight (Live BT Sport/ESPN, KO 8pm) at home to Roma, one of last season's beaten semi-finalists.

Lopetegui took over following the departure of Zinedine Zidane, and accepts he has a tough act to follow if his Real Madrid side are to conquer all before them once again.

"It makes me feel proud, responsible and very excited about a competition which I don't need to explain what it means to us and what Real Madrid means to the Champions League," Lopetegui said.

"You can only take your hat off to the players and their coach (for winning three successive Champions League trophies).

"Now I'm going in to each competition with desire, enthusiasm and confidence that we will win. It's normal that there's pressure at Real Madrid."

Real captain Sergio Ramos maintains confidence is high.

"We have to defend the title and it's always a bit more motivation when the final is in Madrid, the home of an opponent like Atletico," the defender said.

"We always compete, convinced that we can win the Champions League. The boss has said it well. It's an honour and responsibility, which is what this team has shown."

"Three Champions League wins are not by chance. Remaining ambitious to win is also what has made us the best club in the world."

Lopetegui hinted he could be ready to freshen up his side for the European tie, mindful of the challenges ahead on both fronts.

"We have got a lot of depth in the changing room. We have a lot of matches coming up, so we'll look for the best options for each match," said Lopetegui, who saw star man Cristiano Ronaldo leave for Juventus during the summer.

Roma may head to Spain on the back of just one Serie A win - and that on the opening weekend of the new season - but Lopetegui is expecting a stern test from the Italians.

"They are a side that has improved and the squad is more complete, has more depth. They also have the same coach and continue to consolidate the way they play," the Real Madrid boss said.

"They will make things difficult for us and force us to work hard to beat them."

With CSKA Moscow and Czech side Viktoria Plzen also in Group G, Roma will be hoping to make the most of their encounter with Los Blancos as they aim to go one better than last season's run.

Roma director Francesco Totti said: "Our first game does appear to be the toughest on paper because you are playing the European champions in Madrid.

"We all know the Bernabeu is a bit different to any other ground, it can both intimidate and inspire, but we have them in our first match so perhaps we can go there and produce a great performance."

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