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Servus, Champions League!

Alonso aims for centre stage in City clash

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“Servus!” is the normal everyday salutation in Bavaria, and Xabi Alonso has already mastered the special local greeting. The Spaniard has also settled in at Bayern in what seems like record time: the 32-year-old played the ball 150 times and covered 11.8 kilometres in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over VfB Stuttgart, the best stats posted by any player on the field, and was the fulcrum of FCB’s patient and increasingly assured play.

“I’ve been made very welcome,” Alonso informed the press on Monday, “my team-mates and I are getting to know each other better and better every day. I’m trying to do what I’ve done throughout my career: link the play between defence and attack, and be at the centre of everything.”

Naturally, the player will be aiming to do his usual ultra-professional job again on Wednesday when Alonso and FCB open the new Champions League campaign at home to Manchester City. “It’s a very important game for us,” the new arrival said. “We’re at home and we want to start with three points.” The Spaniard has already won Europe’s premier club competition twice, with Liverpool and most recently four months ago with Real Madrid. A third triumph with a third club is “obviously a big target,” the midfielder acknowledged, “but there’s a long way to go yet.”

Götze: Our toughest challenge

Alonso is a true authority on the Champions League as he has 94 appearances in the competition under his belt. “He’s a very, very intelligent and experienced player with an enormous personality. We can learn a great deal from him,” said Mario Götze, the last man to score against City for FCB in a 3-2 defeat back in December 2013. Mario believes the Champions League enjoys “a special status. It’s the most attractive trophy you can win.”

Götze thinks the Premier League champions are “probably our most difficult opponents in the group. They have an outstanding team and outstanding players.” Alonso singled out a fellow countryman for a special warning: “David Silva is brilliant. He likes to play between the lines, and he has the quality to deliver the final ball. If we manage to control him we’ll largely have Manchester City under control.” But it all sounds like an evening of very hard work for Alonso & Co.