Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti is “not surprised” the bookmakers make his holders only fifth favourites to win this season’s Champions League.
Bayern Munich, Paris St-Germain, Manchester City and Liverpool are all more fancied as Real open their defence against Celtic in Group F on Tuesday.
Ancelotti was reminded that the 14-time European champions were also considered “underdogs” last season.
“If anything, it is a good sign,” the Italian replied.
“We don’t mind being the underdogs and, if anything, we’ve improved.”
Veteran Brazil full-back Marcelo was among a handful of summer departures, while only France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and Germany centre-half Antonio Rudiger have arrived from Monaco and Chelsea respectively.
However, Madrid already lead La Liga by two points after four straight victories, including a 2-1 defeat of early challengers Real Betis on Saturday.
Ancelotti’s side visit a Celtic side who themselves have won all seven of their domestic games this season, culminating in a 4-0 dismissal of closest rivals Rangers, and he dismissed the suggestion that the draw had been kind to his side.
“It’s not an easy group at all,” he said. “Celtic, first and foremost, are a strong side and we also have to respect RB Leipzig and Shakhtar Donetsk. There can also be surprises in the group. Think about last year with Sheriff – anything can happen.”
In addition to that shock group-stage defeat at home to the Moldovans, Ancelotti’s experience of Celtic Park as a manager is three visits, no wins.
AC Milan, whom he led to his first two Champions league triumphs before repeating that feat with Real, were twice held to goalless draws with Ancelotti at the helm, including a last-16 tie that ultimately went to extra-time before his side went on to win the competition in 2007.
Months later, the holders went down 2-1 in a group-stage game following Scott McDonald’s late winner.
“It’s true, it’s a very difficult stadium for me and for my teams in the past,” he said. “But a fantastic atmosphere.”
Ancelotti is expecting another tough test faced with the “intensity” of Celtic’s play under manager Ange Postecoglou but is hopeful of an invite to what he expects to be “a big party” when Real’s evergreen Croatia midfielder, Luka Modric, celebrates his 37th birthday on Friday.