Manchester City first team coach Mikel Arteta has rejected the notion that his club are favourites for Champions League glory this season, insisting that holders Real Madrid remain the team to beat.
Arteta will take over the managerial reins for City's Group F opener against Lyon on Wednesday as Pep Guardiola serves a ban following his sending off during last April's quarter-final second-leg defeat to Liverpool.
Madrid have won the tournament in four of the past five years, including each of the last three, and will be strongly fancied again in 2018-19, even without the talismanic presence of Cristiano Ronaldo.
It seems the Portuguese's departure for Juventus has persuaded many to tip City for the title ahead of Madrid, a suggestion that has drawn raised eyebrows from Arteta.
"I am surprised when you have a team that's won it three times in a row," Arteta told a news conference on Tuesday. "But that means we're doing things really well. People think we are candidates to compete against other teams in Europe.
"It has to be a motivation, not a pressure, that's the way we take it and hopefully we can improve on what we did the last two seasons because we came up short.
"[The favourites] has to be Real Madrid, they have something special for this competition and they deal with every detail better than everyone else. The rest, we have to catch up and make that gap smaller.
"It's a very open Champions League, that was the case last season and will be this season. The difference between the teams is not that big. They [Madrid] won the competition without Ronaldo as well, but of course he's a massive weapon. It will be tough for everyone, I think."
And Arteta rejected the theory that City have been installed as favourites because of the money the club has spent on its star-studded squad.
"I don't believe that's the reason people believe that's why we can challenge," the Spaniard said. "It's because of how consistent we've been in the way we play in this competition. It's a very difficult competition and tomorrow I'm sure we'll face a tough game again.
"For me, we have the best players in the world. I see how they behave, see how they react, I know their qualities and weaknesses and I wouldn't change my players for any others.
"The hunger that's still in this group is incredible, people talk about the money we have to spend, [but] people have to see what's inside this club, which is phenomenal."