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Red Star arrive with rare recent defeats

Slobodan Maricic, Journalist, BBC Serbia

When Champions League fate decided that Red Star will be in the same group as Manchester City and RB Leipzig, Red Star captain Aleksandar Dragovic wasn’t that thrilled, to say the least.

A camera even caught an expletive that slipped from his lips.

Before the season started, the six-time consecutive Serbian champions had high hopes, with the most optimistic fans even saying Red Star might have a chance of making it out of the group stage.

The Serbian league winners this year had a direct path to a Champions League, and the 1991 European champions used their involvement in the competition to rebuild the team with a lot of international players.

One of them is South Korean international Hwang In-beom, signed from Olympiakos for 5.5 million euros (£4.7m), which makes him the most expensive purchase in Red Star history.

Ivory Coast, Nigerian and Senegalese forwards Jean-Philippe Krasso, Peter Olayinka and Cherif Ndiaye also joined the club, as did midfielder Marko Stamenic from New Zealand, as well as Israeli goalkeeper Omri Glazer.

The club also got a new head coach, Barak Bakhar from Maccabi Haifa, who made Dragovic captain.

In one of the pre-season friendlies, Red Star smashed Italian side Fiorentina 5-0 and got a couple of easy wins at the start of the Serbian league, but two recent domestic defeats – their first ones in 22 months – changed the joyous mood.

Nevertheless, when Bakhar was asked what Red Star will be doing defensively against mighty Manchester City, he answered with a question - "who said that we will be playing defensively?“

The initial high hopes waned a bit, but club officials are still considering third place in the Champions League group as a must this season.

In the last three seasons, Red Star played in the Europa League and had two great knock-out stage duels with Glasgow Rangers and Milan, though they came out as losers from both clashes.

Red Star previously played in the Champions League in the 2018-19 season, when they beat Liverpool 2-0 in one of the best matches in the club’s history. A year earlier, the club suffered two heavy defeats against Tottenham in the group stage.

That season also brought club’s highest defeat in Uefa competition – 6-0 against Bayern Munich.

Fans are now hoping the margin will not be repeated against Manchester City.