Milner: That was the best of City
Published 11/12/2013 | 14:26
Manchester City midfielder James Milner believes Europe has now seen the best of the Blues after their thrilling fightback at Bayern Munich.
And after admitting City were out of sorts for the early stages of the Champions League Group D contest, England international Milner now wants Manuel Pellegrini's men to stay in top gear for the tough opener they are sure to face in the knock-out stages.
City, who were outplayed by defending champions Bayern when the German outfit beat them 3-1 in the reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium, appeared set for an even more chastening experience at the Allianz Arena when their hosts raced ahead through strikes from Thomas Muller in the fifth minute and Mario Gotze in the 12th.
City looked highly vulnerable at that point but turned the match around in remarkable fashion for a 3-2 win.
Milner was involved in all three of his side's goals, teeing up David Silva's close-range finish in the 28th minute, winning a penalty that Aleksandar Kolarov converted in the 59th and then slotting in expertly from Jesus Navas' cross in the 62nd.
Asked afterwards what had changed for City following Bayern's second goal, Milner said: "Probably the real us came out then.
"I think it was a different team in the first 15 minutes - we were sloppy on the ball and off the ball.
"It was unlike us, but after that we tightened up, looked a bit more of a threat going forward and stopped them playing a bit better.
"At half-time we changed a few things around in terms of how we wanted to stop them playing and play like we know we can.
"We said before the game that we wanted to get some revenge after the first match, which was a disappointing performance for us.
"We didn't turn up then, and it looked like it was going to be like that after 15 minutes this time as well.
"But to go on and win at Bayern is a great achievement, and doing it after being two goals behind is fantastic."
City could face a team such as Barcelona in the last 16 of the competition.
The draw takes place on Monday and City, as runners-up in their section, are guaranteed to face one of the winners of the other groups and play the second leg of the tie away from home.
However Milner is full of confidence after the triumph in Germany.
He said: "It was massive for us for going forward in the competition.
"We are obviously going to get a tough draw in the next round. But we know we can beat the reigning champions on their own patch, scoring three goals, so that is a massive confidence boost and gives us massive momentum for the next round."
Both City and Bayern had already qualified for the knock-out stage before Tuesday's game, but first place in the group was at stake.
A 4-2 victory for second-placed City was one of the outcomes that would have seen them leapfrog Pep Guardiola's side and secure top spot, ensuring the Blues - theoretically, at least - an easier last-16 draw.
But it appeared City were completely unaware that winning by just one more goal would have been sufficient, with Milner saying: "We didn't know if 4-2 would be enough or if we would need 5-2 - we thought it needed to be 5-2 to be honest."
City boss Pellegrini said he would have been tempted to bring on substitute striker Sergio Aguero if his team had netted a fourth, adding: "It was difficult to score two (more) goals."
The club's top scorer was being rested ahead of Saturday's Barclays Premier League home clash with Arsenal.
Defender Pablo Zabaleta also indicated the Blues had believed all along that only a victory by a three-goal margin would send them top.
"The manager said before the game that in football you never know - anything can happen - and we talked about trying to win by three goals," Zabaleta, who came on as a substitute early on for the injured Micah Richards, told City TV.
"We knew it was difficult to do that, but in the end it was important also just to win, taking revenge for the last game, when we played against Bayern at home."
Although City are now facing the prospect of a tricky last-16 tie, they will surely head into the next phase in a positive frame of mind off the back of their latest result.
Certainly, that is the suggestion from Zabaleta, who said: "I think we are coming back to Manchester feeling really strong because when you win against probably the best team in the world, that is really important."