Wednesday 13 November 2019

Mancini: I don't have to learn about Europe -- but my team does

Tim Rich

The first week in October is a little early to be talking of must-win games, but in a group of death you never live twice.

The shadow of defeat by Real Madrid hung like the rain-laden Mancunian clouds over the marquee in which Roberto Mancini and Yaya Toure were asked to once more pick over the chaotic last few moments in the Bernabeu.

"I don't need to learn," said Mancini when pressed on a managerial record in Europe that, at Internazionale and at Manchester City, is at odds with a CV full of domestic success.

"The Champions League is a difficult competition, but the football is the same, the players are the same. The problem is that you play the best teams from other countries. Every game is difficult.

"I think the time will come when we can win the Champions League, but we are in a difficult group. It is important for us to get into the second stage because, after that, anything can happen."

The 3-2 defeat in Madrid proved precisely what can happen when focus is lost, however briefly, against one of the big beasts of European football.

"With five minutes to go, we were 2-1 ahead and we made some mistakes," said Mancini. "When they scored their second we went too deep and we conceded a lot of space. If you concede space to (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Karim) Benzema, you are taking risks.

"If we concede space to Borussia Dortmund, it will be hard.


"We are as good a team as Manchester United and Arsenal. Look how we have improved in the Premier League. We need time to improve in the Champions League but we do not have time -- we have only five matches and we cannot concede goals like we did against Real. If we want to go through, we have to improve quickly."

There is plenty that links Dortmund and City. Both have supporters of rare passion, both have broken out of the shadow of rivals with more glamour and financial clout -- Dortmund not only beat Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title, they retained it.

While their last visit to Manchester ended with them overcoming United at Old Trafford, a result that left Alex Ferguson dumbstruck and Dortmund in a European Cup final, neither has cut it in the Champions League.

Dortmund finished bottom of their group last season, while City's 10 points failed to see them through to the business end of the competition.

Perhaps, because at Barcelona he was used to so much more, Toure labelled the campaign "a disaster" rather than the near miss it was.

"Look at our rivals," he said. "Chelsea and Manchester United have appeared in finals and this year I think we can go far and even win it."

He did not, however, disagree when it was put to him that this was a "must-win match."

There is another similarity between the two clubs: both have been stricken by the prospect of insolvency. However, while City were rescued by intervention from Abu Dhabi, Dortmund dragged themselves clear largely through the efforts of general manager Hans-Joachim Watzke.

"We are not in the business of taking money from a sheikh," he said before this evening's game. "We want to keep our soul.

"Were Sheikh Mansour to come to Dortmund (to invest), I would not entertain him. What if he lost interest, as the sheikh has done at Malaga?

"The Bundesliga has caught up considerably with the Premier League through its sound banking practices. This will eventually be expressed in results on the pitch."

Nevertheless, many among Jurgen Klopp's squad are not especially confident of obtaining a positive result. Whereas the Dortmund side that won the European Cup in 1997 was based on hard work, epitomised by the likes of Paul Lambert and Paulo Sousa, this is a team of wonderful flair, but it is also young and potentially brittle.

As City were being eliminated from the League Cup last Tuesday by Lambert's Aston Villa, Klopp was being sent to the stands during a frantic 3-3 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt. Captain Sebastian Kehl talked of having to stand strong in the face of City's potentially "brutal attacks".

Some of Klopp's players were part of the German squad that lost the European Championship semi-final to the brilliance of Mario Balotelli.

If the ghost of Madrid has not been entirely exorcised in Manchester, then the echoes of Warsaw's National Stadium may continue to follow Mats Hummels, Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. (© Independent News Service)

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