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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Mancini stays coolas City gear up for historic tie

Rory Smith

Manchester City's benefactor may not be present for a day that has been three years and more than £500m in the making, but manager Roberto Mancini is confident the team Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan's petrodollars built will open their inaugural Champions League campaign tonight ready to prove they are already one of the strongest sides in Europe.

Few debutants have entered the world's most glamorous club competition with such stratospheric expectations. Mancini has been at pains to point out how tough City's group stage opponents are -- tonight's visitors Napoli, plus Villarreal and Bayern Munich -- but the Italian knows that different rules apply to the game's richest club.

He has consistently identified simply reaching the last-16 as his only target for the club's first attempt at Europe's elite tournament since 1968. Yet with a squad which boasts 14 players with Champions League experience, including three winners, Mancini knows an early exit will not be tolerated for a side ranked fifth favourites, behind Barcelona, Man Utd, Real Madrid and Chelsea.

"It is normal for us, because now Manchester City is one of the best teams in England and Europe, I hope," said the Italian. "It will be very important for us to do well in this group. Our target is to go into the second stage. I do not know how far we can go. If we have reached the stages in February, we can talk then.

"If you get past the group stage, the top teams are waiting for you and anything can happen. But what is important is that we start well and make sure we reach the second stage.

"To play in the Champions League after so many years is very exciting. It will be very special. But it does not put pressure on us because, while it is a big occasion, it is a football match. A difficult game, but a football match. We have a lot of experienced players so I do not think we should feel pressure."

That it is a special occasion is abundantly clear, despite the absence of the man who has made it all possible, Sheikh Mansour, and estimations that, even on their debut in Europe's biggest club competition, the ground will not be full to capacity.

That should not detract, however, from quite how cherished an occasion this is at the club. A special marquee was constructed at City's Carrington training base -- despite the violent winds -- for a chaotic Mancini press conference yesterday, evidence that adapting to life as an elite club off the pitch is easier said than done.

Sergio Aguero, meanwhile, will don special boots, embroidered with the name of his son, Benjamin. Mancini, too, has a personal inspiration for his first fixture in the Champions League since Liverpool ejected his Inter side in the last-16 in 2008. In attendance tonight will be his father Aldo, visiting from Ancona for the first time since 2008 after recovering fully from the heart attack which forced the City manager to abandon the club's pre-season tour of the United States last summer.

"It is a special moment for my father, being here," he said. "His health is good now. He has always been my biggest critic, both as a manager and when I was a player, but this is important because if your father says these things it means they are true, and for me it is important to improve, always."

"It is true what Roberto says, that I have always been his biggest critic," says 75-year-old Aldo. ( © Daily Telegraph, London)

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