Mancini: City can still finish top
Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, believes his team can still win their UEFA Champions League group after a dramatic 2-1 victory over Villarreal at the Etihad Stadium saw the Premier League leaders record their first ever win in the competition on Tuesday.
City needed a winning goal from substitute Sergio Aguero, in the last of three minutes of added time, to clinch victory and keep alive their hopes of competing with group leaders Bayern Munich and second placed Napoli for the top two positions in Group A.
"First place is open in the group," said Mancini. "I hope this win will be very important. It was important to win the first game in the Champions League and I think anything can happen in this group in terms of first place.
"We go to Villarreal in 15 days and it will be very important because they are a good team and play football very well but, absolutely, the game in Naples will be most important. Before this, we will play the game in Villarreal but the game in Naples will be the crucial game - I don't know for which position because at the moment Bayern Munich have seven points, Napoli five, us four, it is open for first and second place."
Qualification was far from City thoughts as they trailed to an early goal from Cani but an own goal from Carlos Machena brought City level before the interval and set up the thrilling finale.
However, after poor showings in their first two games against Napoli and Bayern, the performance again raised the question over whether City can be as effective in Europe as they have been domestically. "I don't know this," said Mancini. "Playing in the Premier League takes a lot of strength and energy and, after three days, to play in Champions League is very hard.
"Last year we wanted this, to play in the Champions League and improve as a team. Every team that has played in Champions League for years doesn't have this problem, but the first year is hard. But we want to do it and stay on this centre stage."
As well as the introduction of Aguero, Mancini was forced into a tactical re-shuffle with 39 minutes gone when he hauled off England winger Adam Johnson in favour of Gareth Barry although the City manager insisted there was no problem with the former's performance despite his disgruntled reaction to being replaced.
"We were conceding four or five counter attacks and didn't have many players in the middle," he explained. "Adam played very well but at that moment it was a tactical substitution.
"I spoke with him and he understood. Sometimes every manager decides the team needs a tactical sub and unfortunately players have to leave the pitch and will be disappointed. But Adam is a very important player for us."
After easily beating Aston Villa on Saturday, allowing City to move to first place in the Premier League, Mancini's team now visit defending champions Manchester United on Sunday in high spirits. "This is important for the Champions League," said Mancini.
"For the derby it wasn't important, that will be a different game, another situation. But it's good for our confidence and important to go there and do well because it will be very hard."
Villarreal players appeared incensed after conceding the equaliser and, on the final whistle, surrounded match officials although their coach Juan Carlos Garrido confirmed that there was nothing wrong with Aguero's effort and his players had been wrong to react in that manner.
"We played a good match and while we didn't deserve to win, we deserved 1-1," he said. "The players on the field thought it was offside but it wasn't. In the last minute, with all the emotion, it is difficult to stay calm and our players thought it was unfair. But we accept it, we must accept it."