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Mancini calls for the Real thing

Monday, 19 November 2012 - 1:11pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

On the face of it, this dismantling of Aston Villa was perfect preparation for Manchester City's Champions League date with destiny against Real Madrid, yet for Roberto Mancini, it was not quite perfect enough.

On the face of it, this dismantling of Aston Villa was perfect preparation for Manchester City's Champions League date with destiny against Real Madrid, yet for Roberto Mancini, it was not quite perfect enough.

As Real scout Francisco Garcia Hernandez compiled his dossier for Jose Mourinho before Wednesday's tie at the Etihad Stadium, it would have been heavy on City's strengths and light on their weaknesses.

There was a clean sheet and commanding performance by goalkeeper Joe Hart, two goals apiece for strikers Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero and, with immaculate timing, a return to the top of the Premier League just in time for Real's arrival in Manchester.

But tearing apart an inexperienced Villa team which appears destined for a battle against relegation is, according to City's demanding manager, no preparation at all for a game which could define his club's season.

Some kind of perfect was good enough against Paul Lambert's players, but the Italian insists it will require another level of perfection to secure the victory against Real which is required to keep City's Champions League flame flickering.

"Unfortunately, this result will not count for anything against Real Madrid," Mancini said. "It is important for the Premier League and I think it was a good performance.

"But would it be good enough to beat Real? I don't know about that. They are one of the best teams in the world and, to beat them, we will have to give a perfect performance. We will have to play even better than we did against Aston Villa if we are to beat Real. That's what it is going to take. When we played over there, we were 2-1 up with four minutes to go, so I don't think it will be easy."

Despite Mancini's reticence in relation to City's prospects against the Spanish champions, the manner in which his team brushed Villa aside hinted at the resolve within the dressing room to overcome the negativity that has stalked the club at times this season.

The storm clouds that have accompanied City's Champions League campaign, notably the grumbles about defensive tactics and below-par performances in each fixture, have not been such a distraction in the Premier League, where the champions remain unbeaten.

David Silva's return to fitness has coincided with the recent return to form, as has the developing defensive partnership between Vincent
Kompany and Matija Nastasic.

Mancini admits that Silva's big-game mentality and the solidity being provided by Kompany and Nastasic will be crucial if City are to overcome Real.

"If you have players who have won World Cups, like Silva - or who have won everything like Yaya Toure, then playing against Real Madrid is the essence of football." Mancini said.

"When you are young and start to play football, you think 'I would love to play against Real Madrid, Barcelona'.

"Big players like the big challenges, but we will need perfect concentration for this game. If we want to beat them, we will have to defend very well."

Whether Mario Balotelli will figure against Real remains to be seen. The Italian forward, dropped against Spurs by Mancini last Sunday for a poor attitude in training, missed the victory against Villa after sustaining a back injury in training on Friday, prompting the manager to admit that the 22year-old's involvement is far from certain.

But the reality, as proved against Villa, is that Balotelli has now become a peripheral figure in Mancini's plans, a controversy-magnet whose performances on the pitch hardly justify the hype which surrounds him.

Barring one stunning save from Hart to keep out Christian Benteke's 20th minute header, City were untroubled by Villa, yet Mancini's players toiled in front of goal until Silva broke the deadlock with his first of the season following the visitors' failure to clear Samir Nasri's 43rd-minute corner.

From that point, City dominated, but they were helped on their way by assistant referee Adrian Holmes, whose bewildering intervention on 53 minutes led to referee Jon Moss awarding a penalty for a 'handball' by Villa's Andreas Weimann which no one else seemed to see.

Aguero converted the penalty to make it 2-0 before Tevez, also from the spot, made it 3-0. Further goals from Aguero and Tevez completed City's rout to send the message to Madrid that confidence will not be in short supply on Wednesday.


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