Relief and optimism
mixed in with the rain in the Manchester air on Wednesday after
the city's two clubs ignited their Champions League campaigns
despite showing little of their domestic spark.
City, who have been scoring for fun in the Premier League,
needed a last-gasp goal from Sergio Aguero to secure a 2-1 win
at home to Villarreal on Tuesday while United's nervy 2-0
victory at Otelul Galati came after two Wayne Rooney penalties.
Neither English side were convincing but the net outcome was
the same - a first group victory allowing them to start
thinking about qualifying for the knockout stage.
"It would have been very difficult [to qualify] without that
goal," Mancini told a news conference where he surreptitiously
glanced at the television screens showing replays of the
stoppage-time winner and his manic touchline celebrations.
With City third in Group A on four points from three games,
one behind second-placed Napoli and three behind leaders Bayern
Munich, Mancini said topping the table was a realistic aim in
his club's debut season in the competition.
His counterpart from the red half of Manchester, whose side
are second in Group C which features teams who are on paper
weaker than those in City's group, was also thinking about the
next round with three games still to play.
"We won and that is the important thing," manager Sir Alex
Ferguson said on the club's website.
"We have to do our job at Old Trafford, hopefully we can
beat Galati again which brings us to eight points and I've
always said that 10 points gets you through."
City have raced to the top of the Premier League, where they
have a two-point lead over their neighbours, by scoring on
average more than three goals a game but it has been a different
story on the European stage.
They blamed first-night nerves for a 1-1 draw at home to
Napoli before slumping to a 2-0 defeat at Bayern where the
furore over Carlos Tevez's alleged refusal to play diverted the
spotlight away from a poor performance.
Mancini said his club were still getting used to juggling
the Champions League with domestic competitions.
"It is not so hard for those clubs who do it every year but
this is our first season and that is the hardest one of all," he
said. "We need to keep improving and learning."
Three-times European champions United cannot hide behind the
debutant excuse, having reached the Champions League final in
three of the past four years, and for them it is not just their
continental form that has been a problem.
Having set off at a blistering pace in the Premier League,
scoring at an even higher rate than City, the English champions
have stalled somewhat in the past month.
Giving away possession cheaply as they did in Romania on
Tuesday has been a feature in the Premier League where they have
also looked shaky in defence, an area of the team that has been
hit by injuries.
Captain Nemanja Vidic's return from a calf injury should go
some way to stabilising that but he is poised to miss at least
the next Champions League game after being shown a red card
Their European campaigns will be put to one side this
weekend when the clubs meet for the highly anticipated
Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
"It will be a different game, a different test," Mancini
said. "The good thing is we will go there with three wins in
succession and in a confident frame of mind."
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