Mancini's Champions League credibility takes another hit after Madrid collapse

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By Liam Twomey

As many of those Manchester City fans a little longer in the tooth might tell you, a swift journey through the club’s tortuous history since 1981 would be enough to make anyone a firm believer in Sod’s Law. But even for the fatalists among the club’s long-suffering following, Tuesday evening’s last-gasp capitulation will surely have come as a shock.

Over the past six months, City have done much to bury their traditional ‘chokers’ tag. Late goals galore and a finishing run of six consecutive victories, including a home triumph over bitter rivals Manchester United and that unforgettable last-gasp final-day comeback against QPR, looked to have banished forever the more defeatist elements of the club’s collective psyche in favour of an unshakeable winning mentality.

For the majority of the second half at the Bernabeu this attitude was clearly in evidence, and brought City to the brink of a famous victory which would have been astonishing precisely because it was so undeserved. Edin Dzeko’s clinical finish and Aleksandar Kolarov’s devilish free-kick did the damage, while Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta also missed highly presentable opportunities.

But then, as Jose Mourinho unleashed more of his Galactico arsenal from the bench, their nerve failed them. The arrivals of Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema caused outright panic in the City defence. The Frenchman netted a superb equaliser and, as the sheer number of Madrid threats overwhelmed the visitors, Cristiano Ronaldo was fatally left one-on-one against Zabaleta.

Of course, there is little shame in losing in such a stadium, to such a manager or such a team. But the manner of the defeat understandably rankles with Roberto Mancini and his men. “When you come here you can lose, but with four minutes to go we were 2-1 up,” the Italian said after the match. “We had to pay more attention. But this is football. We played against a fantastic team.”

Joe Hart, however, was in no mood to credit the opposition. “They’re a very good team but so are we,” he insisted. “We can’t go 2-1 up and lose.

“You come to the Bernabeu and it’s a great stadium, amazing manager, amazing players. But we dug deep, we got a lead twice and we lost it, so we can only blame ourselves.”

Hart, arguably more than anyone, was entitled to feel aggrieved. Only his brilliance enabled City to withstand a frightful early Madrid barrage and be in a position to almost achieve an astonishing result against the Spanish champions after the break. He bears no culpability for his team’s defeat, though unfortunately the same cannot be said for his manager.

Those sceptical of Mancini’s ability to bring City to the pinnacle of European football were given little evidence to the contrary on Tuesday night. His decision to task a badly-faded Maicon with shackling both Ronaldo and Marcelo alone appeared deeply flawed from the start and, were it not for Hart, the match would have been beyond the Premier League champions by half-time.

Admittedly both Kolarov and Dzeko proved highly effective substitutes, but the former change was necessitated by a hamstring injury to Samir Nasri, while Mancini had little to lose by bringing on the Bosnian striker in place of an anonymous David Silva. When Mourinho’s own changes prompted City to drop deep and invite pressure, their manager could not persuade them to change course.

A maiden Premier League triumph quietened Mancini’s doubters for a time, but his Champions League record with Inter and City still gives them plenty of ammunition. This was far from the limp submission and stench of player rebellion which characterised defeat to Bayern Munich last September but, as long as the setbacks keep coming, the Italian cannot rest easy.

Nor is he helped by the fact that circumstances conspired to compound City’s misery. Nasri, so influential early on this season, may be absent for a number of weeks with the hamstring knock which forced his early withdrawal, while Sergio Aguero’s post-match comments expressing an openness towards joining Real Madrid – albeit later downplayed – could not have been worse timed.

Few will have much sympathy. Mancini has led City to the top of the English game, but until the reward for almost £800 million’s worth of investment includes European domination, Sheikh Mansour’s project will be considered woefully incomplete.

The Premier League’s greatest managers know well the scale of the challenge that awaits. Sir Alex Ferguson’s first Champions League triumph in 1999 came six years after his first domestic title. Jose Mourinho ran out of time at Chelsea. Arsene Wenger is still waiting.

Very early days it may be, but it is looking tough for Mancini to buck that trend – and silence the doubters – any time soon.

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Yaya Toure rues victory that got away against 'great' Real Madrid

Following Manchester City’s 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid on Tuesday night, Yaya Toure lamented that it was a “pity” that his side could not hold on despite taking the lead with only five minutes remaining.

The Ivorian was involved in putting the visitors in the lead as he broke forward and supplied an assist for Edin Dzeko, while Aleksandar Kolarov restored City’s advantage in the 85th minute after a deflected Marcelo strike had cancelled out the Bosnian striker’s finish.
A late goal each from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo saw Jose Mourinho sliding on his knees in the final seconds but, after coming to close to three points, Toure was left feeling disappointed and challenged his team to do better in their next match.

The former Barcelona man told reporters after the game: “It was a pity, because we had the victory very close and we lost it with two goals in the last two minutes. Let’s see what we can do next game, which will be very important for us.”

Toure went on to praise City’s opponents on the night, hailing their determination as well as the home support and Jose Mourinho, who he labelled as “great”.

He added: “Real Madrid is always Real Madrid. They really wanted to win, with the support of their fans.

“They have a great team, with a great coach.”

Ronaldo: I celebrate when I have to celebrate

Cristiano Ronaldo put his much discussed sadness to one side to bask in the glory of his match-winning goal in Real Madrid’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League.

The Spanish champions needed late goals from Karim Benzema and Ronaldo to turn a 2-1 deficit into a win in their opening Group D encounter.

“It was a very good game, for those who were watching,” Ronaldo told TVE1 afterwards.

“We played very well. During the first half we created but missed opportunities, and in the second both Manchester City and us played well.

“We believed we could win and we did. The team has done very well, we knew we could do this and we did so on merit.”

The Portuguese was asked about his celebrating of the winning goal, after he recently declared himself “sad”.

“I celebrate when I have to celebrate. The match was very important and we are in the fight,” he said.

Dzeko suggests Manchester City lack experience after Real Madrid defeat

Edin Dzeko has suggested Manchester City are lacking experience after they fell to a 3-2 defeat against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu despite taking the lead with only five minutes to go.

Roberto Mancini’s men took the lead in the second-half as the marauding Yaya Toure fed Dzeko through on goal, with the Bosnian sliding the ball past Iker Casillas, but Marcelo soon equalised with a deflected effort.

Aleksandar Kolarov restored City’s advantage in the 85th minute, but two even later goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo saw the hosts claim the three points, a fact that bitterly disappointed Dzeko.

Dzeko told Sky Sports: “We led 1-0 and then 2-1, then we gave away these two goals at the end.

“This shouldn’t have happened because if you want to win big trophies you shouldn’t lose this game. I hope we can get stronger because it was almost like we had not enough experience.

“We were 2-1 and in three or four minutes we gave away two goals. It was too easy. Too easy.”

Ronaldo: I had to celebrate tonight

Cristiano Ronaldo put his much discussed sadness to one side to bask in the glory of his match-winning goal in Real Madrid’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League.

The Spanish champions needed late goals from Karim Benzema and Ronaldo to turn a 2-1 deficit into a win in their opening Group D encounter.

“It was a very good game, for those who were watching,” Ronaldo told TVE1 afterwards.

“We played very well. During the first half we created but missed opportunities, and in the second both Manchester City and us played well.

“We believed we could win and we did. The team has done very well, we knew we could do this and we did so on merit.”

The Portuguese was asked about his celebrating of the winning goal, after he recently declared himself “sad”.

“I celebrate when I have to celebrate. The match was very important and we are in the fight,” he said.