MANCHESTER, United Kingdom November 22 – Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini says his side have a long way to go to be considered Champions League contenders after a second successive group-phase exit.
City were held 1-1 by Real Madrid on Wednesday, with Sergio Aguero cancelling out Karim Benzema’s opener from the penalty spot in the second half after Alvaro Arbeloa had been shown a second yellow card for fouling him.
The result sent Madrid into the last 16 at the expense of City, who also fell at the group stage last season on their competition debut.
City currently lead the Premier League, having pipped Manchester United to the title last season, but Mancini says they are not yet major players on the continental scene.
“This is for us the second time to play in the Champions League and to win the Champions League, maybe you need to go first in the first stage,” he said.
“In February (in the last 16), everything can change. After five, six months, you can improve. Maybe you can win the Champions League. But I think that there are five, six teams better than us.”
Referring to Chelsea’s success last season, he added: “Chelsea tried to win the Champions League for 10 years.
“Probably in their best moment, they didn’t — when they had (Didier) Drogba, when he was young, (Ashley) Cole, (Frank) Lampard.
“They deserved to win the Champions League when they were young but they won it last year. The Champions League is strange, different, and we have to be patient for this.”
Mancini also defended the tactical change that saw him hastily rejig his three-man defence after Madrid repeatedly exploited space on the flanks in the game’s opening stages.
“We changed because we gave them a lot of space on the counter-attack,” he said.
“Only for this. If you don’t have a good attitude in some moments — when we conceded the goal, we were five players against two in the box and we concede a goal. It’s not because we were three or four in defence — it’s not important.”
City have no time to brood, with Sunday’s trip to Chelsea likely to test the strength of their desire to hold on to first place in the Premier League.
Roberto Di Matteo paid with his job as coach after Chelsea slipped towards the Champions League trapdoor on Tuesday, but Mancini said he did not fear meeting the same fate as his fellow Italian.
“I think the season is long — there is the Champions League, the FA Cup, the Premier League,” he said.
“If we think that we can win a Champions League after two years (in the competition), I think that we are crazy.
“We need to improve as a team, probably we did some mistakes. We are a good team, but I don’t have fear for this.”
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho gave his support to Mancini, and said clubs were too hasty to part ways with under-performing coaches.
“Clubs must support their managers the maximum they can until the last day, when they decide to make a change,” he said.
“City are out of the Champions League, but they are out with two big teams (going through). Madrid and (Borussia) Dortmund are very good teams and in this group, we knew from the beginning that a big team would go out.
“It’s good that it’s City, so Roberto can work without any kind of problem. Because it was Real Madrid, I think the Spanish press wouldn’t let me return to Madrid.”
City must now win at Dortmund and hope Ajax lose in Madrid to qualify for the second-tier Europa League, but Mancini seemed less than thrilled by the prospect.
“We’ll try to go into the Europa League,” he said.
“Until the semi-final, or the final, it’s not important like the Champions League, but if you arrive in the final, it could be an important trophy for us.”