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Manchester City walk with the Champions League elite

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27 Sep 2011 06:48:13

Manchester City walk with the Champions League elite

For many of those who joined Manchester City on their flight to Munich, the Allianz Arena is something of a sporting utopia. It is their field of dreams, the kind of place that for so long, not so long ago, seemed way beyond even their wildest expectations. There were people on the plane who stood among the 3,007 watching City lose 2-1 to Mansfield the night after Old Trafford had witnessed Manchester United take another step towards a historic European and domestic treble. Walking the walk: City's players take a look around the impressive Allianz Arena It was a run that reached its extraordinary climax with that defeat of Bayern in the Nou Camp. One member of the City party said: 'I only went because for a few days beforehand it had been reported that it was going to be the lowest crowd ever at Maine Road. We didn't even win.' Bernard Halford would have been there - he was then the club secretary, is now the life president and will be among those pinching themselves. He was on the plane as well, as was Mike Pickering, the legendary Hacienda DJ, and Uwe Rosler, a member of the side relegated from the Premier League back in 1996. They sat among others who have made that journey from Mansfield and Macclesfield to Munich, from the third tier of English football to the European pinnacle; among people who, by the time they return home with Roberto Mancini and his team, might even fancy their chances of coming back here to the Bavarian capital for the final next May. For Mancini and his players, it is certainly an opportunity to exhibit their European credentials and plant their sky blue flag firmly on the continent. The heat is on: City players exit the stadium a day before the big match A chance, too, to demonstrate how far they have come. It will not be easy. Not when Bayern are so strong this season. But a team that now sits second to United in the Barclays Premier League table, and only on goal difference at that, clearly fancies its chances of making some kind of statement - even if that opening Group A game with Napoli proved a testing one. Mancini seems to understand the significance better than anyone. 'For the supporters it is an important moment,' he said. 'To play in the Champions League, against a team like Bayern Munich. It is important to go through because after we want to stay here. Life changes sometimes. Now we are a top club. 'We want to improve, always. One result or one game cannot change this moment. As a club, a team and a squad, we have improved a lot this year and we will do in the future. But it is clear that this is an important game for this group. If we win it will be very important.' Mancini is also the first to recognise the threat Bayern pose. Back under the guidance of Jupp Heynckes, enjoying his third spell in charge at the club, they have started the season every bit as impressively as City, despite losing their opening game in the Bundesliga. Since that 1-0 defeat at home to Borussia Monchengladbach they have been unstoppable, rising clear at the summit of the league by winning six successive matches and scoring 21 goals without return. Here to win: Mancini believes his side have the strength to win in Germany Add to that a 2-0 win away to Villarreal and it seems they are very much in form. Clearly, a defence strengthened during the summer by the arrival of Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng is a well-organised one. But those 21 league goals also point to a potent attacking force. As well as Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, they have the German league's top scorer in Mario Gomez. Mancini said Nigel de Jong had a '60 per cent' chance of playing and he could certainly use a player of the Dutchman's defensive ability on the pitch. But you sense Mancini has a real desire to test this Bayern back line. He would like to see a strike force that has been enhanced by the arrival of Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri and the good form of Edin Dzeko and David Silva make a real impression on a club which only two seasons ago reached the Champions League final. Backed by their Abu Dhabi billions, this City squad appears capable of anything and Mancini has the confidence to walk into the Allianz Arena and declare: 'We are here to win'. But he is also aware of the challenge City face just to qualify for the last 16. 'As I said before, this is the hardest group in the Champions League because there are four teams who could go through,' he said. 'Every game will be difficult. Munich are used to playing in the Champions League. It is important that we play our football. Anything can happen. Paying their respects: City will lay a wreath to commemorate those who died 'When you play against Munich you can lose. It will be a difficult game. But we are not a small team. We are a good team. We play against them without a problem. We have a lot of respect for them. They have a great history but we want to do a good job. 'They started the season very well. But we want to play. This game is very important for our club to play on the same level as them, to try to score, to try to win there. Our mentality is important.' It would seem City are here, at Europe's top table, with the right mentality. It is right that they mark their first meeting with Bayern by laying a wreath in memory of those who perished on the United flight in 1958. A sad, bitter minority dismissed it as nothing more than a publicity stunt. Nonsense. It shows a bit of class and provides evidence that City are now recognising the extra responsibility that comes with being one of the bigger players in European football. Against Bayern, Mancini hopes to see his side demonstrate how big. Wary: The Bayern boss fears the threat of City's superstars  Move over United, City are on the charge! Bayern boss hails strength of Mancini's side Man City to put hostilities aside to lay wreath commemorating Munich Air Disaster ahead of Bayern matchDe Jong on hand for place among City bench at Bayern as ace gets set for returnAll the latest Manchester City news, features and opinion


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