Mancini stokes fire for Madrid visit


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The Independent Online

Roberto Mancini smiled when asked if a trip to the Britannia Stadium was good preparation for visiting the Bernabeu. "I think so," was his wry reply; the reality is that the 871 miles separating the two places might as well be a million in respect of the different type of challenge Manchester City will face against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, the Spanish champions.

If Saturday was City's Groundhog Day – their fourth successive 1-1 league draw at a battling, in-your-face Stoke side – their challenge now is to avoid a different kind of déjà vu as Mancini's men swap the Britannia's bacon butty for the finest jamon serrano of the Bernabeu.

City began last year's debut Champions League campaign in faltering fashion, with a home draw with Napoli and a 2-0 defeat at Bayern Munich, results that set the tone for a disappointing early exit. Now as then they find themselves in the toughest section – Group D also contains Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, both domestic champions – and Mancini, while maintaining that his side were unlucky to suffer elimination last term with 10 points, knows they must hit the ground running.

"The group stage is difficult like last year and we start again at a difficult ground against a top team," he said. "We should be ready for it to be very difficult. "

Mancini was speaking before Madrid's second defeat in four La Liga outings – 1-0 at Seville on Saturday night – but irrespective of Mourinho's men's shaky form, it is still a tough trip and the Italian added: "When you play Champions League every team is a top team, every game is difficult, but when you play Real or Barça they [have] won everything in history; it will be [extra] difficult."

One player well acquainted with the Bernabeu atmosphere is Javi Garcia. The Madrid academy product, signed from Benfica last month, nodded City's equaliser and would have had a second but for Asmir Begovic's superb save from another header in the last minute. Although they were unlucky that referee Mark Clattenburg failed to see Peter Crouch handle the ball before scoring, it was still a messy goal to concede and City remain without a clean sheet in 2012-13.

"It definitely hit my hand," admitted Crouch.