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Nasri backs slick City to keep coming forward

Attacking midfielder is well aware of his defensive duties as Mancini's side try to replicate the Barcelona strategy of defending high up the pitch and counter-attacking with pace, writes Steve Tongue

The excitement of Manchester City's inaugural Champions' League campaign certainly provided a new experience for their French midfielder Samir Nasri: failing to qualify for the knockout stage. After three successful years in the competition with Arsenal, including one semi-final and one quarter-final, he was condemned on Wednesday night to the Europa League along with his new team-mates, the 2-0 home victory over a weakened Bayern Munich giving them 10 points, which was for once insufficient to merit a place in the last 16.

Yet the home crowd were in forgiving frame of mind, their mood further improved by hearing that Manchester United would also be contenders for Five's top billing on Thursday night TV. With an FA Cup tie at home to the old enemy to come, and then a Carling Cup semi-final with Liverpool, the Europa League is way down the agenda, clearly topped by the target of a first domestic League title in 44 years.

So the consolation to be drawn from Wednesday, Nasri believes, is to travel to Stamford Bridge tomorrow with a good win behind them, as well as the personal satisfaction of finding his own form more settled following the transition from Arsenal, whom he left amid some acrimony in August.

In a rare and thoughtful interview, he said: "It's good for the confidence going into a big game against Chelsea with a win against Bayern Munich. They are in good form as well so it will be an interesting game but we're prepared for this and will be fighting.

"Now I'm feeling better with the team. I needed a little bit of time to settle because I changed from Arsenal, it's not the same mentality and not the same way to play football. But the manager showed confidence in me, my team-mates as well, so now I'm confident about the future.

"I had six assists in the Premier League last year with Arsenal and I have the same already [with City]. You have lots of [options] when you have the ball in the last 30 metres and it is good to play with those types of players."

He is clear about his debt to Arsène Wenger, but says Roberto Mancini with his Italianate ways has instilled greater defensive discipline in his game: "Tactically, Italians are very strong. They are a lot into tactics, how to defend, when you lose the ball where will you be? He told me I know how to play with Arsenal, I play a lot and play good football, so for him the most important thing was that up front I know what to do, but defensively I have to improve, and I'm 24, I can improve a lot.

"He is someone who is never happy with the result. When we win 5-1, he wants his team to have a clean sheet. So he taught us how to defend and we agree, if we want to be one of the biggest teams in the world we have to improve as a team how to defend because we know how to score.

"And you can see that, you know, with David [Silva] or James [Milner] or Adam [Johnson] or me, when we play we defend as a team as well and we make an effort to help our defenders." This defending from the front has enabled City to change quickly to attack, bringing many of their 67 goals in all competitions this season. While Arsenal are generally regarded as the British team most like Barcelona in style, Nasri says his new club are trying to match the Catalans at winning the ball back and striking quickly.

"We play as a team and we defend very high. That is why we're able to score. Our model is Barcelona and the way they press really high. When you get the ball in the other half, it is always easier for you because you have less [distance] to run and you are more fresh in the last 30 metres. It's the way we want to play."

Not that admiration for Barcelona, and indeed Real Madrid, convinces him of La Liga's superiority after the Premier League's top two teams failed to qualify last week: "The problem is you lose too much energy when you play in the Premier League. Even when you play the team on the bottom it is difficult. Barcelona, when they play Almeria or someone, they win 8-0. In the Premier League you don't win 8-0 against Norwich or another team.

"It is a more demanding league at all levels. In Spain last year the difference between the second and the third was 20 points. But Barça and Real are good teams, they show it every year in the Champions' League."

Not, alas, against City this season. The teams for them to prove themselves against now are the former big four of English football, against whom they were noticeably weak away from home last season. In successive away games, City's title pretensions were finally undermined by defeats at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge (2-0) and Anfield.

This season, as Nasri believes, results have indicated something altogether more authoritative. "It's difficult against Chelsea but it's difficult against Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool and we had great results against those teams, so I don't know what we have to fear about Chelsea," he says.

"We are confident about our quality and we will try to play the same game Liverpool did against them in the League. If you press them high and you play your football, they will be in difficulties."

Chelsea v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 tomorrow, kick-off 8pm

City on the road

Last season:

Tottenham 0 Manchester City 0

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0

Manchester Utd 2 Manchester City 1

Chelsea 2 Manchester City 0

Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0

So far this season:

Tottenham 1 Manchester City 5

Manchester Utd 1 Manchester City 6

Liverpool 1 Manchester City 1