Champions League: Manchester City ready for life in the fast lane against Real Madrid
Roberto Mancini talked up the possibility of a major power shift taking place at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight, with his Manchester City side now fully equipped to play in European football's fast lane.
Just as his opposite number at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho, was casting doubt on the hunger of his players, Mancini said: "If you drive a Ferrari you can win. We used to drive a Fiat Cinquecento and then it's not so easy; now we are driving a Ferrari."
The Real Madrid coach was in far less effusive mood, admitting City would win what he referred to as "the big cup" – the Champions League – one day and expressed concerns over facing them in this season's first group match in the competition tonight, after what he called an "awful performance" from his side at the weekend.
"I can't compare the natural talent of my team at Inter with the natural talent here at Real Madrid but I also can't compare the hunger of my team at Inter with my team here," said the former Internazionale manager just 48 hours after savaging his players as they fell to their second defeat in the first four games of the season.
Mancini has no such motivational problems ahead of his second Champions League campaign. He even has a fully focused Carlos Tevez, who at this time last season threw his infamous touchline tantrum by refusing to warm up against Bayern Munich.
Mancini was asked what advice he might give Mourinho in dealing with a "sad" Cristiano Ronaldo. He joked: "If he wants to win La Liga again, maybe he should send Cristiano to Portugal for six months and maybe he can win it for a second time!"
Despite Ronaldo's complaints, Mourinho has other concerns with what he sees as a dressing room lacking the edge of previous seasons. "We have all won things, we have all had success in our careers," he said. "We all have the economic and professional stability and so there should be no need to wait to see how people react.
"We should be the first ones to motivate ourselves. No one puts pressure on me because I am the one who applies the pressure. No one motivates me. I am the one who motivates myself. I am the one who criticises myself when I am not performing as I should be and that is the way it should be."
Real Madrid were beaten by lowly Getafe in the second week of the season after drawing against Valencia at home. After their only win of the campaign against Granada, they lost to Seville at the weekend. In another comment directed at his players, Mourinho added: "Playing against City motivates me as much as playing against Getafe."
Fabio Coentrao and Luka Modric should come into Madrid's side for Marcelo and Mesut Ozil. And Mourinho said he believed his players would find their sense of team again for the most important game of the season so far.
He said: "My conviction is that tomorrow we will have a team. A solid, compact team that understands what the word team means. We might lack a bit of creativity, self-esteem or confidence because it is not easy playing against a side like City after the way we played at the weekend, and I am not going to kid anyone, we were awful."
He praised the job done by Mancini, although did not miss the opportunity to point out he won the league in his first season at Chelsea. He stopped short of saying City could win the Champions League this season.
"That must come from Roberto, he has to say yes they can win it. I am on the other side and I can say that we are contenders. But we put Manchester City in that group of big rivals for us. First there was [Claudio] Ranieri at Chelsea and then I arrived and we won the first league then came the cups and more titles and then Carlo [Ancelotti] came along and it carried on. Manchester City started with Mark Hughes and the spending started. Then Roberto comes in and does good work spending more money. I don't know if they can take it forward from here, but normally things will continue in the same direction and sooner or later they will win the big cup."
Having said that he wanted to take seven players off at half-time at the weekend, yesterday Mourinho had lightened up, remembering Real Madrid's former Welsh manager John Toshack: "I am not going to make seven changes. As one coach [Toshack] once said, the day of the defeat you would change seven or eight, by the middle of the week four or five and then in the next game you name the same team."
It all makes for a difficult first step on the road that leads to Wembley. Mourinho is prepared to put up with the contempt-breeding familiarity of a third season in order to land his third Champions League, while Real Madrid will stomach Mourinho for as long as it looks like he might take them all the way to their 10th European Cup.