Clichy looks for European boost
The anticipation, the entertainment, the drama and the disappointment. Manchester City's brief taste of the Champions League has contained the same themes.
A second year among the European elite began with a microcosm of City's debut campaign with the continent's best. Their 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid a fortnight ago was a magnificent match but, understandably, that was of little consolation at the time to Gael Clichy.
"For the next two or three days I was really down because we should have won the game," the left-back said. "We were leading 2-1 with five minutes to go in Madrid." Then Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo intervened, leaving City lamenting the way a momentous victory and three invaluable points had escaped their grasp. "We should have got something out of the game," Clichy added.
The barnstormer at the Bernabeu only serves to render Wednesday's meeting with Borussia Dortmund all the more important. The margin for error is reduced; the need for three points all the greater. Twelve months ago, City secured ten points without progressing from their pool. Now they have been drawn against the reigning champions of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
"Last year was a tough group and this year is even tougher but if you are to go to the final you have to win against any team," Clichy added. "People will say it is probably better to get Madrid and Dortmund at the end of the competition but I believe it is a good challenge for us."
The two statements highlight City's peculiar place in the Champions League firmament. They are comparative newcomers but with lofty ambitions to conquer the continent. The contrast is supplied by Clichy's previous employers, consistent qualifiers who have never managed to take the final step.
"When you look at Arsenal's record over the last ten years, they have been through the group stage and have done well," he said. "For City, everything is in front of us, everything is future, so we have to write history for the club."
It was something they managed in the Premier League, making City champions for the first time in 44 years last season. Europe presents other challenges for a team who embraced attack on the domestic front.
"We are used to English football with a lot of challenges, a lot of contact, a lot of chances and a lot of pace," Clichy said. "The Champions League is more tactical. You have to keep the ball."
It is something he feels is a particular strength of a technical Dortmund side. "They are the type of team that can play European football: they like to have the ball, they have quick players," he explained. "And German teams are really difficult to play against, whether it is the national team, Bayern Munich or Dortmund."
Bayern certainly presented difficult opponents for City last season - their European adventure included a 2-0 defeat in the Allianz Arena. "We should have had two penalties in the first 20 minutes and if it is 1-0 or 2-0 away from home, it is a different game," Clichy recalled. "We didn't score and they punished us. We learned you have to be good for the whole game and try not to concede goals."
Conceding, however, has been an issue this season. A previously watertight defence has developed holes, with 17 goals conceded in nine games. "We have a lot of room for improvement," Clichy said. A believer in Roberto Mancini's mantra of work, work and more work, he also argues it takes a collective commitment to keep clean sheets.
Mancini's change to a 3-4-1-2 formation for some games, including a mid-match switch in Madrid, requires the greatest adjustment. Clichy, reinvented as a left-sided centre-back in the new system, said: "It is more effort for the wing-backs and for the centre-backs you need to be more aware that you can be exposed one against one. It's never easy to adapt but the manager is there to make choices and I believe we have enough quality to change between the two shapes."
The first few weeks of the season have featured a few teething troubles and Mancini has cut a frustrated figure. Not so, his left-back insists. "Sometimes people think he is raging but he is super-cool," Clichy said. Now, with his Champions League hopes in the balance, the super-cool needs a super result.
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