Mancini expects tough test from Reds

Roberto Mancini expects Liverpool to present a formidable obstacle as his Manchester City side aim to put their European frustrations behind them.

City have so far been unable to transfer their domestic dominance onto the continental stage with their Champions League prospects now receding after a shattering loss at Napoli earlier this week.

Mancini’s men were beaten 2-1 by the Italians and their hopes of progressing beyond the group stage are out of their hands.

They can put that aside at Liverpool on Sunday as they return to the Barclays Premier League platform on which they are thriving, having opened up a clear lead at the top of the table.

Mancini would like a response similar to that which sparked a nine-game winning run after September’s defeat at Bayern Munich but he points out there is nothing straightforward about a trip to Anfield.

He said: "The game (on Sunday) will be different. After Munich we played Blackburn. That game was difficult but I think (Sunday) will be more difficult. Liverpool are a strong team.

"I think Champions League and Barclays Premier League are different situations.

"Now we have lost against Napoli, maybe we have less chance to go through.

"But in the Premier League we are on top and we want to continue to do well."

City have a poor recent record at Anfield having not won in their last eight visits.

Last season Andy Carroll scored twice as they were trounced 3-0 but City, who have won 11 of their opening 12 league games this season, are now a much tougher proposition.

Mancini said: "I think we are better as a team this year. Last year, one week later, we played an FA Cup semi-final and that was important.

"We played without three or four important players.

"But sometimes the other team can play better and Liverpool played very well.

"I think this year we have improved a lot as a team. We have played very well and we have scored goals."

City have certainly been in fine goalscoring form, having struck 42 times in the league so far, but Mancini sees the coming month as a stern test of their credentials.

He said: "We play against Liverpool, Norwich, West Brom, Chelsea, Arsenal – I think the next month will be an important month."

City actually play Arsenal twice in the weeks ahead, the first being a Carling Cup quarter-final at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

The Gunners then visit the Etihad Stadium in the league in December, a month that will also feature their decisive Champions League game against Bayern and a home clash with Stoke.

Mancini has reacted philosophically to his side’s Champions League predicament, even saying he does not believe they are good enough to win the competition.

City must beat Bayern next month and hope Villarreal can collect their first point of the group stage against Napoli to progress, or drop into the Europa League.

Expectations had been high owing to City’s scintillating Premier League form but Mancini views it as a learning experience.

He said: "I think it is very important to play Champions League for two or three years.

"It was important to get into the second stage for our experience.

"If we met Barca or Real Madrid, it is difficult, but in football everything can happen in one or two games. We could beat Barcelona.

"But we are playing Champions League for the first year.

"We are a good team but I don’t think we have a team that can try to win Barclays Premier League and try to win Champions League, do a good job in the FA Cup and Carling Cup.

"I think this is very difficult for us but we want to try if possible.

"We have good players but other teams have been used to playing Champions League for many years.

"For me there are some teams in the Champions League that are worse than us but maybe they can do better."

City have been further linked this week with two of Napoli’s star players in strikers Edinson Cavani, who scored both his side’s goals on Tuesday, and Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Yet even with Carlos Tevez currently out of the picture, Mancini says he is happy with his current strikeforce.

He said: "I have three strikers and this is enough. We also have three or four other players who can play as a second striker.

"I think Cavani and Lavezzi are strong players but they play for Napoli in this moment and I don’t know what can happen in the future."