Etihad StadiumMarchena (o.g.) 43, Aguero 90+4 – Cani 4
So, Manchester City’s first Champions League excursion goes on but in truth they are still to convince in Europe’s top competition. Following a draw and a defeat in their first two games Group A games, Roberto Mancini outlined a clear mission statement before the match when he said: “We don’t have to play well but we do have to win.”
Ultimately his side did exactly what he asked grabbing a vital victory with a very poor performance. They showed once again that, in Europe at least, they struggle to break teams down while also having a habit of giving away sloppy goals.
It was fairly clear that Villarreal, had come to park the bus in an attempt to avoid a third Champions League defeat in a row. Yet, while their back four held a solid line throughout the match, they continually presented City problems on the counter attack.
So it was that the underdogs took the lead inside four minutes. David Silva lost possession in midfield, Nigel De Jong made an uncharacteristically weak tackle on the edge of the area and Cani gratefully netted after Joe Hart parried Giuseppe Rossi’s shot into his path. The silence around the Etihad Stadium was deafening and the crowd didn’t rouse themselves for much of the rest of an insipid first half.
Seven minutes before the break Mancini, sporting his trademark scarf for the first time this season, took action bringing on Gareth Barry for Adam Johnson. What looked like a bizarre defensive move left many, not least Johnson, shaking their heads but it paid off in a matter of minutes.
Yaya Toure was able to play a more advanced role causing problems for Villarreal’s defence, also Silva provided a more effective threat than Johnson cutting in from the right, but it was Aleksandar Kolarov playing on the overlap who created the goal with a wicked ball across the box which Carlos Marchena had to deal with, unfortunately by putting through his own net.
Kolarov was a threat throughout the game. Not only did he make the goal but he hit the net although the whistle blew moments before because he had strayed marginally offside.
In the second half City still struggled to break down the visitors so with 23 minutes to go, Mancini hit the panic button and brought on Sergio Aguero who had started the game on the bench, probably with Sunday’s Manchester derby in mind.
He replaced De Jong and Toure dropped back into a holding role but it seemed the home side would be unable to find a way through the yellow defensive wall.
That was until they scored with the last kick of the game to spark wild celebrations among the City fans. James Milner played a cheeky ball to Zabaleta who crossed low and hard across the box. Silva couldn’t connect but Aguero made no mistake.
It’s a vital win for City which could well provide the confidence they need to build on but the truth is that the team which lies 13th in La Liga, came to the home of the Premier League leaders and pushed them all the way. Mancini’s men will need to improve significantly if this is going to be a long-term campaign.
Man City (4-3-3): Hart; Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Kolarov; De Jong (Aguero 63), Y Tour