With the opposition team decimated by injury and forced to play with reservist and youngsters, never had the chance been better for City to win this game tonight and hopefully go second as their rivals for second place, Napoli play a rampant Bayern side away.
Mancini made a number of changes to the side, with Zabaleta in for Richards, Savic for Lescott and Clichy in for Kolarov alongside Kompany. In midfield, Milner, Toure and De Jong started alongside Nasri and Silva with Balotelli playing the lone striker up front.
Exciting times to be a Manchester City fan and the atmosphere at the Madrigal was utterly electric. An away win in Europe was beckoning for City and if they could replicate their form in the League, anything could happen.
Villarreal kicked off right to left and instantly launched a long ball toward Zabaleta. City were setting out with Milner and De Jong playing the defensive roles and Toure moving further forward to aid Silva and Nasri in attack.
First shot in anger came from Villarreal, a long range effort from the centre of the pitch which was easily gathered by Hart. It was on target but never going to trouble the City keeper from so far out.
A lovely move between Milner Balotelli and Silva almost cracked the Spanish defence on four minutes, if not for a last ditch tackle. City were moving the ball around with pace and beginning to lead the possession stats, forcing Villarreal into sporadic counter attacks.
Eight minutes in and the game was following a familiar pattern as the Spanish side were happy to sit back and pack their defence and deep midfield in a bid to stifle the flair and passing ability shown by this exciting City side.
First dive of the game came on exactly ten minutes from De Guzman as he theatrically fell when De Jong took the ball gently from his feet. Villarreal earnt the first corner of the game from this free kick. City defended it well and were soon breaking up pitch.
Both Silva and Nasri were showing some lovely movement and footwork as they patrolled the top third of the pitch. They were just missing that final pass to break down the stone wall that had been built in front of them. That one sparkle was all that was missing. .
City were caught on the break on seventeen minutes when Silva was caught in possession and De Guzman launched a wonderfully weighted ball for the striker to run on to. Hart was quickest to react and thankfully grasped the ball to his chest with the Spanish forward bearing down on him.
A minute later and another ball over the top, again by De Guzman almost cracked the City defence, but this time it was Savic who first cleared the ball and followed this with a cracking elbow to the strikers jaw!
City won a free kick on the right after a foul on Zabaleta on twenty three minutes. The ball was played long for Toure who interchanged passes with Milner and Silva before losing possession. A scything tackle by De Jong and City were back in possession again. Villarreal then went down to ten men as Mario their right back was treated for a bloody nose. This did not seem to stop the Spaniards who were having their best spell of the game.
Suddenly City won the ball and broke up pitch. All this time the crowd were jeering as Mario had not been allowed back on the pitch. Silva twisted and turned on the edge of the box and was brought down for a free kick by Marchena. Silva and Milner stood over the dead ball eyeing the goal. The ref brought the wall back to the required distance and Silva struck the ball?..right into the wall.
Twenty nine minutes in and Silva nicked the ball in midfield he turned and ran at the Villarreal right back. Toure went on a run between the two centre halves and for the first time in the game, Silva found that pass. It cut the defence and left Toure through on goal. The big Ivorian cheekily curled the ball round the advancing keeper to make it one nil. What a goal and City had scored first for the first time in a Champion`s League game.
City were looking good for their goal. The two full backs were offering width, Silva and Nasri movement and Toure was simply everywhere. Balotelli was the one player who for all his endeavour, just hadn`t yet found the space or finish. He was finding the lone striker`s role difficult tonight. Even when Toure found Silva in the opposition box on the City right and the Spaniard cut an inch perfect cross flashing across the face of goal, Balotelli arrived too late to take advantage of the empty net.
First yellow of the game came for Catala as he upended Silva on thirty eight minutes right in the centre of the pitch. City were now probing and passing, moving the ball rapidly from wing to wing looking for that space, that mistake which would free up the ball and create a chance.
As the half drew to a close, City were starting to show their Premier League form as Silva found more and more space and the Blues looked dangerous with every attack. Villarreal did have their second shot on target in the half just before the final whistle but not to be outdone, Balotelli went on a last gasp run into the opposition box. A foot went out and down went the Italian. The ref blew the whistle, pointed to the spot and raised a yellow card. Wow. Up stepped Balotelli. A run from the edge of the box, the ball went low to the keeper`s left and the half finished two nil.
Within a minute of kick off in the second half, Villarreal broke down the City right. Milner chased down the ball and with a perfectly timed tackle nicked it from the advancing Spanish forward putting it out for a corner. It wasn`t just the forwards playing great football. Milner and De Jong were patrolling the City half, soaking up the pressure and distributing wonderful balls.
City were showing poise on the ball, excuding a calmness and cohesion under Mancini which showed they truly knew what they were doing. They kept the ball, using the full width and length of the pitch. The football was a joy to behold and Mancini must have been proud of his team.
Fifty three minutes in and Silva was once again dancing along the edge of the opposition penalty box. A foot went out and down went the Magician. A free kick this time by Balotelli went straight into the wall and out for a corner, but City were constantly pressing and surely it was only a matter of time before more goals came.
Fifty nine minutes in and Zabaleta picked the ball up in the right back slot and went on a surging run up pitch. He cut inside and played a wonderful ball to Nasri who lined up a shot which he couldn`t strike cleanly enough as the ball flew high and wide.
This City shot was followed by a tame effort by Villarreal which was easily gathered by Hart as he looked for his first clean sheet (for club and country) for five games. Worryingly for City, Silva was seen grimacing and holding his back on a number of occasions and Mancini and Platt were huddled in conversation.
With sixty four minutes showing on the clock, Adam Johnson was stripped off and waiting at the touchline. The change was as expected and Silva was replaced by the tricky English winger. The crowd stood as one to clap Silva off the pitch in salute at a true great. Silva went to sit on the bench but looked in real discomfort and looked a real doubt for the weekend Premier League game.
Fifth yellow of the game to a yellow shirt was given to Perez for a blatant chop from behind on Balotelli. The free kick was played wide by Milner and the play fizzled out. This was soon followed by a goal glorious in its simplicity and magnificent in its creation. Nasri picked the ball up on the edge of the centre circle. One look up and Toure was stretching his legs making the perfect run for Nasri to play on to him. Past the centre halves and as calm as you like it, the big Ivorian changed his body shape and placed the ball neatly past the advancing keeper into the net. Three nil and another record gone as City were winning away from home in a ground where an English side had never won scoring more goals than they ever had away from home.
On seventy three minutes, Man of the Match, Toure was withdrawn and replaced by Aguero, partly with an eye on the weekend game and partly to give Toure a rest after a lung busting performance.
Two substitutions followed by Villarreal as De Guzman was replaced by Lopez and Mubarrak was replaced by Bordas. The changes made little real change to the game as City settled back into the familiar pace and passing that had become the tone of the game.
Aguero was being booed with each touch of the ball as the fans vented their frustration for the supposed cheating of previous seasons and the alleged hand bags in the tunnel after the last game with City.
City`s next change came with eight minutes to go as Balotelli was replaced by Kolarov and Aguero moved into the lone strikers position. This was followed by Villarreal`s last substitution as Oriel replaced Perez. The game was to all extents and purposes over, but City were still chasing down every ball and remaining thoroughly professional until the whistle blew. .
As the game drew to a close, possession stats read 68% to City and this didn`t really reflect just how dominant City had been. Hart had had three saves to make all game and City could and should have had more than three goals. Every player had done their job well and in Silva and Toure, City had two of the most formidable Midfielders playing in world football today.
Joe Hart – 7
Had little to do in the game, but when called into action, kept his concentration and made good saves. His distribution was good too.
Pablo Zabaleta – 7.5
Got forward well. Rarely challenged defensively as no one really went near him.
Vincent Kompany – 8
Solid in the tackle and cleared every header that came near him. A great performance.
Stefan Savic – 8
A great introduction for his first game. Didn’t put a foot wrong and looked the part in this team of Champions.
Gael Clichy – 8
Some great attacking full back play as we have come to expect. Wasn’t caught out once when attacking.
James Milner – 8.5
Solid professional, tactically aware, good in the tackle and brilliant distribution.
Nigel De Jong – 8
Tackled, harried and occasionally got forward. A great performance.
David Silva – 8.5
Tackled back, played scintillating passes and got a nasty looking back injury for his work. Truly a great player.
Yaya Toure – 9
Man of the match performance by the towering Ivorian. A revelation as one of the best driving attacking mid-fielders in the world.
Samir Nasri – 7
Struggled to have an impact on the game at time, but carried the ball well.
Mario Balotelli – 8
Held up the ball well and made space for Toure, Silva and Nasri. Scored the penalty after winning it.
Adam Johnson -7
Didn’t do much to influence the game when he came on.
Sergio Aguero – 7.5
Got booed with every touch but looked lively and wanted it.
Too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 9
First away win in the top flight of Europe. Biggest away win in Europe. Up to second in the group. Job well done Mr Mancini. I for one am starting to believe something magical is happening now.