Forget the Derby, forget the League, tonight`s game was all about the Champions League. City had not fared well in their opening two games and tonight was a must win game if Mancini and his charges wished to have a chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
Mancini rang the changes tonight with Kolarov and Zabaleta coming in at full back, Nasri in for Barry, Silva in for Milner and Dzeko, the lone striker, replacing Balotelli. Aguero started the game from the bench and there was no place at all for the enigmatic Balotelli. Toure was expected to play a deeper role tonight starting alongside De Jong in a defensive role to shore up the defence that had been far too open in the first two games.
The atmosphere was electric as the teams lined up. Could Silva create the magic again? Could Nasri add to his amazing assist tally? Could Dzeko find the form that saw him score a perfect hat-trick again, as he had done against Spurs? Only the next ninety minutes would tell.
City got the game under way kicking left to right and had soon earnt a free kick as Kolarov was brought down in the left wing position. The resultant set play was ended early as Nasri was caught offside.
Disaster struck in the third minute when after a good clearance by Dzeko, Silva played a no look pass thirty yards out from goal. The ball fell not for Dzeko as intended but to the feet of Rossi. Hart saved Rossi`s initial shot, but the rebound was snapped up by Cani who put the ball in the back of the City net. One nil to Villarreal and City had their work cut out.
City were putting some neat passing together but every time it looked like they had worked the ball into a good position, a well-timed tackle came in from a Villarreal player. Nine minutes in and Villarreal were on the attack again and an in swinging cross from their right was only just cleared by Kompany.
This seemed to spur City on and on twelve minutes, Kolarov crossed a teasing ball into the opposition box which was met cleanly by Nasri. The ball though, went high and wide not testing the Spanish side`s keeper. .
Two minutes later and Silva threaded a neat ball through to Dzeko but the keeper managed to smother it. Seconds later and Johnson was winding his way through Villarreal defence cutting the ball back well, but again a defender managed to clear.
On fifteen minutes Johnson was brought down thirty yards from goal on the City right. Silva and Kolarov stood over the ball. Silva swung in the free kick straight into the arms of the thankful Spanish keeper.
On nineteen minutes City won another free kick again through Johnson and in the same position as the last one. This time Kolarov struck a sweet and powerful shot which was only just pushed wide by Lopez. The resultant corner was cleared but City were again in possession as they had been for the previous seven or eight minutes.
Three minutes later and Silva miss hit a shot which Johnson almost got onto the end of. City were having the lion`s share of possession and were out-classing the side in the lead, but still that first goal eluded them.
First yellow card of the game came on thirty two minutes and was awarded to Catala as he deliberately wasted time whilst taking a throw in. Strangely though after the booking, the throw in was given back to the Spanish side, giving City no advantage at all.
The best move of the game came on thirty five minutes as Nasri and Silva combined on the left side of midfield, working the ball out wide for Nasri to cross in an inviting ball which just eluded Dzeko and Johnson. This was little comfort though for City who despite their almost complete dominance, had nothing to show for it.
Villarreal should have been reduced to ten men when Gonzalo went in on Silva two footed. He won the ball but took the man as well and nine times out of ten would have seen red.
Six minutes until half time and Mancini bravely made a change taking off a bemused Johnson and replacing him with midfield stalwart Gareth Barry. This meant Silva moved to Johnson`s position and Toure moved further forward into the position he had been so effective in against Villa.
The change paid off almost instantly as Nasri found Kolarov on the overlapping run. Kolarov took one touch and crossed the ball with pace. With Dzeko bearing down, Marchena stuck out a foot and deflected the ball into his own net. One nil and a vital goal at a vital time with only two minutes left of the first forty five.
City almost made it two one when Silva cut in from the right and made a reverse pass which found the on running Dzeko. The big striker had to take the ball first time and his quick shot struck Lopez`s legs and ballooned out over the defence.
As the ref`s whistle went, City went in with the score level. It could have been so much worse. Hart could possibly have been blamed for pushing the initial shot straight back into play for the Villarreal goal and it was looking like one of those nights where nothing went right, but an inspired substitution and some great passing interplay led to City starting the second half with everything to play for.
The second half kicked off with Villarreal immediately on the front foot with Rossi working the space to have a shot from the City left which although high and wide had the alarm bells ringing. City soon picked the ball up and Silva found Zabaleta on the right who played an early cross which was met cleanly by Dzeko. The shot was pushed out for a corner by Lopez.
A poor ball by Toure in the forty ninth minute allowed Villarreal possession and Rossi was again on the spot to produce another fine shot which this time hit the side netting.
Two minutes later and Rossi was shooting once more. Hart pushed the ball out across the face of goal and had Villarreal been more attacking minded, there would have been an empty net for a foraging player to fill with the ball.
Toure was once more the catalyst for City, winning the ball in the final third on fifty five minutes playing a lovely defence splitting ball between centre half and full back for Kolarov to run onto, but the attacking full back made his run a second too early and strayed offside.
The Spanish side forced another corner on fifty six minutes when an inviting cross was cleared by the head of Kompany. The corner taker delayed the ball in what was becoming an all too apparent time wasting tactic which went unpunished by the rookie referee. There had been a number of poor decisions up to this point and it didn`t seem like this would improve.
With thirty minutes to go, Aguero stripped off and replaced Nigel De Jong as Mancini made the change that he hoped would win the game for City.
Aguero was brought down on the edge of the Spanish box on sixty four minutes by a nasty challenge but the ref waved play on, making another poor decision which went against the home side. In a competition where heavy tackling is frowned upon, this ref was letting some very poor challenges go un-punished.
On sixty six minutes the second card of the game was awarded to Rossi for simulation when he dived to the floor as Kolarov came close to him. To make things worse, Rossi blocked Hart`s attempted quick free kick. Dirty tricks and time wasting seemed to be the style the Spanish side were displaying.
With twenty minutes of the game left, it was the Spanish side who were putting the better passing together and City were resorting to counter attacking. With one of these counter attacks, Silva earnt a free kick on the right. Up stepped Kolarov who struck another fierce shot which brought a huge cheer from the crowd, but it had struck the side netting and gone behind.
On seventy six minutes, Kun Aguero picked the ball up on the half way line. He ran ten yards and played the ball through the channel to the onrushing Dzeko. Perhaps a reflection of the night he had been having, Dzeko`s shot was poor and didn`t test Lopez.
Final substitution for City came on eighty minutes and saw Milner replace Nasri as Villarreal replaced Perez with Mubarak.
City instantly had another chance as the excellent Kolarov found Aguero, but again the City player found himself in an offside position. This had happened far too often for a team playing at this level and with strikers of such experience.
Villarreal made another substitution one minute later as their goal scoring hero was replaced by defender Mario. A corner followed which City defended well and broke with Silva and Milner, but Silva`s pass was poor as he looked a shadow of the player that had unlocked Premier League defences with panache.
The second half really hadn`t gone as the City fans had expected and it was a much more even affair than the last ten minutes of the first half suggested it would be. All the chances had fallen to Dzeko who seemed to have left his finishing boots and his fantastic heading ability in the dressing room as he really hadn`t forced any spectacular saves from Lopez.
Final substitution of the night came with three minutes to go as the excellent De Guzman was withdrawn. City earnt a corner immediately after this but excellent defending by the Spanish back four saw the ball cleared down field. .
As the ninetieth minute passed the fourth official raised the board. Three additional minutes. Could City score that much needed goal. A deep cross by Barry and Zabaleta met the ball unmarked inside the opposition box. The header was directed straight at Lopez who eagerly gathered the ball.
Mario received a the Spanish side`s next yellow card for time wasting with two minutes to go. The ball found Hart with only forty five seconds to go. Milner picked the ball up on the half way line he ran half the length of the pitch, found Zabaleta who had made the overlap. Zabaleta cut the ball across the keeper to find the on rushing Aguero who slid the ball into an empty net. Two one to City with the last touch of the game. Aguero hadn`t been in the game but he did what was needed and gave City the all-important three points.
Joe Hart – 6
At fault for the first goal as he pushed the ball straight back into play. Could have given away a second had Villarreal been more adventurous in attack.
Pablo Zabaleta – 7.5
Was caught out of position a number of times, but put in some great crosses, could have had a goal and was involved in the winning goal.
Vincent Kompany – 7
Didn’t do much wrong but was caught out by Rossi’s movement a number of times.
Joleon Lescott – 7
Nearly caught out as he was against Villa but put in a couple of good tackles.
Aleksandar Kolarov – 8
Man of the match performance in a team that wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
Nigel De Jong – 6.5
At fault for first goal putting in a powder puff challenge when he would normally have broken legs.
Yaya Toure – 7
Struggled in the defensive role and looked better when moved into an attacking position. Wasn’t good enough in the pass.
Adam Johnson – 6.5
Was unlucky to be taken off but in his managers words he could have played better.
David Silva – 6
His worse game in a City shirt. His nonchalant pass to De Jong gave away the first goal and his passing was poor.
Samir Nasri – 6.5
Tried his heart out but not a lot came off for him.
Edin Dzeko – 6
His control was poor as was his finishing and his hold up play. Not a good day at the office for Edin.
Gareth Barry – 7
Shored up the midfield to a degree and allowed Toure to move forward. Showed intelligence in his movement and passing.
Sergio Aguero – 7
Struggled to make an impact in the second half but still scored the winning goal.
His dynamic run at the Villarreal defence made the winning goal. Surely it’s time to drop one of the attacking players and give him a run in the team.
Roberto Mancini – 7.5
Said before the game it didn’t matter how City won as long as they won. Made brave substitutions and eventually came out the victor.