Date: 3rd November 2011 at 11:46am
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From Valencia to Villarreal is a contrast to behold. From the picturesque city which boasts the Holy Grail housed in its Cathedral, it seems an unlikely search for it heading in the direction of the industry wastes of Villarreal, dominated as it is by the ceramic industry. It is a town slightly bigger than Ashton-under-Lyne, with a football stadium and support similar to Stoke City, which punches well above it weight in La Liga.

About half the town`s population turn out every week to watch the team which for much of the last 10 years has managed to engage itself in European football most of which has been played in the Champions League. Indeed Stretford`s finest plus the Ashburton Bottling Factory have failed to win on their last attempts there and haven`t United failed to even score there twice recently?

The ground is like an over grown subbuteo table and looks as though they forgot to put in an away end, so for good measure they perched it atop the “Fondo Nord”. You can only see the goal at that end from the first four rows and it is viewed through Perspex making it like a ginormous jumbotron screen. Above that there is a chicken mesh protective netting making it look like a cage at the zoo. And last night that was the temporary home to the 1500 City fans making the boozy trip, many via Benidorm, to El Madrigal, the home of Villarreal CF.

Getting in was a nightmare, especially close to kick-off. You needed an oxygen tank to climb the stairs and were close to getting the bends on the way down. But City once again started to re-write the history books.

From the start it was evident that City were not going to let go of this opportunity to finally stamp their mark on the Champions League and although they confronted opposition ravaged by injuries City simply took total command of the match from the off.

Silva eased into gear and was once again masterful. With De Jong and Milner for cover, Yaya was at his rampaging best, Milner industrious and very much staking a claim for his former Aston Villa colleague, Gareth Barry`s place and Guy Fawkes- in- chief Mario Balotelli finally delivered himself into the Champions League with a determined performance of sheer quality whereby Villarreal couldn`t settle and were forever looking over their shoulder.
City`s game of patience and probing all looked in hand as the Blues were in charge from minute one. Raiding from all locations and all angles the hosts started to look bewildered. Their operation was very much one of fire-fighting and damage limitation. Whereas other clubs perhaps better versed in Champions League football have struggled at El Madrigal, you sensed that it was a matter of time before City exploded on to the stage.

And so it was after half an hour when a business-as-usual tidy build-up saw the Magician play a short pass into the path of the rampant Yaya Toure who shook off all comers to drill a Balotelli-esque shot into the bottom corner. The Blue Mooners on top of the stand though they were one step closer to heaven as the doggedly performed the Poznan high into the night.

It was party time on the field, too, with City producing a type of football that is making Europe`s finest take note. Untroubled at the back where Kompany was at his commanding best and for a change Savic alongside him starting to demonstrate his capabilities (Lescott beware), City were able to power forward at will. Balotelli`s undoubted strength was too much for the reeling Villarreal defence and so it proved as half time approached, when Mario flew into the box ,was challenged and tripped leaving the referee no option than to point to the spot. Mario was not letting this chance for seven in seven to go begging. His penalty technique is something spectacular as takes his two or three steps, watches the goalkeeper for a clue and disdainfully stick the ball in another corner.

At 2-0 City this game was effectively done and dusted and only a lack of concentration could change things.
Well that was no to be for the Submarinero Amarillo. In the second half City produced mire scintillating football and until his replacement for a back injury, David Silva was at the heart of it all having even home supporters drooling over his quality and taking comfort from the fact that he no longer played for neighbours Valencia.
But it is not just the Silva Story, there was quality in every position last night in sky blue shirts. Chances came and went and when the hosts did manage to see the ball, they probably wondered what it was. They couldn`t make significant in-roads into the City defence, try as they might, but at least they did have a go at limiting the damage in a way that a certain team couldn`t recently.

After 71 minutes it went wrong again for them. Again some neat inter-passing involving most of the team set up Yaya around 35 yards out. He took on the back line beating two of them comfortably before striding into the box at full throttle to hammer a trade-mark rocket directly into the net.

It was time to release the new compilation album on the “arriba nord”. Out came the usual “We`re Man City, we`ll score when we want” added to which there was “It should have been ten, you lucky bar stewards, it should have been ten” and “Who put the ball in United`s net? Half the effing team did!”
Well served in San Miguel ahead of the game the party was in full swing as Villarreal suffered their biggest home defeat ever in the Champions League leaving City now handily placed , second in the group, and with Bayern already assured on a place in the knock-out stages, it is now in our own hands to ensure qualification.

City will have a great chance to beat Bayern at home before donning the Kevlar nappies for the trip to Napoli, where a draw could be enough.

The only damage was Mancini bashing his head on the dugout roof. Apparently this is the second time he has managed this in two visits to El Madrigal. How Pellegrini at well over six foot avoided that for so long remains a mystery.

So job done in every sense and as the team made their way back to Las Arenas and notably absent from the flight home, how come, with the plane half empty, did I still end up on row 25?

From one subbuteo table to the next now as the team heads from Valencia via Luton and into London for the match against QPR this weekend. Barton and Wright-Phillips will be able to view from pitch level the incredible developments in this football club since their departures.

 

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