Date: 19th October 2011 at 9:06am
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AS the rain poured in on the Etihad last night, and looking at the starting eleven selected City fans could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be two bad nights in a row for City.

The EDS were taken apart by a much older Celtic team at Hyde the night before and as City began in rather sluggish style against Villareal, the near capacity crowd looked to be in a for a long night.

From the offit looked as though City thought they just had to turn up. Villareal, pointless in this competition and faring not much better in La Liga were the weak link in the group and likely to be the unwilling providers of six easy points. But are they?

This is a team that has almost ten years experience of punching above its weight in La Liga and taking vital points off more established European stalwarts which include a certain team from Stretford.

The had no intention of presenting themselves as whipping boys last night and if you want points off them you will have to earn them,especially if you are Champions League novices that found it difficult to get a point at home against Napoli and were then polished off easily by Bayern Munich.

At this level, ball retention is a good starting point, but with Barry missing and Toure and Johnson finding yellow shirts with ease, the simple processes that have given City their best ever start in the Premiership, were sadly absent last night.

That said the deal was for de Jong to lock the back door, Toure to provide the link and Silva to pick the locks at the other end.

In the early stages Silva was double-marked, the sliding defence also banking out Johnson most of the time.

Up top though Dzeko doesn’t have the mobility we have enjoyed from Balotelli in recent weeks and his Roque Santa Cruz style lead footed performance will not get him a starting berth at Old Traffords on Sunday.

Selecting the wrong channels or simply not moving at all he was generally easy meat for the Villareal defence where Marchena looked to be in reasonable command.

The wayward passing was not better demonstrated when of all people Silva’s pass to de Jong fell short, the ball promptly found it’s way to Rossi whose stinger was well saved by Hart. But Joe was in Munich mood and einstead of pushing it into the acres of space to his right and safety, he spewed it up to the lurking Cani who delighted the travelling hoards of seventeen away fans by sending City behind after only four minutes.

The Blues, for tonight inhabiting the entire level one were suddenly stunned.

Panic didn’t set in though. City played their patient, probing, waiting game but when the chances were created they almost always fell in the direction of Dzeko who had the sights of a fairground air rifle as the crowd were left shielding their heads all over the South Stand.

Johnson, getting nowhere fast was promptly replaced by Barry, perhaps to his chagrin, but this got the midfield moving a little better enabling Yaya to get on his bike and press from midfield to attack.

Nasri found the overlapping Kolarov and his cross in the general direction of Dzeko was turned into his own goal by the hitherto excellent Marchena. Dzeko for me even here was in the wrong slot but his presence clearly worried Marchena.

After this City started to take command but there was always a threat from the Villarealenses who when they got the ball broke quickly and directly, often leaving City looking short-handed and stretched at the back.

Dzeko continued to be profligate, but in the enforced absence of Balotelli was simply a means to an end and gone was the free-scoring form of the early season.

Lopez in the Villa real goal showed Hart how to do it when parrying a Dzeko shot to safety with Yaya awaiting a rebound. He made a number of saves from Dzeko when it was odds-on that the big Bosninan would trouble the scoreboard.

Even Zabalet got into space for a free header that could find its way to the netting.

The crowd were finding more solace in making paper balls and planes out of the blue and white sheets they were invited to hold up ahead of kick-off. Some of these found their way on to the field enforcing public address warnings, other simply bombarded the stewards on the perimeter track.

When the additional three minutes announcement went out it was signal for many to head for the exits but with the Benidorm Rolexes showing time was up, City had one last throw of the dice. An excellent build up down the right, once again saw Milner play a killer ball to Zabaleta.

The six yard line was flooded with Blue and yellow but the ball found its way to Sergio Aguero, who simply does not miss from there.

As the submarineros looked to the linesman with their hands up, Aguero was off to the corner and Mancini, Kidd and Platt were dancing in delight in the technical area.

I said after the Napoli game that this City team now knows how to ‘get something in adversity’ and it was demonstrated again last night, only this time City won.

Mancini still has to learn how to get his charges to unlock these European teams. This competition is definitely a step up in class and even the easier teams are hard to beat. In reality City are one of the ‘easier teams’.

The team didn’t play badly. The resources that Mancini put out should have been good enough to win last night’s match more comfortably, but for long periods the passing was off radar, including Silva and Nasri and Dzeko has a cow’s backside and banjo night. We have seen the true value of Balotelli’s red card against Dinamo Kyiv and subsequent three match European ban.

I have no doubt he will be back for the return match in Spain the week after next.

On balance City deserved to win, but they have to be smarter at this level. The beauty is though that with potential match winners now all over the field, there is a confidence and and off the field that many of us have never experienced on the rocky road that is following Manchester City.