Champions League verdict: Manchester City 2 Villarreal 1
Goals: Marchena og 42, Aguero 90+3 for City. Cani 4 for Villarreal.
City clocked up their first win in the Champions League thanks to an injury time strike from Sergio Aguero. Roberto Mancini called it “lucky” and the overall performance left a lot to be desired, but our Champions League campaign is finally up and running.
As expected Mancini made several changes from the side that trounced Aston Villa. Dzeko and Nasri were both restored to the attack, while Zabaleta and Kolarov came in at full-back.
After sloppily conceding an early goal, City took the game to the Spaniards. Against a packed defence, chances were hard to come by and Mancini decided to make a tactical switch, sacrificing Adam Johnson and pushing Yaya further forward.
The Ivorian did cause problems with his strength, touch and direct running. With a Kolarov cross being diverted home by Marchena the sides went in level at half-time and Mancini’s substitution was deemed a success.
This was true insofar as it got more out of Yaya and gave balance by forcing Nasri to play wider. However Nasri’s best play came when he was taking a central role and linking with Silva. Out wide he drifted onto the periphery of the game. When we again lost our way in the second-half, having Johnson on the flank might have helped.
Zabaleta and Kolarov each made key contributions to the goals yet their lack of pace is a factor in our build-up play looking sluggish at times. Throughout the second half Villarreal exploited Kolarov’s poor defensive qualities, forcing Lescott and Barry to come across and cover for the Serbian.
The City coaching staff were clearly concerned as they sent Clichy out to warm up midway through the second half. It’s to be hoped Gael plays against United.
In the event Mancini needed to make attacking substitions as the second goal refused to come. It’s worth remembering that without playing great, City had managed to create several openings in each half.
One would have backed either Balotelli or an in-form Tevez to score against the Spaniards. Instead we had another poor performance from Dzeko. It’s now six games since his last City goal and there have to be concerns about whether he can get back to his August form. If not, there’s a lot of pressure on Balotelli and Aguero, unless Tevez and Mancini can make up.
If Tevez does go in January and Mancini is given significant money to sign a replacement, then we could do worse than Guiseppe Rossi. The Italian was linked with City over the Summer, before we signed Aguero, and is likely to move from Villarreal next Summer.
Here it was down to Aguero to provide the winner. Prior to that he had also struggled to make an impression. The Argentine looked to be lacking match sharpness after his lay-off, but as with his first goal for the club, he scored thanks to his positional sense taking him to the far post to turn a cross home.
James Milner had made more of an impact coming on from the bench. His industry had been lacking from the midfield and it was his carrying the ball forward and playing a reverse pass for Zabaleta that created the goal.
Just prior to that he nearly fashioned the winner with a an excellent cross for Zabaleta to head on goal. It’s great to see James in good form and there’s a case for starting him against United.
Thankfully City triumphed and are still in the mix for qualifying. Though there’s still much to do if we’re to make the knockout stages.
Here the lack of spark in the penalty area seemed to spread back through the team, making for an increasingly laboured display. The return of Mario and a fitter Aguero should hopefully prevent a repeat.