VILLARREAL 0, MANCHESTER CITY 3
City are just one more win away from qualifying for the Champions League group phase after two goals by Yaya Toure and one by Mario Balotelli saw off early resistance from a makeshift Villarreal side to became the first English side to win at El Madrigal.
It became an easy win in the end as the injury ravaged home side seemed to give up in the second half with domestic worries coming back to the fore after they realised they were out of the Champions League.
City manager Roberto Mancini had made changes again, mindful of the forthcoming flurry of games, with starts for Stefan Savic, Nigel de Jong, James Milner, and Mario Balotelli after the Italian had completed a 3 match European ban.
Mancini had banged his head on the dugout during the game and was glad to achieve the win but was quick to point out that City still had a difficult campaign ahead of them:
“I took a hard knock. It was the same when I came here five years ago with Inter!” smiled Mancini. “I am happy with this win because anything can happen in the Champions League. We want to continue to play well if that’s possible.”
“Every game is hard, and we have another game in sixty hours so we’ll need to change some players.” he admitted.
City once again started confidently but perhaps too cautiously having conceded the first goal in each of their three Champions League fixtures this season. David Silva found himself being increasingly pressurised as the home side tried to stifle the threat presented by the Spanish midfielder as City sought to prise an opening.
No English side had ever won at El Madrigal before tonight and for much of the first half it seemed that though the home side could continue the record and Joe Hart was given an early test by Hernan Perez whose early pot shot from distance made the England keeper dive to make a save.
It took until the half hour mark for the first goal and it was City who drew first blood.
Roberto Mancini had earlier hit his head on the roof of the City dugout and was later seen nursing a sore head with a bag of ice but Yaya Toure offered the perfect remedy with the opening goal.
Silva had broken free of his marker and pushed the ball to Yaya Toure on the edge of the area before feinting to the left as though to receive a return ball from the Ivory Coast midfielder. Toure saw the space in front of him open up as Villarreal’s defenders tried to cover Silva’s run and struck his shot sweetly into the far corner past ‘keeper Diego Lopez.
Mario Balotelli’s soft penalty deep into first half added time completely deflated the home side as the Portugese referee gave penalised Mateo Musacchio for a nudge on Balotelli in the area for which the Italian duly went down before picking himself up and executing a stuttering run up to send Lopez the wrong way.
It was Balotelli’s seventh goal in as many games and seemed like the goal that would end the Villarreal resistance.
The second half felt like a training match as the home side had given up the fight, and Mancini’s only concern was what looked like a knock to his back that forced David Silva off after 65 minutes.
The home fans inside El Madrigal knew it was all over by the time City sliced through a demoralised Villarreal defence in the 71st minute after Samir Nasri fed Mario Balotelli down the left flank and the Italian’s square ball put Toure clean through for City’s third.
Bayern Munich’s 3-2 victory against Napoli put City’s fate back in their own hands and they will know that a win against either of these sides will guarantee a place in the knockout stage.