Villarreal 0 - 3 Manchester City: Five Thoughts

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 02: Yaya Toure of Manchester City celebrates scoring to make it 3-0 during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Villareal CF and Manchester City at El Madrigal on November 2, 2011 in Villarreal, Spain. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

A comfortable evening all told. After Mario Balotelli stroked home a penalty on the stroke of half-time the game was as good as won and once a twinkle-toed Yaya Toure put City three goals to the good the final thirty or so minutes were played out at a canter. If the first two games in the group highlighted a degree of naivety in City's play at this level, the game in Villarreal - where admittedly they had the fortune of playing a depleted and likely demoralised side - provided not only confidence, but evidence that they have begun to find their feet. The performance was a composed one, with passages of play more akin to their Premier League form than some of the struggles seen in the Champions League.

A single moment can sometimes be the springboard and Sergio Aguero's goal in injury time at home to Villarreal in the first game between the two sides more and more looks to have marked a real turning point in City's fortunes. Let's not forget too that this marked City's first win away from home in Europe since their opening game away from home against Salzburg in last seasons Europa League. On the whole, City have struggled on their travels in Europe in recent times but the win (and more importantly the performance) did bode well for the future.

Villarreal were undeniably hampered by the absences to their line-up, which meant a much changed look from that which took the field at The Etihad Stadium. Early on in particular it was apparent that their gameplan was one of aiming to stop City, with David Silva in particular the focus of much attention. Roberto Mancini's side was heavy on creativity in midfield yet - the wide areas aside - there was little room for manoeuvre during the initial stages and it perhaps needed more from the likes of Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure and James Milner from an attacking standpoint. To their credit though, City remained patient and got their reward when Silva found space to set up Toure for a well taken opening goal.

The side that Mancini put out was an interesting one; particular focus was placed on the replacement of Joleon Lescott by Stefan Savic. The consensus view was that this had been done with an eye on QPR this coming Saturday when Vincent Kompany is of course suspended. It is not the first time that Lescott has been jettisoned in the Champions League though and in his absence the trio of Kompany, Savic and Nigel de Jong were exemplary in their passing completion. Also absent was Gareth Barry, who despite being a stalwart in the Premier League has noticeably struggled in the Champions League, and it may be that both Lescott and Barry are by no means first choice now in Europe.

With the other result in Group A - Bayern holding off a late comeback from Napoli to win 3-2 - City jumped into second place, three points behind Bayern but crucially now two points clear of the Italians. The clash in Italy on November 22nd should be some game and what will be interesting is how both sides approach it. City, knowing a point leaves their fate in their own hands still also know a win will seal their passage to the knock-out stages (and keep alive hopes of topping the group), whilst Napoli cannot afford to gamble on taking a point and moving on to the final round of games. This for me is where it will be interesting as the numbers so far clearly show that Napoli are a counter-attacking side (something we witnessed in Manchester too) but how will they fare knowing a less cautious approach is required?

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