In the Champion’s League group of death Manchester City’s double-header with Villarreal was always going to be their best chance of an easy kill. Though the Spanish side have a decade of experience at this level and have never yet failed to qualify from the group stages they are undeniably a team on the wane, a fact not exactly helped by long-term injuries to their devastating front duo Rossi and Nilmar amongst a litany of other absentees.
Nothing however could have prepared us for last night’s quite frankly bizarre developments as a typically excitable Peter Drury repeatedly informed viewers throughout the game that Juan Carlos Garrido, Villarreal’s coach, had spent the day trawling the Castellón province for any man, woman or child who was able to walk without hobbling and therefore eligible for his starting eleven.
In the event I think he found six amateur footballers, two farmers, a retired bull fighter and a Renée and Renato tribute act.
Sarcasm aside it really was thoroughly tedious how the commentary team obsessed over Villarreal’s missing five first-team regulars on an evening when an English side triumphed in the El Madrigal for the first time and did so with such emphatic dominance of possession. 65% overall. In a tricky fixture that City needed to win to have any realistic chance of progressing to the knock-outs they came, they saw, they conquered and did so playing as if wearing carpet slippers. It was an impressive, professional performance the maturity of which should concern future opposition as much as the recent sensational goal sprees.
As many others have discovered this term it is nigh on impossible to separate boot, glue and ball with Merlin
Perhaps most mature of all was Ballotelli. Who knew that such a sentence would ever be structured? Regardless the man David Silva described pre-match as ‘not mad, just unpredictable’ confounded expectation once again by brushing off a long charge-sheet of fouls against him with a nonchalant air of disdain before stroking home his seventh goal in seven games. An inexplicable meltdown is inevitably in the post at some point but for now all seems to be right in Super Mario land and perhaps it is no coincidence that the extravagantly gifted Italian is settling into a serious relationship away from football. There will always be fireworks of course but the tinderbox temperament seems to have been put in temporary storage.
Though Villarreal’s missing personnel was certainly a factor for this distinctly one-sided affair there can be no excuse for the way they gave up the fight after a brisk, confident start. Brittle belief is one thing but meekly waving the flag of surrender as soon as they concede borders on the disgraceful. From the moment Yaya Toure strode through to put City ahead the game slowed to a testimonial pace in key areas namely the entire City half as the Spaniards contented themselves with swarming yellow shirts around the impish Silva. As many others have discovered this term it is nigh on impossible to separate boot, glue and ball with Merlin so they resorted to swiping his legs away at every opportunity instead. The ref, to his credit, blew for every one; in fact in stark contrast to Stuart Attwell’s inept display last Saturday here was an official seemingly implanted in City’s corner. Hopefully this weekend there will be a man in black not taking sides because the astonishing manner in which City are sweeping all opposition aside of late they require neither help nor hindrance in this regard.
This all-too-comfortable victory means that group A now makes for much more pleasant viewing for blues but in reality it merely gives them a fighting chance. With a perilous trip to Naples up ahead followed by a momentous home clash to Bayern the death-games are still to come. This was City’s easy kill and, though they deserve due kudos for the accomplished manner of the execution, considering the way Villarreal rolled over it really amounted to euthanasia.
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