If Manchester City's opening two fixtures in the Champions League were all about a sense of occasion, what follows is all about cold, hard results. Their first match, against Napoli, was wrapped up in the emotions of returning to compete for a European Cup that, bar one disastrous encounter in 1968, had entirely passed the club by. The second, in Munich, saw them take their place among the continent's old-moneyed elite.
The first was a disappointment and the second a disaster. As Roberto Mancini acknowledged, no member of the Champions League aristocracy, whether at Manchester United or Bayern Munich, would have refused to play as Carlos Tevez supposedly did.
The black, choking smoke from that night in the Allianz Arena is still obscuring the fact that Bayern, one of Sir Alex Ferguson's tips to win the European Cup on their own ground in May, outplayed the talented arrivistes from Eastlands. Yesterday, there was an acknowledgement that, should Manchester City stumble against Villarreal, the adventure might be almost up.
Failure would not significantly undermine Mancini's position, not least because unlike his predecessor, Mark Hughes, he has spent Abu Dhabi's oil money remarkably well. One of his most glittering signings, David Silva, was sat next to him yesterday at the club's training headquarters at Carrington. "It is a very important match for us," Silva said more than once. "We have to get those three points and, if we don't, there will be some distance between us and the teams at the top of the group. The difference is that in the Premier League we have had a lot of games under our belts while in the Champions League we have played only twice and they have been against top teams. We need matches to get the same consistency."
Samir Nasri, Silva and Sergio Aguero, who should have recovered from an abductor strain, were all held back against Aston Villa and given the ease of City's victory, barely required. Silva was introduced when the game was in its death throes as a contest.
Although Villarreal always looked the weakest members of Group A, they will defend rather better than Alex McLeish's side. However, they have lost both their opening matches in the Champions League and have picked up a lone victory in La Liga and that against a Real Mallorca side that was about to dispense with its manager, Michael Laudrup. Villarreal's head coach, Juan Carlos Garrido, has been further hampered by the loss of their Brazilian forward, Nilmar, whose knee injury will keep him out of this game and the return early next month.Reuse content