Manchester City yesterday ventured back on to the Continent seeking to banish the memory of their pitifully poor night in Munich, though there was still no forgetting the man, absent from their British Airways flight, who is proving so obstinately difficult to leave behind.
Roberto Mancini, the man who in an emotional post-match press conference at the Allianz Arena four weeks back, declared that Carlos Tevez was "finished" at City, said minutes before boarding the flight to eastern Spain that Tevez could play again if he would only say sorry. "Every day, every morning, all of us can make a mistake," he said. "It is important to apologise for what you do and finish. I think it is. I asked him to apologise. It is easy. These are easy words. Always."
The manager, who had been asked by his club not to broach this subject, was speaking more in desperation than hope. "Finishing" with Tevez has not been as easy as he thought when he claimed in Munich that the 27-year-old had refused to appear as a substitute. It is understood that Article 15 of Fifa's regulations – which may allow Tevez to terminate his contract if City refuse to field him – has now been pointed out to the manager.
Mancini admitted that an apology is what he sought when he invited Tevez to a 1am meeting at his Alderley Edge home on 13 October, the day he flew in from Argentina to be told he faced a misconduct hearing. "Yes, yes – [but that was] 20 days ago, not yesterday," Mancini said, his exasperation also evident. "[As a player] I always apologised. Yes, every time. I told Carlos 20 days ago to apologise." He rejected the idea that an apology was hard in many areas of life – "I think these are easy words: very, very easy" – though his assertion that the Argentine's entourage are making him so hard to reach was hardly an olive branch to the Tevez camp. "I don't know his agent but I think that probably the people who stay around him don't advise him well," Mancini said. The Tevez camp last night declined to comment on Mancini's views.
There is also concern at the highest level of the club, whose likely six-week fine of Kolo Touré is expected to be confirmed by next Monday, that Tevez is treated properly on a day-to-day basis, to avoid a constructive dismissal case. At the very least, Tevez seems likely to rejoin first-team training in the near future and since Article 15 states that he must play for 10 per cent of City's total game time or be entitled to terminate his contract under "sporting just cause" next summer, he may get the equivalent of four full games.
For tonight, at least, the spectre of Tevez can be dismissed as Mancini seeks to make good the one blot on City's season to date: Europe. The manner of their destruction by Bayern Munich, after a promising first half-hour, suggested the Premier League may be flattering them and Mancini admitted the 2-0 defeat had provided a lesson. "At the moment [Bayern] are better than us in this competition," he said. "But maybe – if we stay in [the tournament] then in two months we may play them in the quarter final," he said. "If we do then I think everything will change."
There should be less naivety tonight than in Munich, where his players forgot what he told them about Franck Ribéry, attacked in numbers and left Gareth Barry facing a flood tide. "After 1-0 maybe we got too deep as a team [in Munich]," Mancini reflected. "We conceded a lot of space."
Sergio Aguero's last-gasp winner in Manchester against Juan Carlos Garrido's side – whose four key absentees tonight include Giuseppe Rossi and Marcos Senna – kept the European adventure very much alive, though the Argentine's tunnel row after the 2-1 win may have stored up some trouble.
Mancini also looks to Mario Balotelli, returning to the Champions League with a reputation which seemed so unlikely when he was sent off in his last game against Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League in March. A win is a prerequisite against a side languishing 13th in La Liga. Mancini is already looking to the tie at Napoli on 22 November as the one which will dictate progress.
City's 33 goals in nine Premier League games is the most by any top-flight side since the 19th century and if the continue at that rate they will score 138 – a full 33 goals better than Chelsea's 2010 record. "Records are there so that one team can eventually beat them but this one is impossible," grinned Mancini, adding that he could do with winning 1-0 – "the Italian way", as he put it.
Mario Gaspar v Mario Balotelli
The small Spaniard has been part of the defence that has leaked 24 goals this season and cedes height to the in-form Balotelli, who makes his first European start of the season after serving a suspension.
Carlos Marchena v David Silva
Silva has been in inspirational form in the Premier League but has struggled at times in Europe. Marchena will be deployed with the task of preventing his compatriot from having time on the ball.
Joselu v Vincent Kompany
Villarreal's injury problems leave Joselu to lead the line on his own. The City captain will aim to stifle the striker, who makes just his second appearance for the club.