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 in a marquee erected in the grounds of the club's training headquarters at Carrington.
However, although Silva smiled when reminded of the beautiful goals he had scored for Spain against Scotland, one of which included 41 passes, the midfielder's face rarely flickered beyond a serious, tight-lipped focus. The memories of great goals could wait; talk of Sunday's Manchester derby could wait. What was needed were Champions League points.
"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.
However, although Villarreal always looked the weakest members of Group A, they will defend rather better than Alex McLeish's side. This will be their 12th game against English opposition in either the Champions League or the Europa League and the previous 11 have seen them concede seven times. Three of those were to Arsenal at the Emirates in the 2009 quarter-finals but they have forced four successive goalless draws against Manchester United.
However, Villarreal 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 the services of 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 at El Madrigal early next month.
"We only need one victory," said Mancini. "And if we beat Villarreal, everything can change for us in the group. It is not important that we play well, it is important that we win. If we can win, we can still win the group.
"We have players who are experienced and who are mature enough to do this but we also need our supporters."
Mancini has been at pains to point out that it is not how you start but how you finish in the Champions League. His first taste of the competition as a manager, with Lazio, saw them take four points from their opening two games and finish last.
Few English teams outside the "Big Four" have qualified for the Champions League proper but of those who have, Leeds,Tottenham and Newcastle, who under Sir Bobby Robson lost their first three games and still finished second, have made it through the groups and often at the expense of league form. Manchester City, however, have always dared to be different.Reuse content