James Lawton: Mancini's glittering array of talent takes on a life of its own
David Silva must already be the purist’s choice as England’s player of the year
At the fourth time of asking, Roberto Mancini received the gift he most craved this side of a full regulation salute from a contrite mutineer named Carlos Tevez.
It was his team passing what might well be their final rite of passage, showing in one quite imperious moment, clear evidence that what they have been doing with ever increasing authority in English football can be reproduced quite as effortlessly in the Champions League.
Of course, this was hardly a caveat-free restoration of their weight in what was beginning to look an extremely problematical Group A. Villarreal, minus roughly half a first team that in the most robust of their good fortune could hardly guarantee a single place in their opponents' line-up, never looked capable of producing the kind of ferocious resistance that in the past has pushed so hard teams like Manchester United and Arsenal operating around the peak of their powers – or even a ghost of the fright they recently inflicted at the Etihad Stadium.
Still, City's greatest challenge was plainly the banishing of their own European demons and if there was any doubt about their ability to do so, it was eliminated beautifully with a combination of easy touch and power after half an hour.
By then even this broken Villarreal side which used to be a symbol of the competitive depth of La Liga might have nursed a few hopes that their conservative game could feed into any re-appearance of City frustration on the big stage.
It was, however, a sad, almost touching illusion. Between them, Yaya Touré and David Silva tore it into the smallest pieces. Between them, they showed why City's previous misadventures in Europe must have created so much angst in the reflections of their Italian manager.
Silva must already be the purist's choice as England's player of the year. All season he has been exploring the full range of his skill and vision and last night, on his return to native soil, it was though he was hell-bent on showing his countrymen how much poise and confidence he has accumulated in his Premier League adventure. Silva seized, yet again, on inviting space offered by the Villarreal cover and worked the smoothest of exchanges with Touré.
Touré scored the first of his two goals with such authority and timing that the idea, already consigned to history, that he arrived at City as a supreme example of their transfer largesse was made to seem still more bizarre.
Less strange has been the theory that there is an inherent problem in City's concept of creating a hugely rewarded playing staff whose guarantees of first-team involvement will always be less than clear. Yet such reservations, which surface regularly in the form of Tevez and even the highly talented but often disaffected Adam Johnson, are inevitably suppressed by the kind of virtuosity which City are now capable of producing almost as though they are turning a tap. Silva and Touré committed Villarreal to a terrible sense of futility – and it was a problem only compounded by the man who brought with him to Manchester his own retinue of doubt. Mario Balotelli could still bring anarchy to Evensong but here, also, there is an increasing sense of a formidable talent at increasing ease with itself.
He won and converted the softest of penalties, while he rarely had contact with the ball without creating new levels of Spanish dread.
Silva, Touré and Balotelli was an accumulation of talent calculated to undermine any level of opposition and when Sergio Aguero – the former Atletico Madrid striker who had merely freshened old wounds when he delivered the late sword stroke in the first game – entered last night's action in the second half, it was a final statement of the easiest of authority.
It will almost certainly not be so easy in Naples in the penultimate game, with Bayern Munich already on the brink of qualification for the sudden-death phase, but then the task is no doubt made easier by the sense of their own powers City had to carry into the Spanish night.
This flows from the growing evidence that they are a team for whom the smallest sign of self-doubt must be an increasing oddity. They are a side who are beginning, it is reasonable to presume, to understand the extent of their own powers.
For quite some time there was some legitimate doubt about the overall tactics of a team so richly endowed with talent.
Yet Mancini, a man for so long associated with the Italian passion for defensive security, has, it seems, outstripped the limitations he might once have been inclined to impose on this or any team. Mancini has found himself a core of brilliant talent and, you have to believe, it is beginning to take on a life of its own. It is one filled with the highest promise.
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