El Centrocampista

THE GREAT ESCAPE! – Villarreal almost stun big-spending City

By Richard Thorburn

Although we are only in its infancy, it is fair to say that the opening few months of the 2011/2012 season have been one’s that Villarreal would have hoped to have gone better.

Lying in 14th place in La Liga with only a solidarity win to their name, a consecutive top four finish already appears unlikely.

And while the summer departure of winger Santiago Cazorla to cash rich Malaga certainly didn’t help, funds had been reinvested in key areas with the signings of Zapata, Uche, De Guzman and Camunas.

And yet despite this turbulent start, for ninety two minutes last night at the Ethiad Stadium, the ‘yellow submarines’ threatened to all but end Manchester City’s first venture into the Champions League.

Without a host of first team players due to injuries, Villarreal stunned the host’s in the third minute of the game after Cani pounced on a Joe Hart error to send the 17 – yes I counted – travelling contingent into raptures.

Bemusement, confusion and an air of surprise circulated around the City faithful.

This simply wasn’t how it was meant to pan out.

Already the whipping boys of group A after losses against Napoli and Bayern Munich, Villarreal were expected to simply roll over a succumb to their host’s frightening attacking prowess.

As the Villarreal team strolled around the Ethiad Stadium pre match taking more photos than a Japanese tourist, Roberto Mancini and his team’s confidence must been grew by ever flash of a camera.

Despite having a rich pedigree and experience in the Champions League that vastly outweighs that of new comers Manchester City, Garrido’s team almost looked in awe of their surroundings for the evening.

A ground that should everything go to plan, could well be home to the Premiership champions come May.

The script it seemed was already written.

A proud team that they are, there was little doubt that Villarreal would put up a spirited showing, but even the staunchest of Villarreal fan wouldn’t have entered the game with any great deal of hope.

Still at least they would have lots of pictures to show to their grand children in later years.

But Villarreal aren’t nicknamed the ‘yellow submarines’ for nothing. While the yellow needs no explanation, the submarine paying testament to the fact that they have a fondness for sinking the battleships of the big boys in La Liga.

Last night their targets were all lined up on Manchester City’s new and ever growing vessel, and despite the expensively assembled weaponry on City’s battleship, it was one that was very nearly sunk to the bottom of the Champions League sea.

Attacking with pace and gusto, Villarreal caused problems all night.

Rossi may be struggling with his form in La Liga, but time and time again he cut through the heart of a City defence who were finding it impossible to track his exceptional movement.

While it was back to the walls for many a period in both halves, especially the second, Rossi and Cani fed on the scraps that they were offered at times turning them into al a carte dinners.

Rarely have Vincent Kompany and Joelon Lescott been given such a torrid time this season.

Having scored the opener it was always likely that Villarreal would sit back, stick ten men behind the ball, and allow Manchester City to dictate play.

And while to a certain degree this did happen, it was far from the tactics of Everton last month whom came to the Ethiad without a recognised striker.

While the time wasting antics of the Villarreal men may have angered the home crowd and ultimately resulted in two yellow cards against them, no-one can accuse them of shutting up shop completely.

Manager Juan Carlos Garrido has had many critics this season, but yesterday he got his tactics spot on.

Identified as the key danger man, David Silva was man marked throughout the game with all but the slightest of space being granted to the former Valencia man.

Villarreal were always dominant in the middle of the park, and although Adam Johnson may have looked bemused when he was substituted for Gareth Barry, it was a tactical move that was very much needed at the time.

The equaliser came in unfortunate circumstances just on the brink of half time. A powerful cross from Alexanda Kolorov was turned into his own net by Marchena, with Edin Dzeko waiting to pounce should the Spanish veteran fail to clear the danger.

In Manchester City’s last Champions League game in Munich an Argentine allegedly refused to get off the bench to play. Last night Mancini was grateful that he had another one in his inventory who was raring to play against a side that has been hugely profitable for him. Scoring 4 goals in 5 games against the ‘yellow submarines’ for Athletico Madrid, step forward Sergio Aguero.

Fellow native Pablo Zabaleta provided the cross after some excellent work from James Milner and Manchester City’s Champions League dream was alive once again.

Despite the defeat, Villarreal must be encouraged by last night’s performance. With zero points from their opening three Champions League games any hope they may have had of progressing now appears over.

Focus now must shift to making sure that European nights are an occurrence at the El Madrigal stadium next season. As previously mentioned, they have left themselves with an uphill task, but a task that nonetheless can be conquered should they build on last night’s positives.

The small fishing town of Villarreal should be proud of their team despite the loss and although it looks near on impossible for them to progress in this year’s competition, they could well have a say on who does make it to the knockout stages.

The two teams meet again in a fortnight’s time in Villarreal, a game in which I will be at.

Keep reading elcentrocampista.com for all the build up to that game, plus an insight into what Valencia and Villarreal offer off the pitch.

And while I am hoping my venture into ‘travel writing’ may get plaudits from Michael Palin and friends, fellow Mancunian Karl Pilkington will probably be more nearer the mark.

This  writer may well turn out to be an idiot in Spain…

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