It may have taken longer than expected, but Manchester City finally got their first Champions League win under their belts on Tuesday night, thanks to Sergio Aguero’s strike in the dying seconds of injury time.
Many had predicted a relatively easy night for City, with opponents Villarreal currently sitting in 13th place in La Liga after a dreadful start to the domestic season. They had also lost both of their opening two Champions League games in unspectacular fashion. All signs pointed to a routine City win, especially with them currently flying high at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
In reality though, football matches are rarely easy or routine – especially in the Champions League and it took just 4 minutes for that reality to sink home. City were sloppy in possession within their own half, allowing former United striker Giuseppe Rossi to get a low drive in on goal. Joe Hart was equal to it, but could only push the ball into the path of Cani who cooly slotted in the rebound.
City were stunned and as the half went on the home fans grew more impatient. Manager Mancini shared the crowds frustration as he made a tactical substitution after 39 minutes, bringing on Gareth Barry to shore up the midfield in replacement of the ineffective Adam Johnson.
There was some relief however, when City drew level two minutes before half time. Kolarov swung a dangerous ball into the box which was turned into his own net by unfortunate defender Marchena.
In the second half the game swung from end to end, as Villarreal mostly contained City, but as time started to run out the chances became more frequent. Both Edin Dzeko and Pablo Zabaleta missed glorious chances and it looked for all the world as if City would be set for more frustration, on the brink of a third game without a win in the group stage.
But with literally seconds remaining on the clock, substitute Aguero darted into the far post to meet Zabaleta’s deflected cross and score the winner. A goal which sent euphoria around the Etihad stadium and sheer relief to boss Roberto Mancini.
Mancini admitted “We were lucky because you need luck to score in the last seconds”. “At this moment everything can happen in the group but we also know when we go to Villarreal in 15 days it will be a hard game because they are a very good team who played really well.”
While the result was the most important aspect on the night, the performance will definitely be cause for concern for Mancini. In reality, a draw wouldn’t have been an unfair result and with tough trips to Spain and Italy to come with Bayern Munich their remaining home game, City know that they will need to play much better if they are to progress to the knockout stages.
The result leaves them with 4 points in 3rd place, just one point behind Napoli and three behind leaders Bayern. Mancini believes that the Napoli game will be their most important in the group:
“This game will be very important – 100%. We play Villarreal before Napoli. It will be a crucial game in Italy but I don’t know for which position in the group. It is still open for the first or second place.”
Before that, comes the small matter of the Manchester derby on Sunday, a game which everybody associated with City knows will be the litmus test for their domestic title credentials. Win, and the red half of Manchester will finally sit up and take notice. Lose, and the “noisy neighbour” tag may stick around for some time yet.