Villarreal manager Juan Carlos Garrido is known for his post-match press conferences. Sid Lowe was at the Bernabéu for one of our lower points in recent times. But our manager was spot on today: "We had an excellent attitude."
That's the nicest way to describe Villarreal 0-3 Manchester City on matchday 4 of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League. The Citizens controlled play from the start and scored on their first shot on target. But things were truly decided by a controversial penalty. To the recap we go.
Villarreal (4-2-3-1): D. López; Mario, Gonzalo, Musacchio, Catalá; Marchena, Wakaso; Pérez, Borja, de Guzmán; Joselu.
I had expected Marcos Gullón to pair with Carlos Marchena in the doble pivote, but Wakaso Mubarak got the start. A big chance for the Ghanaian youngster.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Kompany, Zabaleta, Savić, Clichy; de Jong, Y. Touré; Milner, Nasri, Silva; Balotelli.
Aleksandar Kolarov and Jolean Lescott did not start in back, while brash Italian striker Mario Balotelli got the nod up front. No let-off for our defense there.
Villarreal changed its system to account for the plague of injuries that has descended upon El Madrigal. The Yellow Submarine sat back, ceded possession, and looked for opportunities on the break. And for 30 minutes, Garrido would have been very pleased with the results.
Had Joselu shown more of a center forward's killer instinct, we may even have snuck a goal. But a poor first touch and a correct offside decision negated his two best opportunities. The pichichi of the Segunda worked tirelessly on an island up front, so I have no complaints. Getting a Champions League start before your first in La Liga is quite a tall order.
But on the half-hour mark, a poor Villarreal turnover gave the ball to David Silva in space. Silva is well-known to us from his days at Valencia and with La Furia Roja, so the resulting magic came as no surprise. The Spaniard laid the ball off to Yaya Touré, another familiar face from a stint at Barcelona.
What was impressive: Touré's center forward-like finish from just inside the box. Absolutely no chance for Diego López. The downside of that play: the poor defending of Gonzalo Rodríguez. Our Argentine center back gave entirely too much space to the Ivory Coast international, and he made no mistake.
30': 0-1 Touré
Man City poured it on after the goal, which came on its first shot on target. But we survived a bit of an onslaught and looked to go into the break within striking distance. Then came the polémica of the match.
Balotelli, already on a yellow, stood at the edge of the box with a defender on him. With the allotted one minute of stoppage time already up, the Italian international nutmegged José Manuel Catalá and headed for the byline. Gonzalo was in good position, so the ball likely would have been swept away for a throw-in and possibly the half time whistle. And there was no real danger in the attack.
But two factors coincided to sink the Yellow Submarine. First, Mateo Musacchio made a rash attempt to arm-barge Balotelli, as is common in the European game and England. Musacchio did not reach his target, so he extended a hand and pushed the Italian striker in the small of his back. A dumb play under any circumstances.
Second, Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca destroyed any chance our "B team" had to get a result. For example, 5-1 in yellow cards to our rough and tumble bunch against the gentle English side. And a penalty award for a slight push in the side of a 6'2", 194-pound striker. Who went down like a sack of potatoes. With no chance of any goal-scoring opportunity.
Give Balotelli credit: he converted the penalty with ease (and typical arrogance). But the whistle could have gone for a foul he committed on Gonzalo after the contact with Musacchio. Or even a second yellow card for diving, though it would have been harsh. Speaking of which, Silva was also guilty of embellishment to earn a few free kicks. All in all, despite what the ITV feed bloviated on about the break, it was not a penalty.
The visitors' official Twitter feed put it best (h/t Arron Duckling):
CITY HAVE A PENALTY. NOT SURE HOW!?!?!
45+3': 0-2 Balotelli (pen.)
And with the penalty and half time whistle went our belief. Garrido left his starting XI in too long, as is often the case. Just as we started to stretch our lines in the final quarter of the match, the visitors sealed the deal.
Man City played a ball in behind our high back line, and Balotelli picked out Touré in space. The "defensive midfielder" embarrassed Gonzalo on the edge of the box, then beat a helpless López with a precise shot. A goal worthy of a match-winner, unlike Balotelli's "penalty".
71': 0-3 Touré
With the result no longer in doubt, both sides slowed the pace even further. Garrido made a double switch to bring on Ángel López and Gerard Bordas, finally providing Joselu with company up top. Ángel got a nice ovation after nearly ten months on the shelf and got forward well in a right midfield role. Joan Oriol also got a run-out after an extended spell in the doghouse. Some positives at the end of a long match.
Full Time: 0-3
You wonder how we would have responded going into half time at 0-1. Jonathan de Guzmán had just tested Joe Hart with a long-range effort before Balotelli's penalty, and we were in the ascendancy.
But a result was not a realistic goal, and so it proved over 90 minutes. Memories of a lifetime for many Villarreal players, and it's nice to know the future is bright. After all, 11 of our 18 squad members were from the cantera.