A win from this match and City would probably only need to beat one of Napoli and Bayern Munich to reach the knock-out stages. Anything less than a win and they will probably need to beat both. Those are the stakes. Roberto Mancini hasn't exactly gone gung-ho in pursuit of victory – he's left out Sergio Aguero and chosen Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy as full-backs rather than the more offensive Micah Richards and Alexsander Kolarov – but he's still got plenty of creative power on the pitch. Certainly much more than the hosts, who've only scored nine goals from 10 matches in La Liga this season and just one in the Champions League so don't look especially well equipped to expose the defensive fragility from which City, like all teams in England except Newcastle, currently suffer. But they showed in Manchester that they can still be dangerous and enjoyed a fair share of possession against a City side who may be stomping on everyone in England but have yet to look so authoritative in continental competition. They're improving with almost every match this season, however, as their confidence and familiarity with each other grows to complement the skill within the side. So injury-ravaged Villarreall could get a proper seeing to. On the other hand, it could be a night of expensive humiliation for the billionaires and, by extension, the domestic league in which they are hitting the Net more often than lusty teenagers.
What I'm saying is: I don't know what's going to happen but it's probably worth sticking around to find out.
Villarreal: Diego Lopez; Gaspar, Rodriguez, Musacchio, Catala; Marchena, Valero' De Guzman, Perez, Mubarak; Joselu
Subs: Sanchez, Oriol, Lopz, Bordas, Gullon, Tomas, Fofo
City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Savic, Clichy; De Jong, Y Touré; Milner, Silva, Nasri; Balotelli
Subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Dzeko, Johnson, Kolarov, Aguero, Barry
Ref: P Proenca (Port)
1 min: Villarreal are go.
3 min: After a bit of tentative probing from both sides, Perez decides to have a pop from 30 yards. His shot is well-struck but straight at Hart.
4 min: Balotelli watch: his first notable contribution is a foxy reverse flick to Silva, who, alas, is quickly closed down by Villarreal defenders.
7 min: City are starting to dictate matters, at least until they get to the Spanish box, which they have yet to infiltrate. This makeshift Villarreal side are defending in great numbers, "Paul , regarding the last line of your preamble ['I don't know what's going to happen but it's probably worth sticking around to find out'], have you thought of a new career as a boxing promoter?" wonders Phil Sawyer. "You'd make a refreshing change from the usual 'This is going to be the fight of the century!!! preceding 12 rounds of two men leaning on each other."
10 min: It's a lazy-paced game so far. Watching it is a bit like sitting in the back seat of your parents' on a drizzly Sunday afternoon drive to your grandparents, who you know will be asleep when you get there. Come on Mario, live this up please!
14 min: Balotelli is looking a little isolated up front as City aren't getting support to him fast enough. Ah, but Mario can always find a way to make himself the centre of a melée - and a rash foul on Perez sparks a mini-kerfuffle. But, surprisingly, no yellow card for the italian. "Given that I can't see the game or name a single Villarreal player, I thought I would weigh in with a diverting email thread," announces Hugh Colins. "Is David Silva the best trequartista in the Premiership since Berkamp was in his defence-slicing pomp?" Yes. Well, that was diverting.
17 min: De Guzman deposits a splendid pass at the feet of Joselu, who is free in the chasm between Kompany and Savic. But the striker's control was as sloppy as City's defending and he allows the ball to run to Hart.
18 min: This is not good from City. Having established in the first 10 minutes that they have the capacity to dominate this team, they have become infected by sluggishness and allowed Villarreal to get back into it and even start to threaten around the box. "We started off with lusty teenagers and now we have sleeping grandparents?" laments Tim Smith. "What happened?" That's what City have done to us, Tim.
22 min: Nasri and Silva exchanges pass on the edge of the Villarreal box and then try to flip it throughout the Balotelli, but accuracy is absent. Again. City need to improve.
25 min: In the other match in this group, Bayern are already 2-0 against Napoli, which probably means they will not need to win when they go to Manchester. And that Napoli will need to beat City.
28 min: Could this be the spark that ignites this match? Villarreal wanted City to kick the ball out of play to allow Gaspar to come back on the pitch following injury but City - quite rightly - refused. As the crowd booed bitterly, Villarreal lost the head and conceded a freekick right outside their box. Amid a furious din, Silva curls .... a damp squib of a shot into the wall. Oh well.
GOAL! Villarreal 0-1 City (Touré 30') That's a lovely goal, albeit aided by ropey defending by Rodriguez, who wrongly anticipated that Silva would pass out wide so rushed off to intercept, leaving Touré free at the edge of the box, on the left-hand side. Silva slipped the ball through to him and the Touré side-footed a low shot beyond the keeper and into the far corner.
33 min: It would take freakish negligence for City to lose this now. This second-string Villarreal side are very limited.
36 min: Nearly a second for City, who are lording it over their opponents now. They worked Silva to the right-hand byline and he dinked the ball across the face of goal, where Balotelli just failed to get a touch. In another mood he might have hurled himself at it head-first.
38 min: Catala booked for chopping down Silva, whose influence is growing like one of those magic beanstalks folks used to be able to buy.
40 min: Freekick to City, wide on the right. But Milner's delivery fails to beat the first defender. "Does the fact that Dzeko seems to have not taken advantage of many chances (from on and off the field) to cement a place ahead of Balotelli say more about him or Mario?" blathers Zacah Neeley. "The shift seemed to happen fast." Reckon it says more about Balotelli - he's simply a more complete player than Dzeko when in the groove, as he has been recently.
43 min: De Guzman fires a shot at Hart from 25 yards, and the keeper is grateful for having something to do, not grateful enough to let it slip into the net, of course. "This deep into the Manchester City Experiment, shouldn't we all despise them with a vengeance?" interjects Gary Naylor. "Except we don't really do we? They're too pretty, too bonkers and too much fun to watch to dislike aren't they? Nothing a Premier League title or Champions League won't cure though." The other quality that they have that you didn't mention is that they're new, in a title-challenging sense. It'd be good to see the status quo shaken up. And then it would be good to see that new status quo shaken up too, and on and on and on until football explodes.
45+1 min: PENALTY TO CITY! And it's a silly decision by the ref, who seems to think that Musacchio shoved Balotelli to the ground as they chased a loose ball in the box, though in reality any contact was irrelevant to the forward's fall.
GOAL! Villarreal 0-2 City (Balotelli, pen, 45+3) With monumental composure Balotelli sends the keeper one way and rolls the ball the other, all the way to the net. Game over.
Half-time: After a sluggish first half hour, City have taken total control here. They could win by a hat-full, especially if the ref keeps giving penalties like the one that led to Balotelli's goal. "Another reason we don't hate City is the absence of Jose Mourinho who gave great press during the Chelsea project but in football terms was a finely honed joy killing machine," storms Niall Mullen. "Also the absence of JT helps."
46 min: Play resumes and within the first minute we see a fine tackle by Milner and a wonderful twirl and dart by Silva. "Why's it still called a dug out when it's patently not?" demands to know Bill Chilton, who fails to suggest an alternative. Sub station?
50 min: City player. To another City player. To another City player. To another City player. And so on. With no particular urgency or purpose, other than to keep the ball away from Villarreal.
53 min: Villarreal get bored of chasing the ball and decide the best way to to get a break is to boot Silva to the ground and concede a freekick, right outside their box.
54 min: Balotelli blems the freekick into the wall, off which it deflects for a corner. As Nasri goes over to take it he is assailed by all manner of object. Well, not quite all manner, since I didn't notice anyone throwing an Atari games console or a tractor, but there were a couple of bottles and coins and whatnot.
57 min: For the second time in a few minutes, Balotelli wellies a wayward shot from distance into the stands. Now, let's hear what Harry Tuttle has to say on the subject of creeping City love. "The reason is that we all know that it's going to end really badly. I think even City supporters know this. They're just along for the ride, laughing on the rollercoaster to hell."
60 min: A token attack from Villarreal concludes with a harmless shot from 20 yards by Valero.
63 min: Silva winces after sustaining some manner of back bother. Cue limbering up action on the sideline by Adam Johnson. "I can't imagine there are many Man U or Arsenal fans not despising City," growls David Leech. "Especially with the ex-Arsenal stars leading their revolution... Platt, Marwood, Veiria, etc, etc. Not sure what the difference between despising and sheer outright jealously is though!"
64 min: Silva gets a tremendous ovation from his fellow Spaniards in the crowd as he leaves the pitch following another enchanting display. He takes a seat in the sub station and maintains an agonised look on his face. Will be interesting to find out how serious that injury is. Meanwhile, Johnson is on.
67 min: Perez becomes the fifth Villarreal player to get a yellow card, for a ridiculous foul on Balotelli.
GOAL! Villarreal 03 City (Touré 71') Another beautifully executed goal by Touré, who received a throughball from Nasri, twinkled his way twixt two defenders then showed supreme coolness to slot it into the net from 15 yards.
74 min: City change: Touré off, Aguero on, to ferocious denunciation from the home fans, who believe he mocked Villarreal after scoring a last-minute winner against them in the first match, and also scored a contentious goal against them when playing for Atletico Madrid. What odds he'll score again tonight?
76 min: Villarreal subs: Lopez (who has been out injured since January) on for De Guzman; and Bordas comes on for Mubarak.
79 min: "How can anyone begrudge City's moment in the sun after all the heartaches they've suffered over the last 30 plus years?" wibbles Ian Burch. "They'll be plenty of time to despise them when they've hoovered up all of the world's best players and are winning the EPL every year by 20 points." Many more one-sided matches likes this one will certainly become tedious.
82 min: City switch: Balotelli off, Kolarov on. "As an Arsenal fan, I just accept that City will buy as many good players as it can keep happy and hope Arsenal can somehow compete," parps David Longenecker. "The odds are stacked heavily against consistent success. Players-most anyway-go to the highest bidder. Arsenal (and its fans) have dealt with an albeit less exaggerated version of this for at least 6 years, partly by using Oligarch/Sheik funds to rebuilt. It will be interesting to see how Man U's fans/players/manager deal with the reality of a bigger kid on the block."
84 min: A Villarreal change that will not alter the course of events: Perez off, Joan Oriol on.
86 min: In the group's other game, Napoli, who were trailing 3-0 to a Gomez hat-trick, have just scored their second goal. Could the comeback be on?
88 min: The match has long since entered a condition that is a lot like Friday afternoon at work, with folks just going to the motions and waiting to be released from their chores. Nothing productive going on out there now.
Full-time: That was very, very comfortable for City. Second-string Villarreal were no match for them and victory was secured with two lovely Yaya Touré goals and a Balotelli penalty. Tougher assignments await for City.