Manchester City 3-1 Aston Villa: Pep Guardiola’s champions bounce back from Premier League charges and Spurs defeat thanks to first-half goals from Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez… meaning they’ll go TOP with a win at Arsenal on Wednesday
- City dominated the game throughout and were unlucky not to score more on a comfortable afternoon
- There was worry for Guardiola’s side with Erling Haaland seemingly suffering a thigh injury in the first half
- The club have been subject to charges relating to financial breaches from the Premier League this week
Manchester City supporters have now added the Premier League to their lengthening list of enemies. To think it was once just Manchester United that the blue half of town used to get wound up about.
Here, at a particularly energetic and atmospheric Etihad Stadium, the league’s decision last week to charge City with breaking their financial regulations saw the pre-match anthem booed and whistled with a ferocity usually reserved for the UEFA equivalent on Champions League nights.
How delicious for them, then, that Pep Guardiola’s team are now one victory away from going back on top of the table for the first time since early November. Win at leaders Arsenal on Wednesday and City will be back in first place and well positioned to lift the Premier League trophy once more at the season’s end.
It all feels a bit grubby, this. It would be perhaps better if we could just talk about the football. But it’s hard not to be intrigued about how everything will play out. What is clear is that Arsenal continue to drop points – defeat on Wednesday would leave them with one point from their last nine – then a City team playing like this will blow past them and disappear over the horizon before the London club can utter the words ‘financial fair play’.
It was always likely that City and their supporters would raise their levels on the back of Guardiola’s impassioned defence of his club at a press conference last Friday. If the Catalan wished to engrain further an ‘us against the world’ culture that has been building at City for some time then here was the evidence that it had worked. City blew Unai Emery’s feeble Villa side away without ever reaching top gear. Maybe they are saving that for Wednesday night.
Rodri headed in Manchester City’s opening goal as they eased to a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa in the Premier League
Ilkay Gundogan netted the second from close range after good work from Erling Haaland running at the Villa defence
Pep Guardiola’s side bounced back from defeat against Tottenham last week to cut the gap to Arsenal to three points
Villa were, it must be said, dreadful when it mattered. They improved in the final half an hour but it was all too late by then. Emery’s team conceded four in losing at home to Leicester eight days prior to this. Here they were a goal down in just the fourth minute and three down by the end of an opening half to which they contributed only calamity. How a Premier League club that has spent reasonable amounts on players in the last two or three years can come to the home of the champions with a 37-year-old left-back playing at right-back is a mystery that perhaps only Emery can explain. Ashley Young, by the way, was far from the worst of them.
City were ahead almost immediately and it was a straight forward goal. Young blocked a low cross from the left and when Riyad Mahrez delivered a corner to the near post it found holding midfielder Rodri running off his man – if indeed he ever had one – to head down and low in to the near corner of the net. It was a dreadful goal to concede for Villa and they didn’t learn their lesson. Seven minutes later Rodri was free once again and the only difference was that this time he didn’t score.
City, playing three at the back, were dominant in possession, territory, energy and indeed absolutely anything that could possibly matter. A lovely pass from the goalscorer released Ilkay Gundogan and Emiliano Martinez saved with his foot. Then Jack Grealish had a volley from a corner blocked by Calum Chambers and Erling Haaland, without a shot in the previous weekend’s defeat at Tottenham, scooped a shot over from six yards when his first goal since January 22 seemed to be inevitable.
Haaland was not to reappear for the second half, possibly because of an incident when he collided heavily with Martinez midway through the opening period. It was actually a foul by the striker who was a fraction late jumping for a loose ball but the Norwegian seemed to feel the impact just as deeply as the goalkeeper. The club suggested at half time that Haaland had sustained a thigh injury.
For a while it was a little too easy for City. When Guardiola said on Friday that he believed the other nineteen Premier League clubs resented City’s presence in the league, he must have been forgetting that afternoons like this often come along. Villa, it seemed, were more than happy for their opponents to have everything their own way.
In midfield City had space, lots of space. Kevin de Bruyne was enjoying that. One round the corner flick was just a joy, another run infield had a little more substance to it and when he brought Grealish in to play on the other flank Martinez was required to save the former Villa player’s curling shot.
Eventually a second goal came and then, quickly, a third. They effectively ended the game.
Riyad Mahrez made it three before half time with a penalty which sent World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez the wrong way
Many expected Haaland to take the kick but Mahrez stepped up and oozed confidence as he extended the lead further
Haaland played a part in the first one, running on to Callum Chambers’ misdirected header in the 39th minute to round Martinez and cross low to the other side where Gundogan was simply hungrier than the two or three Villa players who chose not to make a play for the ball. The German could not miss.
Then, five minutes or so later, Grealish fell after a tangle of legs with Jacob Ramsey in the penalty area and Mahrez beat the goalkeeper to the World Cup winner’s right side.
From that point on Villa did improve. They simply had to if they had any wish to keep the score down. Some life was breathed in to their limp performance just after the hour when City coughed up possession in their own half, allowing Douglas Luiz to free Ollie Watkins who scored across City goalkeeper Ederson with a low right foot shot.
Haaland appeared frustrated at being unable to take the spot kick but he celebrated with Mahrez after the goal was scored
Ollie Watkins (right) made it 3-1 in the second half with a consolation, which may leave City frustrated defensively
City had opportunities to restore the cushion but didn’t take them. Minds on Wednesday already, perhaps. Julian Alvarez, on for Haaland, headed a deep Grealish cross towards goal at the far post but Ezri Konsa blocked well. Later, Mahrez somehow failed to score from six yards.
Before that there were some moments of intent from Villa. Philippe Coutinho, tellingly not thrown on until the 75th minute, curled a shot towards the far corner and Ederson touched the ball over. Then the City keeper dropped sharply to clutch a cut back from the left side.
A mistake from City or a moment of unexpected and atypical quality from Villa could have opened the whole thing up. Sometimes that happens but it didn’t here, even though new signing Jhon Duran did hit the bar with a spectacular volley on the turn in injury time.
City are now officially at war with the Premier League as well as the rest of Europe. Only a fool would bet against them lifting that trophy for the seventh time come May, though.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
MANCHESTER CITY: (3-2-4-1) Ederson 6; Walker 7, Dias 6 (Akanji 45mins 6), Laporte 6; Rodri 8, Silva 7; Mahrez 6.5 (Ake 84mins 6), De Bruyne 7.5, Gundogan 7, Grealish 6.5 (Foden 68mins 6); Haaland 6 (Alvarez 45mins 6)
GOALS: Rodri 4, Gundogan 39, Mahrez pen 45
PEP GUARDIOLA: 7.5
ASTON VILLA: (4-4-2) Martinez 6; Young 6 (Cash 75mins 6), Konsa 5.5, Chambers 5.5, Digne 5.5 (Duran 59mins 6); Ramsey 6 (Coutinho 75mins 6), Kamara 6, Luiz, Buendia 5.5 (McGinn 59mins 6); Bailey 6, (Moreno 59mins 6) Watkins 6.5
GOALS: Watkins 61
BOOKED: Digne, Konsa
UNAI EMERY: 5
REFEREE: Robert Jones 6
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