The Villa Report – Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 1
In a Word
Inferior – ‘Not good or not as good as somebody/something else.’
(Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)
The Carter Report
By Rob Carter
The backdrop to this fixture was the Premier League filing 100+ charges against Manchester City for breaking financial fair play rules over a period of nine years. Would this galvanise the League Champions or act as a distraction? Could Villa bounce back from the collapse against Leicester City, last time out?
A nasty shock awaited as the team news filtered through at 15:30. Tyrone Mings had apparently picked up a ‘slight’ injury, ruling him out of the game. Not great news when facing up to City’s 25-goal Erling Haaland. Stepping into the breach was forgotten man Calum Chambers, which, for many, did not inspire confidence.
Oh well, keep it tight for the first 20 minutes and build a platform…
Not quite. With little more than three minutes on the clock, an outswinging corner was headed home at the near post by Rodri, so often Villa’s nemesis, despite a valiant attempt by Emi Martinez to claw the ball off the line. Boubacar Kamara had lost Rodri as the ball came in, presumably ignoring advice from set-piece guru Nanny McPhee. 1-0 down in the blink of an eye, with a long 86+ minutes ahead.
One soon became two, courtesy of some panicky defending from Chambers, heading the ball past an onrushing Martinez, allowing Haaland the time and space to roll the ball across goal, ignored by Villa’s defence like a hot potato, as Ilkay Gundogan gleefully tapped home.
Frustratingly, City’s defence looked fairly easy to penetrate if Villa could only get the ball up to Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey, and make it stick. Unfortunately, the midfield competition wasn’t so much a battle as men against boys, as City bypassed Villa repeatedly through the middle of the park.
And then there was Jack. Oh Jack. With shades of Ashley Young’s dive at Old Trafford all those years ago, the former Villa hero made the most of some fairly minimal contact from Jacob Ramsey, with Australian referee Jarrad Gillett more than happy to point to the spot. Riyad Mahrez swept home to put the result beyond any reasonable doubt. Even the penalty king himself couldn’t save Villa this time.
Suddenly, seven goals had been conceded in over the last 1.5 games, with Villa’s solidity under Unai Emery seemingly shot down like a Chinese weather balloon.
No changes at the break seemed to signal that damage limitation was the order of the day, and remarkably, Villa succeeded in that aim.
The second half was a lot more open, with Villa pressing forward when they could. Admittedly, City’s eyes had turned to their mid-week to-of-the-table clash against Arsenal, so they hooked Haaland, who had picked up a minor knock. A triple change on the hour by Villa, with John McGinn, Alex Moreno and Jhon Duran replacing the ineffective Bailey, abject Digne and quiet Buendia, culminated in a Villa goal, courtesy of a lovey finish from the oft-criticised Ollie Watkins on his 100th appearance for the club. Game on? Hardly.
Further reinforcements in the shape of Phillipe Coutinho (for Jacob Ramsey) and Matty Cash (for Ashley Young) gave Villa more legs and quality, with Coutinho rolling back the years with a trademark effort, tipped over by Ederson.
Duran rattled the bar with an instinctive strike and looked a handful for the City defence in his half an hour cameo. Pushing for a start against Arsenal? Maybe.
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And so, City’s 13th consecutive home league win against Villa came to an end. What were the key takeaways?
Giving away a goal from a set-piece within the first five minutes is borderline criminal in a game like this. Doing something as simple as tracking your runner should be second nature. But apparently not.
The squad looks as thin as a supermodel after a couple of weeks at fat camp. Two goalkeepers on the bench again (why not give an Academy player some experience?), and limited options to change things up. As well as a lack of numbers, there is also a definite paucity of quality. Chambers performance in replacing Mings proved that.
With Mings and Diego Carlos to come into the defence, Villa will look a lot less brittle. Even the maverick qualities of the returning Bertrand Traore will at least provide more variety up top.
With Arsenal the next side to roll into B6, the fixtures certainly aren’t getting any easier. After now failing to beat Pep Guardiola in 13 attempts (4 draws and nine losses), it’s hopefully time for Emery to prove something against the club who sacked him.