Aston Villa (1), Man City (2) – Villa fall to Man City Juggernaut

As Gerrard acknowledged after the game, his first Villa loss, the players were not mentally prepared as they needed to be.  They were almost overwhelmed by Man City’s high press early and Rodri would have scored against a lesser keeper than Martinez in the 4th with his snap drive from 10-yards. Emi, being world-class, confidently pushed the shot over the bar.

Soon after, Zinchenko was allowed to wander into a shooting position and test Martinez again with no pressure on him.  Then, when City slowed the pace a little in the 27th minute, our forwards seemed to take a breather.

Buendia stopped when Zinchenko put on a spurt towards the penalty area.  When Sterling, on the left, received the ball from Zinchenko, McGinn forced him to the goal line, but Luiz inexplicably joined Cash, Konsa, and Mings in the 6-yard box with only Jesus to mark.   Nakamba was well-positioned covering Bernardo Silva and Zinchenko leaving Sterling no other option than to hit a long speculative pass to Diaz 10 yards outside the penalty area in the inside-right channel. 

Bailey’s response was to dawdle over and wave a foot in front of Diaz’s shot instead of sliding across and in front to block.  The foot created just enough of a deflection to handcuff Targett.  He was set to get his head in the way of the shot only for it to veer inches to his left.  By the time Martinez saw anything the ball was on its way just inside his left post.  Aston Villa 0, Man City 1 in the 27th minute.  Gerrard must have been seething inside.

Our Villans did their best to respond and their efforts led to then winning a corner that Matt Targett took.  The visitors quickly regained possession and found Mahrez on a break, but Leon turned on the burners to snuff out the threat.  Unfortunately, his impressive speed also caused him to pull up injured.  This was not the first time that our Jamaican international has had to come out of a game for a non-contact injury.  Very worrisome given the financial investment and the promise he offers.

Matters got even worse for our Villans when we found ourselves pressing to get an equalizer just before the halftime whistle.  Sterling went down after a minor knock and Cash rushed to cross while we had a man advantage.  When the ball came to Mahrez he had the opportunity to put the ball out of touch, but he brazenly showed off his skills in the corner of his own penalty area. The five Villans around sensed an opportunity and Buendia went so far as to nip in to disposes the Algerian international. 

Next thing you know our naïve expensive off-season purchase from Norwich was nutmegged and Fernandinho was in possession with time to look up from just outside his own penalty area.  What he saw was Jesus setting off towards the halfway line down the rightwing.  The Brazilian’s pass was beautifully arced for Jesus to run onto with only Konsa back to cover (Mings had been caught on the wrong foot, anticipating his team regaining possession).

What was more worrisome was that Bernardo Silva was racing down the middle of the field with only McGinn having a chance to catch up.  Interestingly, Silva was identified as the false 9, but there was doubt about his intentions! 

Jesus did not waste time in getting the cross over, nor did Silva hesitate taking the shot.  If the player who Guardiola had identified as being most responsible for Man City’s record breaking 32-win 2017/2018 season knew anything, it was to shoot first time.  If he had not, and first controlled, either Martinez would have cut down the angle or McGinn would have nicked the ball from behind.

What was remarkable was that the Manchester City’s player of the month winner for this September and October could run at speed and still hit a powerful shot to the goalie’s top right-hand corner on the volley that gave Villa’s Argentinian international no chance, even though well-positioned and anticipating the shot. Aston Villa 0, Man City 2 in the 43rd minute.

The challenge for a manager, at halftime, in this situation is to gather himself first, then make his team believe that they have a fighting chance against arguably the best soccer team in the world.  Within the first two minutes of the second-half kick-off, we had our answer.  Before Man City had even advanced into the Villa half of the field, a long throw-in by Matty Cash down the rightwing was one-touched by Watkins over Zinchenko to Ashley Young patrolling on the line.  Our 36-year-old replacement for the injured Bailey pushed it past his Ukrainian marker who is not an international player for his country for no reason and he immediately cut-off Young’s path.

What Ashley lacks in youthful speed he makes up in the wiles that come from experience.  He leaned on the younger player (24-years) forcing him to stumble and give up a corner. Oleksandr was much aggrieved by the referee’s indifference to his calls for a foul, a mood that got decidedly worse within seconds.

Our big boys came trotting down the field for the corner, for what had become, with the hiring of the set-piece coach, Austin MacPhee, just about our best opportunity to score.  The focus was decidedly on Mings and Konsa and there was a slight hesitancy when Douglas Luiz hit a low trajectory pass toward the penalty spot. 

Immediately, it became apparent who it was intended it for as Ollie Watkins ran in an arc to meet the ball on the half-volley at the corner of the 6-yard-box.

Man City, as a team, was accommodating.  There was nobody inline of a low trajectory corner.  Bernardo, who appeared to be marking Watkins was slow to react to Watkins’ run.  Cancelo, who was in position to block the shot, turned his side to the shot to avoid getting hit.  Ederson, on the other hand, could not be faulted as he had to move towards the near post and dove ahead of the line to avoid diving into the post.

The ball was struck firmly, adding to its initial velocity, and it kissed the inside of the post and flew into the far back corner of the net before the goalie had hit the ground.  Our Villans responded in the manner that they knew they still had lots to do, heading back for the kickoff, ready to get on with it.

The challenge was to press City, taking calculated risks that did not allow the visitors an opportunity of adding to their goal tally and, effectively, ending the contest.  That did not mean that stopping Man City getting any opportunities to shoot but blocking as many of those shots as possible (as Targett did with great personal sacrifice at the edge of the area).  Then, on a corner directed to Jesus outside of the area, Luiz and Nakamba raced out to block a Jesus volley distracting the shooter into missing the target.

While Man City never lost their poise and continued to dominate possession, they were never allowed an opportunity to relax. Watkins, for example, took on Cancelo at the halfway line on Villa’s left and stripped him of the ball.  To prevent our talented goal scorer from heading toward the Holte End goal, the Spaniard pulled Ollie down (he surprisingly avoided a yellow card from Mike Dean).  Luiz took the freekick and hit a cross field pass that McGinn outmuscled Sterling for before hitting hit a high looping cross beyond the far post.  Ollie, it was, who was waiting, and he nodded the ball back to the edge of 6-yard box for Konsa to run onto.  Our center back, Ake, and another defender all ended up in a heap as the ball went wide.  Konsa jumped up screaming for a penalty.  Mike Dean awarded a corner even though it came off Konsa last.  The VAR official could not decipher the amount of contact by Ake and the corner call remained in place.  58 minutes gone, another thirty plus to go.

In the 61st minute, Targett and Cancelo clashed with Matt getting the worst of it, appearing dazed.  Gerrard took our talented fullback off, playing it safe, and Carney Chukwuemeka came on to replace Young in the front line so Young could replace Targett.

McGinn had not lost an ounce of his endeavor as he slid a pass through the City defense for Luiz to run onto in the 73rd minute, but Diaz was alert and cleared at the expense of throw-in.  That gave our team possession in the City end and Buendia used the opportunity to cut through the midfield and find Luiz on the left.  A return pass to Buendia coincided with an excellent run by young Carney behind Diaz who was caught flat-footed.

Buendia laid a pass to the precocious academy graduate, and his first touch laid it on his left foot and ahead of Ake’s desperate attempt to intercede.  Ederson moved out to the edge of his 6-yard box ready to dive to his left or stick out a knee or hand to his right to protect the open three-feet at his near post.  The talented novice kept his nerve and hit a powerful shot to Ederson’s right, but the brilliant Brazilian flashed a fast and strong hand and the ball careened just wide of the post.  Then everyone, City and Villa fans, exhaled.  That looked like a certain goal and, undoubtedly, a more experienced Chukwuemeka will rarely come away from that good an opportunity without a goal in the future.

A couple of minutes later, Morgan Sanson came on for Nakamba as there was no need to worry about City counterattacks as they focused on maintaining possession.  In fact, they brought on Jack Grealish, possibly the best anywhere of retaining the ball, in the 87th minute.  He started off by masterfully controlling Ederson’s 70-yard goal kick while surrounded by Villa and City players, then slipped a through-ball for Sterling to run onto.  Konsa was more alive than the England international and he shepherded the ball out for a goal kick. 

Meanwhile, Sanson performed a very convincing stint in a cameo role, including getting Fernandinho to foul him.  Frustratingly, the Brazilian is also a master of the defensive hip-check against a taller opponent.  It has the effect of causing the person you are marking (in this case Mings) to lose their balance and the ability to head in the direction they want to.  Luiz’s freekick ended up going into the Holte End crowd, not for the first time in the game.  By the third time, Luiz changed his approach and fed Cash who put over an excellent cross that Diaz got his head to a moment before Watkins did.

Man City withstood all Villa’s pressure and managed a couple of shots that Emi Martinez gathered comfortably while fouling 12 times to Villa’s 8, all very professionally with no yellow cards (or reds).

For the City, it maintained their impressive winning streak of six games while for the Villa, it was disappointing in that they were left with the impression that this was a match they need not have lost.

More urgently, it put more pressure on the team to get three points from Leicester’s visit on Sunday.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Mings, Targett (Carney Chukwuemeka 67′), Konsa, Cash, Luiz, Nakamba (Sanson 77′), McGinn, Bailey (Young 31′), Watkins, Buendía.

Subs: Steer, El Ghazi, Tuanzebe, Davis, Hause, J Ramsey

Man City: Ederson, Dias, Aké, Cancelo, Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Rodri, Silva, Sterling, Mahrez, Jesus (Grealish 87′).

Subs: Carson, Steffen, Foden, Palmer, Wilson-Esbrand, Lavia, McAtee, Mbete.

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