Manchester City saw off a stubborn challenge from Aston Villa to temporarily go top of the Premier League. Second half goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan secured a 2-0 win for the blues, but the match wasn’t without its controversy.
Villa had defended resolutely until the 79th minute when Rodri came from an offside position to set up Silva, who curled into the top corner. And when Matty Cash handled a Gabriel Jesus header, Gundogan took the penalty taking responsibilities and dispatched the spot kick to make the points safe.
It was no more than City deserved on a night where it looked like they wouldn’t score even if they were still playing now. Villa’s defence was reminiscent of West Brom’s heroics, throwing bodies in front of the ball and getting as many players as possible in defence to frustrate the blues.
But, unlike the Baggies, Villa were prepared to send men forward and attack City on the counter, and for much of the match, Dean Smith’s tactics succeeded. And there must be something about visiting goalkeepers to the Etihad Stadium that makes them almost invincible, and Emiliano Martinez took on the mantra last night as the latest to have the game of his life.
As well as West Brom, Newcastle, Palace and Brighton keepers have all performed superbly when facing City at the Etihad, and is a small part of the reason why the blues haven’t been their usual free-scoring team of a couple of seasons ago.
City could have had an easier ride to second place in the Premier League had Silva converted a fourth minute chance, but Martinez saved bravely at his feet. The blues were patient in their build up and had 28 shots at goal, 9 on target and 16 corners. 12 of the shots were blocked and Joao Cancelo hit the bar in the second half, and a sense of frustration was starting to creep into their play.
What a relief it was though when Silva broke the deadlock in the 79th minute, although City could have done without the following controversy. Spanish international Rodri was clearly offside when the ball was headed forward, but it never reached him as it was intercepted by Tyrone Mings. Rodri chased back and challenged Migs, stealing the ball from him and feeding Silva, who finished with his left foot while Villa appealed for offside.
Villa manager Smith was then sent off for his protests and will therefore have not seen the second goal, which City scored from the penalty spot. A header from Jesus hit the hand of Cash and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. After Raheem Sterling missed a penalty against Brighton and Kevin de Bruyne having been substituted, the responsibility fell to Gundogan, who buried his spot kick in the 90th minute.
It was harsh on Villa, who have exceeded their expectations already this season. To lose a goal in such a manner will be difficult to take, but in fairness, the visitors rode their luck and, on that occasion, their luck ran out.
It wasn’t like they didn’t have their own chances. Bertrand Traore’s curling effort was saved by Ederson, who had much more to do than he has done in recent games, and former blue Douglas Luiz tested the Brazilian keeper, who was equal to it. But ultimately, it came down to City’s perseverance that finally broke Villa’s wall of resistance to briefly go top of the league, keeping a fifth consecutive clean sheet in the process.
Final Score: Manchester City 2-0 Aston Villa