MAN CITY 3, ASTON VILLA 1
The mood was one of defiance as Manchester City swept aside Aston Villa to move within three points of leaders Arsenal
In a traumatic week in which the Premier League charged them with more than 100 breaches of financial rules, it has clearly galvanised the club.
There was a siege like mentality of the world being against City with that pervading on this emotionally charged afternoon at the Etihad, even before a ball was kicked.
The playing of the Premier League anthem was downed out by a chorus of boos and giant banners unfurled saying ‘We’ll fight til the end’ and ‘Pannick on the streets of London’ in reference to a song from the Smiths.
City, clearly driven on by a crowd whipped up into a frenzy, proceeded to sweep Villa aside in the opening period with goals from Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and a Riyad Mahrez penalty.
The game was won and enabled City to ring changes in the second period, clearly with an eye to Wednesday’s visit to Arsenal where, with victory, they would go top of the table.Embed from Getty Images
City manager Pep Guardiola was celebrating his 250th Premier League match in which he has won 184, the best ever record of the 29 managers to have achieved the feat.
Guardiola said the events of the past week had not affected the team, explaining: “That has been forgotten. Everyone did their job for the club and that was to prepare to win the game, and it was a good example of that as we prepared for the game as usual.
“The players today are on social media so know what has happened. In general, it was a really good game, and I am happy with that.
“It was important to take the opportunity to reduce the gap with Arsenal.”
Rodri added City had not been distracted by this week’s events, saying: “We just talk about football, we talk on the pitch. What happens off the pitch is not our business.”
And of City’s game at the Emirates, Rodri added: “We have the chance to go top. Go there and show our personality, the team that we are.
“They are playing at an incredible level, and we have an incredible level too. It is going to be an incredible fight and an incredible battle. We have the chance to be on top of the table so that’s what we have to think.”
Aston Villa manager Unai Emery, who had never beaten Guardiola in 13 meetings, said “We knew this would be a tough game after three away wins but we were not competitive. They were clinical, but we made mistakes today, three very important goals we could avoid normally.
“In the second we tried to be consistent, forget the score and be competitive and I think we did that in the second half.
“We have to be clinical with the chances we get, but in the first half they were better than us and decided the match. I can only say sorry to our supporters, and we did not play in the way we have been.
“We spoke about being competitive, stopping mistakes and trying to get a goal but it was difficult after going three down to do more in the second half.
“We have to be positive when we are winning, and we have to learn how to respond and although the result was bad we tried to show our mentality in the second half. It was a bad result, but we have to learn and use it in the next matches.”
Ruben Dias made his first start since November as City make four changes from the side beaten at Tottenham last weekend.
Aymeric Laporte also returned alongside Dias in defence, while Kevin De Bruyne and Gundogan were back in midfield.
Manuel Akanji, Nathan Ake, Rico Lewis and Julian Alvarez all dropped to the bench where Phil Foden was also among the substitutes after almost a month out injured.
Villa made one change from the side that lost to Leicester last time out with Calum Chambers replacing Tyrone Mings in their defence.
There was one minute’s applause before kick off in memory of City honorary president Tudor Thomas who has died aged 94.
City got off to the best possible start as they went ahead in the fourth minute when Rodri headed home Mahrez’ corner at the near post for only his second goal of the season.
And they would have doubled their advantage in the 11th minute but for World Cup winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who deflected Gundogan’s shot for a corner after he was put clean through by Rodri.
Gundogan also had the ball in the net, but the goal was ruled out for a foul by Erling Haaland on Martinez in the build-up.
A great volley by Jack Grealish from the edge of the box, following De Bruyne’s corner, was deflected off Chambers for a corner with a VAR check ruling out a possible handball.
Grealish was relishing playing against his boyhood club and he was denied by a flying save by Martinez.
City finally doubled their lead six minutes before the break through Gundogan.
Chambers’ defensive header from a De Bruyne through ball only found Haaland who rounded Martinez before crossing low to the far post for the German to find the net with a simple finish for his third goal of the season.
And it got even better as City added a third goal in stoppage time through a Mahrez penalty after Grealish was fouled by Jacob Ramsey. It was his 11th goal of the season.
City, with the game effectively won, had the luxury of being able to make a double change at the break as Dias and Haaland made way for Alvarez and Akanji. It was evidently done with Wednesday’s match with leaders Arsenal in mind.
Villa made a triple change on the hour and almost immediately reduced the deficit through Ollie Watkins’ seventh goal of the season.
Douglas Luiz’ though ball released Watkins who stroked home a low shot from just inside the penalty area.
City’s third change with 21 minutes left saw Grealish replaced by Foden who was returning after a month long injury-enforced absence.
Villa threw on two more substitutes and one of them Philippe Coutinho brought a fine fingertip save from Ederson.
City brought on Nathan Ake for Mahrez with five minutes left.
Villa almost added a second in stoppage time when substitute Jhon Duran, a Colombian signed in January for £22million from Chicago Fire, struck the bar with a terrific shot from the edge of the box.
That would have set up a nervous finish for City had that gone in, but City were rarely troubled as they cranked the pressure on the faltering Gunners.