Stuttering Manchester City lost a precious opportunity to keep up with Premier League leaders Arsenal by succumbing to a ruthless and determined Aston Villa side who hunted down their champions savagely and left them shaken. Aston Villa were superb, never letting their hosts breathe easily and forcing them into mistakes that allowed the visitors to create several opportunities. By the end of the game, Villa had 22 shots to City’s two, a tally that does not flatter the challengers.
There was a reminder of the scale of the task facing Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium as City’s first-half display was reminiscent of their dreadful opening-day loss at Newcastle. The reigning Premier League champions appeared to need more energy and urgency in their approach, needing more ability to impose themselves on teams in deep-lying defenses, relying instead on individual brilliance and crosses from the wings.
And that was the theme of the second half as they squandered more chances to put themselves in front and were forced back by a fearsome Aston Villa side who pushed them around the pitch with relentless intensity and brutality. They went in search of a winner, but Leon Bailey’s deflected shot from the edge of the area 16 minutes from time was enough to earn the win.
City began the match with their usual attacking flair and looked threatening on the break. They needed more defensive solidity of last season, however, and the absence of the injured Rodri was telling as they were overrun in midfield and lacking that midfield shield that allows them to set up overloads in the opposition penalty area.
Douglas Luiz thought he had equalized for City shortly after the interval with his header from Lucas Digne’s cross, but it was ruled out for offside. Guardiola shuffled his team for the final 20 minutes, with Bernardo Silva dropping to the bench and Rico Lewis replacing him in central midfield alongside John Stones.
Emery’s hungry and confident Villa oozed confidence from start to finish, and they ran the visiting players ragged, making life difficult for their opponents. City keeper Ederson had to make two good early saves from Pau Torres and Bailey. At the same time, Emiliano Martinez pulled off a sensational double save to deny Erling Haaland twice quickly.
The visitors finally made a breakthrough late on with the game goal as Bailey took the ball past the halfway line and unleashed a shot that deflected off Ruben Dias to beat Ederson. But there was nothing lucky about the result; just another example of a resurgent Villa side showing their quality and proving that they are serious contenders in this Premier League title race.
Aston Villa’s victory leaves City in an unfamiliar fourth position and six points off the top. The reigning Premier League champions have lost their last four games and will likely fall behind the top trio of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham. And for Villa, a contender reborn after years of futility and relegation, the delight in their achievement was evident as they celebrated full-time at Villa Park.