Bernardo Silva magic inflicts first defeat on Steven Gerrard as Jack Grealish returns to Villa Park

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·25-min read
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Bernardo Silva - Aston Villa vs Manchester City live, Premier League: score and latest updates - GETTY IMAGES
Bernardo Silva - Aston Villa vs Manchester City live, Premier League: score and latest updates - GETTY IMAGES
  • City cruise through first half with long-range goal from Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva's skilful volley

  • Ollie Watkins gives Villa brief hope with strike immediately after the break

  • Jack Grealish steps off City bench on 87 minutes against former side

It was a brilliantly executed moment fit for a future king, but unfortunately for Prince William it came from a player in the white-and-green jersey of Manchester City.

The Duke of Cambridge’s first visit to Villa Park this season was graced with a magical goal from Bernardo Silva, capturing Pep Guardiola’s football vision in high definition and ultimately securing the City manager his 150th Premier League victory.

While much of the focus was on Aston Villa’s former crown prince, Jack Grealish, making his first return since the £100 million move to City, it was Bernardo who underlined his enduring quality with the finishing touch late in the first half.

The future King of England casts his eye over proceedings - ACTION IMAGES
The future King of England casts his eye over proceedings - ACTION IMAGES

After a rapid counter-attack which started in City’s own penalty area, Bernardo volleyed Gabriel Jesus’s long pass first-time into the top corner, warming the soul on a chilly Midlands evening.

Grealish was introduced late in the match to a mixture of boos and applause from the home supporters, and City resisted late pressure to secure a sixth successive win.

A first defeat for Steven Gerrard, but he will take encouragement from Villa’s second-half performance and the fact that he will not face many better teams than the defending champions.

Guardiola insisted Bernardo is the best player in the league. “When we won the league with 98 points [in 2018/19] he was the best then, too,” he said. “He is a player on another level.

“It was an incredible finish for the goal against a good goalkeeper; he has a special ability to do whatever he wants with the ball.

“The way we played was magnificent and with incredible personality.

“Liverpool are a machine, scoring goals, and Chelsea are consistent, the important thing is [us] staying there. We are one point behind Chelsea and not far away; the way we are performing is to a high level.”

City are on a relentless run and it is even more admirable when you consider the recent absentees, with Kevin De Bruyne, Grealish and Phil Foden all missing last month’s victories over Paris Saint-Germain and West Ham.

With Grealish and Foden on the bench here, Guardiola can look forward to a congested festive period with an even greater armoury of options.

Jack Grealish, Matt Cash, Aston Villa, Manchester City - GETTY IMAGES
Jack Grealish, Matt Cash, Aston Villa, Manchester City - GETTY IMAGES

This was always going to prove Gerrard’s toughest test yet and, perhaps, in his managerial career so far. It proved just as difficult as he had expected, but there were definite positives to take.

“We’ve really scared City at times and were close to taking something out of the game in the second half,” he said.

“We have to respect who we were playing against and once we started believing in ourselves and showing courage we had chances to hurt them.

It proved a difficult watch in the first half for Steven Gerrard - ACTION IMAGES
It proved a difficult watch in the first half for Steven Gerrard - ACTION IMAGES

“When you take a job like this, it was always going to be a tough transition and it’s on me to prove I’m the right man. I can’t speak highly enough of the support I’ve had so far.”

City were exhilarating from the first whistle and Villa’s goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had already produced fine saves from Joao Cancelo and Rodri before the fourth minute had elapsed.

Though Villa did briefly respond, City remained dangerous and took the lead in the 27th minute.

Raheem Sterling advanced towards the byline and his cut-back was allowed to roll towards Ruben Dias outside the area, who thumped a left-foot shot into the bottom corner.

Villa’s evening sustained further damage when Leon Bailey, the £25 million signing, was substituted soon after the goal, with an apparent recurrence of a hamstring injury. Bailey walked to the tunnel almost in tears.

The second goal came two minutes before half-time and was utterly breathtaking.

It started with Mahrez dribbling out of danger in his own box, with Fernandinho then releasing Jesus down the right flank.

The crossfield pass from Jesus to find Bernardo, who was racing towards goal, was perfect and the Portuguese took the ball on the volley to beat Martinez.

Game over, you would suspect. Not so. Villa were back in it 82 seconds into the second half, after a fine finish from Ollie Watkins.

Douglas Luiz’s corner was effectively a pass to Watkins at the near post and the striker’s finish was unerring, with the ball arrowing into the corner off the woodwork.

Villa were galvanised again, and Dias almost diverted the ball into his own net under pressure from Ezri Konsa.

Watkins was inspired for the home team, driving from the front with his tireless running and refusal to give up on lost causes.

Gerrard was forced into another change 23 minutes from the end; Matt Targett was unable to continue after a midair collision with Cancelo, with teenage midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka introduced in his place.

The 18-year-old nearly produced an equaliser in the 75th minute, after he was released by Emi Buendia, but his shot was saved by Ederson.

With Villa pressing for the crucial breakthrough, Grealish’s introduction finally came three minutes from time, with little of the expected venom from the home fans.

Villa launched a late aerial assault on City’s goal but the visitors clung on and are now unbeaten here since 2013.

Aston Villa 1 Manchester City 2: How match unfolded

10:14 PM

City take the spoils

10:10 PM

FT Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Pep Guardiola's team leave Villa Park with all three points. The champions outclassed the visitors in the first half after goals from Dias and Bernardo Silva before Watkins' goal immediately after the break made things interesting.

Steven Gerrard's team tried hard but they could not ultimately put City under the required pressure, while there was a return for former hero Grealish who stepped off the bench for a late cameo. A first defeat of the Gerrard era.

10:07 PM

90+4 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Into the last minute. Nearly job done for the reigning champions.

10:07 PM

90+3 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

So far, no. City with possession of the football.

10:05 PM

90+1 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Grealish with the interception on the edge of Villa's box but Young soon wins it back. Have the hosts got one last decisive attack in them?

10:05 PM

90 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Don't you just love the pantomine that is football? The boos let you know each time Grealish is on the ball.

City win a free-kick on the edge of Villa's box. Sterling and Mahrez over it but the latter just delivers a catching practice exercise for Martínez.

There will be four minutes of added on time.

10:02 PM

87 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Jack Grealish returns to Villa Park. Jesus comes off and the former Villa man comes on to some boos - but also a good number of cheers and applause.

His first touch is outstanding as he calmly controls a high ball first time.

10:01 PM

87 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Rinse and repeat. A third free-kick for the hosts, again in City's half. Douglas Luiz is over it.

Now it's a direct cross, again towards Mings, but it flies off his shoulder out of play.

And here's Jack...

09:59 PM

85 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Another free-kick to Villa. And the boos intensify as Grealish pulls on his white City shirt on the touchline.

McGinn turns in the free-kick but Mings is unable to connect.

09:58 PM

83 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Now then. Villa win a free-kick in the middle of the City half. But instead of playing it directly into the box, the home side pass across the pitch, failing to trouble the danger zone.

A few boos go around Villa Park as Grealish looks to be readying himself for his grand entrance.

09:56 PM

82 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Chukwuemeka is buzzing around trying to force something but with Watkins having drifted out of the box out wide, there are very few options to then aim for.

09:55 PM

80 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Villa got picked off on the break in the first half when they committed men forward but they are going to need to take a few more risks here if they want to get something from the game in the final 10 minutes.

09:54 PM

79 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Still no substitutes to appear off the City bench. The players who are on the pitch, meanwhile, continue to go about steadily managing the game.

09:52 PM

77 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Villa make their third change as the hard-working Nakamba is replaced by fellow midfielder Morgan Sanson.

09:50 PM

74 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Villa could be level!

Buendia threads a slide rule pass into the box to substitute Chukwuemeka who has the goal to aim for. Sadly he also has Ederson to beat and the big goalkeeper stands tall to block. A big, big chance!

09:47 PM

72 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Chance City! Bernardo Silva beats the offside trap down the right wing and whips a cross in. Jesus, with his back to goal, takes one touch to kill the cross before trying to find the net on the turn with his volley. That would have been stylish goal. Instead Jesus shoots wide.

09:45 PM

71 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Less than 20 minutes left and no sign of Mr Grealish, yet.

City back with the ball at their feet and in control. Targett's exit has just punctured the Villa momentum somewhat.

09:44 PM

70 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Bernardo Silva is so adept at getting himself into pockets of space, this time he picks up a pass from Mahrez near the byline after the latter opted not to cross. City's passing has been very crisp tonight.

09:42 PM

68 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Young has gone to left-back since that switch. Villa are capable of taking something out of this game after weathering the early storm.

09:41 PM

67 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

A groggy looking Targett is getting back to his feet. That's his night done, though, as he walks off to be replaced by the youngster Chukwuemeka. An exciting, attacking move from Gerrard.

Substitute Jack Grealish - GETTY IMAGES
Substitute Jack Grealish - GETTY IMAGES

09:38 PM

62 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Douglas Luiz, with his bleached blond hair, is unable to connect with a cross into the box. Play is stopped with Targett suffering the after-effects of a heavy landing on the turf moments earlier. He could be a touch winded here.

09:35 PM

61 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Steven Gerrard will be plenty pleased with what he has seen from his team since the break, with City not being able to reach the heights of the first half. It's been much more even.

09:34 PM

59 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

The first answer is not a lot as Fernandinho heads clear. But McGinn collects on the right and fires the ball back towards the far post where Watkins cushions it down. Konsa tries to pounce but Ake gets there first to touch out for a corner.

A quick Var check on whether Ake did so illegally... but it's a no. The eventual corner comes to nothing.

09:32 PM

58 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Watkins, making a nuisance of himself on the near touchline, draws a foul out of Cancelo. The Villa faithful appreciated that effort. What can Douglas Luiz do with this free-kick?

09:31 PM

56 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

That's straight off the training ground. Mahrez opts to pick out Jesus on the edge of the box with his corner but the latter's first-time volley goes just wide after a deflection.

09:30 PM

55 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

Grealish is decked out in his orange substitute bib stretching on the sidelines. Will Pep Guardiola think about handing him decent minutes against his former team?

09:27 PM

52 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

City are not a team likely to be put off their stride by conceding a goal. They've set about their business well since the restart, Bernardo Silva and Sterling both making inroads in the box before Zinchenko launches a rocket of a shot over the bar.

09:25 PM

50 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

It could not have been a better start to the half for the home side, no wonder Prince William is all smiles in the crowd. Villa Park is full of voice again.

09:23 PM

47 mins Aston Villa 1 Man City 2

This is not a drill. Man City have conceded from a set-piece for the first time in the Premier League this season.

Game on. Young applies the pressure to Zinchenko to win a corner. The hosts bring up the reinforcements but it is forward Watkins who applies the finish to Douglas Luiz's corner, with a low half-volley that squeezes in off the near post.

09:21 PM

GOAL!

Aston Villa 1 (Watkins 47 mins) Man City 2

09:20 PM

46 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 2

It's Villa who get us back underway courtesy of Young's pass.

09:18 PM

A changed man

09:04 PM

HT Aston Villa 0 Man City 2

The visitors have barely got into top gear but it says much about their dominance that they are two goals up and cruising.

Steven Gerrard will be grateful to get his players back into the dressing room for a debrief.

09:01 PM

43 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 2

What a finish from Bernardo Silva! Villa pour players forward in attack, but the cross from Cash is overhit and City rapidly break down the right.

The ball gets to the unmarked Jesus who looks up and spots Bernardo Silva in space on the edge of the box.

The cross is a peach and Bernardo Silva doesn't need to break stride to volley sweetly in with his left foot.

08:58 PM

GOAL!

Aston Villa 0 Man City 2 (Bernardo Silva 43 mins)

08:55 PM

39 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 1

City's defenders might not have had too much to do tonight but they are calmness personified to play themselves out of danger when Villa try to press. A couple of 'ole's from the City fans who appreciate what they are watching.

08:52 PM

36 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 1

Midfielder Nakamba dances his way out of the City press but before he can catch his breath, City are coming back at him and his team.

08:51 PM

34 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 1

City's wide players have been doing the business tonight, whether its Sterling down the left or Mahrez on the right. The latter wins another corner, floating it in towards the lurking Dias.

But it's not a case of London buses, as the defender only heads off target.

08:49 PM

33 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 1

Not the most enjoyable of Villa Park returns for Prince William so far.

The future King of England - ACTION IMAGES
The future King of England - ACTION IMAGES

08:47 PM

30 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 1

It goes from bad to worse for Villa as Bailey drops to the floor after chasing Mahrez back when City counter. That looks like a thigh strain.

The medical staff are on before Bailey walks off shaking his head. Here's comes Ashley Young, who gets boos from the City fans, presumably for his United connections.

08:44 PM

27 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 1

Not the most obvious of goalscorers but City have their breakthrough.

Sterling does the leg work down the left, getting the better of Cash far too easily and driving to the byline. His cut-back to the top of the box looks to have dented momentum but, with Villa's defence on the turn, Dias steps forward to drive into the bottom right corner.

08:43 PM

GOAL!

Aston Villa 0 Man City 1 (Dias 27 mins)

08:42 PM

26 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Definitely more attacking threat from Villa who have grown in confidence on the counter. They are slowly edging their way back into this game.

08:41 PM

25 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

For all City's possession, Villa are holding their positions fairly well.

Cash puts in a timely tackle on Sterling, and then scampers up the right touchline to join in the counter attack. The space opens up in front of him but he cannot pick out Watkins in the box. Better from the home side.

08:38 PM

23 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Villa float in a free-kick from the far touchline, which Konsa gets highest to but his header is weak and loopy and Ederson easily gathers.

08:37 PM

21 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

City forced into some rare defensive action as Ake has to step in to clear in his own area ahead of the lurking Watkins. The hosts getting some welcome ball time.

Gerrard barks out instructions - PA
Gerrard barks out instructions - PA

08:34 PM

18 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

I've lost count of the amount of times City have almost strolled into the Villa area. So far the end product has been missing, but it seems unlikely the hosts will be able to keep them at bay for long.

08:31 PM

15 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Another nervous moment for Cash as Jesus goes to ground after a clumsy tackle from the Villa man. Mike Dean is unmoved. City, remember, have not had a penalty awarded in their favour in the Premier League this season.

08:30 PM

12 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Sterling looks up for this tonight. He's causing Cash all sorts of problems down the left, turning him inside and out but his subsequent cross is just to high for Bernardo Silva and Jesus.

08:27 PM

11 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Watkins does great work to hold the ball up on the half-way line, referee Mike Dean plays advantage when Mings goes down, and Watkins races on to the return pass into the City half.

Watch out! Villa make it into the penalty box where Bailey's shot is blocked by a City defender. There's something for the home fans to cheer finally.

08:25 PM

9 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Just the small matter of 85 per cent possession for City so far. It's like a keep-ball exercise for the visitors. Saying that, Gerrard's two wins have so far come with the possession count sitting in the 30s for his team, so all is not lost...

08:23 PM

7 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Sterling takes the corner from the left, it's headed down but Rodri cannot connect. But once again the City wave begins to crash over the Villa defence.

The hosts are certainly having to weather the storm here.

08:22 PM

6 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Gerrard is shouting instructions on the touchline, no doubt frustrated by this edgy start from his team. They've barely got out of their own half.

Now its Cancelo, again playing in Mahrez down the right channel. He floats in a cross and McGinn takes no chances, conceding another corner...

08:20 PM

4 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

Fernandinho nicks the ball in midfield and quick as a flash City are on the attack. Jesus rides two tackles but his eventual shot is blocked by Mings.

City recycle the ball and go again, this time Rodri forcing Martinez to tip over. McGinn blocks the first corner, Mahrez sends in another but then Villa can clear their lines properly.

08:17 PM

2 mins Aston Villa 0 Man City 0

It's Manchester City on the front foot, as Mahrez feeds Cancelo down the right and the latter draws a near-post save from Martinez. The resulting corner just evades Ake, who had trotted up from the back for the set-piece.

08:15 PM

Players are out on the pitch

We are moments away from kick-off.

08:02 PM

Gerrard speaks

The effort and application and how they've tried to listen to our ideas on how we want to play [has been impressive]. They've delivered in the two games but we know this is an acid test tonight.

I'm new to this in terms of Jack [Grealish] and Villa's relationship. I hope he gets a good reception. It depends on if he comes on and how he behaves. He's done an awful lot for this football club.

07:55 PM

Foden bigs up Gerrard

They've got great players in the attacking final third. Since the new manager has come in they've done really well. He's a legend of the Premier League. It's going to be really exciting to face his team. It's going to be a difficult game.

And that's all we got from Phil Foden, speaking in a pre-recorded via on Amazon Prime. Short and sweet from the England attacker.

07:52 PM

Warm reaction for Grealish

The players are warming out on the Villa Park pitch, which means Grealish is out there again, in City colours. It was a largely warm reception for the £100m man.

07:44 PM

Watford vs Chelsea halted due to crowd issue

Some news coming out of Vicarage Road with the game suspended after 10 minutes, with what is believed to be a medical issue in the crowd. The players have been taken off the pitch for now. You can follow updates here via Jake Goodwill.

07:36 PM

Waiting game for Villa

Fourteen of Aston Villa’s 18 Premier League goals this season have come in the second half of games (78%), with six of those strikes coming in the final 10 minutes – including three of their four so far under Steven Gerrard.

07:30 PM

Confirmed: Prince William at Villa Park

This via our Midlands reporter John Percy....

Prince William is at Villa Park tonight, and Steven Gerrard will be hoping the future king can inspire his players towards another stirring victory.

The Duke of Cambridge is, of course, a Villa fan and is in attendance for the first time this season as his club attempt to halt Pep Guardiola's relentless run of results.

Prince William was at Villa's Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea earlier this season and has made his first visit to the club's home tonight, with Gerrard seeking his third successive win.

It is unclear at this stage whether the Prince plans to boo Jack Grealish, who returns for the first time since his £100 million move to Manchester City in August.

07:28 PM

Life under Gerrard

Amid reports that Prince William is in town to watch his beloved Villa, it is worth taking a look at Steven Gerrard's brilliant start to life in charge of Aston Villa.

His new club have won both of their Premier League games under him so far – in the club’s history, no manager has won either their first three top-flight games, or first three games in all competitions in charge of the Villans.

A visit of the reigning champions is, however, sure to be a tough test.

Bringing back the feelgood factor - GETTY IMAGES
Bringing back the feelgood factor - GETTY IMAGES

07:18 PM

Teams in black and white

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Nakamba, Douglas Luiz, Buendia, Watkins, Bailey. Subs: Sanson, Steer, Tuanzebe, Young, El Ghazi, Hause, Carney Chukwuemeka, Davis, Jacob Ramsey.

Man City: Ederson, Joao Cancelo, Dias, Ake, Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Mahrez, Sterling.
Subs: Grealish, Steffen, Carson, Foden, Mbete-Tabu, Palmer, McAtee, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand.

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)

07:17 PM

Changes for Gerrard's Villa

Emiliano Buendia is recalled to the starting XI as is Douglas Luiz

07:16 PM

Grealish on the bench

07:14 PM

No midweek blues for City

Manchester City have won each of their last 15 Premier League games played on a Wednesday, scoring 36 goals and conceding just six.

Only Liverpool (21 on Saturdays between 2018 and 2020) and Man City themselves (17 on Saturdays between 2017 and 2018) have had longer winning runs on a specific day of the week in the competition.

07:12 PM

Eyes on Grealish

Tonight represents the first chance for Jack Grealish to return to Villa Park since his summer transfer to Manchester City for a cool £100m.

He scored 32 goals and provided 43 assists in 213 appearances for his boyhood club but he will need to pass a fitness test to get the nod tonight. We shall find out very shortly if he has, indeed, succeeded in convincing Pep Guardiola and the medical team to give him a run out.

In the meantime, you can read this cracking exclusive interview with Grealish, done by our very own John Percy, where he talks about his emotional departure from Villa Park and settling into life in Manchester.

07:04 PM

Villa Park update

For those keen weather followers among you...

Don't worry, actual team news to follow very shortly...

06:37 PM

Gerrard not distracted by Grealish return

Steven Gerrard insists Jack Grealish's potential return to Villa Park as a Manchester City player will not distract their attempt to upset the Premier League champions.

Grealish left his boyhood club Aston Villa in August to join City for a £100million British-record transfer fee.

The England international, 26, joined Villa as a six-year-old and made over 200 first-team appearances for them after making his debut at the age of 18.

Grealish has been sidelined since this month's international break after picking up a knock on England duty and faces a fitness test before Wednesday's clash at Villa Park.

Villa boss Gerrard: "I don't think we will be distracted by it because we've got such a big task to focus on - the strengths of the team we're facing and what we have to do in terms of the game.

"Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he'll get that. This is his club and it will be when his career is over, because he was here as a little boy and he has come through the academy.

"The club have benefited a lot from what Jack has given and we very much wish him well moving forward for the remainder of his career. Obviously not for 90 minutes tomorrow."

Drawing parallels with his own illustrious playing career, Gerrard said he empathised with Grealish over his summer move to City.

Gerrard almost joined Chelsea, then the Premier League champions, in 2005 but eventually decided to stay at hometown club Liverpool.

He said: "I can totally feel what he's been through because I've been there myself when you have that opportunity to move on from your club.

"He's very much got everyone's respect and love here. I'm new to it, but I'll certainly pay my respects as well and wish him well."

Gerrard has hit the ground running at Villa since moving from Scottish Premiership champions Rangers, masterminding league wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace.

But City present the biggest hurdle yet and, in manager Pep Guardiola, a familiar playing adversary. Guardiola, then a Barcelona player, refused to shake Gerrard's hand after Liverpool had knocked the Catalan club out of the 2001 UEFA Cup.

"I forgive him for it because I was very young," Gerrard said. "I was a bit of an upstart and I was probably in his face too soon after the final whistle.

"It is an emotional game. But I'm sure he'll be ready for a handshake and a cuddle before the game. It was a long time ago but I'm the lucky one that has had the opportunity to compete against him as a player. I remember chasing his shadow for the majority of the game, that was the first memory."

PA

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