Pep Guardiola conceded Manchester City are “struggling a little bit” and insisted Aston Villa should be classed as title contenders after they inflicted defeat on his side, extending the champions’ winless run in the Premier League to four matches.
Villa leapfrogged City into third in the table after a record-equalling 14th successive home win courtesy of Leon Bailey’s second-half strike. Victory hoisted Villa to within four points of the leaders Arsenal, whom Villa host on Saturday.
Guardiola said Villa and their manager, Unai Emery, deserve huge credit for the victory. Villa’s 14-game winning run at Villa Park is their best since 1930-31.
“The better team won,” the City manager said. “I said to the players: ‘In football, this happens. I know you wanted to win, I know you tried, because you have proved to me and everyone many, many times.’
“Now the results are not so good when they always were [previously]. I have to think about it. I have to sleep, to reflect, I have to see the games, how the players [did] with this one and try to do it.
“It was really difficult because they are really physical and able to control many aspects. That is the reason why they are up there, playing good football and we could not do it.
“It’s my duty, my job to find a way to come back from the situation because over many years together we were able to find a way to play games – sometimes playing good, sometimes not but always we found a way to do it – and now we are struggling. We have to change the dynamic.”
City attempted two shots in the match, the fewest a Guardiola side has recorded in a league match, compared to Villa’s 22 – the most Guardiola’s City have faced – and Ederson pulled off several saves before Bailey’s 74th-minute strike, which deflected in off the City defender Rúben Dias.
Asked whether Villa could threaten City’s hopes of clinching a fourth successive title, Guardiola replied: “Yes, definitely, [because] of the way they are playing. When you are there, you see the physicality, the tempo, the speed, the bench, the organisation from Unai [Emery], in the set pieces, the high pressing … how incredibly they defend in the back four, a good goalkeeper [Emiliano Martínez], absolutely.”
Emery argued it was too early to consider his side capable of a title push. “There are seven teams who are contenders more than us,” the Villa manager said. “We are [at] matchday 15, we play matchday 16 on Saturday against Arsenal and we are going to focus on it. We are happy to be third but to stay there, it is very, very difficult. There are still a lot of matches to play. We are progressing during the season, winning matches maybe we can become contenders but not now, we need more time. It is match-day 15. [My opinion] could change at matchday 30 or 32.”