Aston Villa rue luck as Gundogan and Silva help Man City to sixth straight win

Jamie Jackson at the Etihad Stadium
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Rickett/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Martin Rickett/Reuters

This was a breathless affair for which an abacus was needed to keep count of the endless chances. Manchester City created most of these in a blur of activity close to Emiliano Martínez’s goal and when Aston Villa were finally breached on 79 minutes it was deserved.

Tyrone Mings dallied, Rodri mugged him, the effervescent Bernardo Silva received the ball, swerved away from a clutch of defenders, then fired in a memorable strike. This brought jubilation for City and anger for Villa as the visitors complained Rodri had come from an offside position. Dean Smith’s ire was enough to have him sent off by Jonathan Moss, the referee unimpressed by the manager’s vociferous complaints.

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Moss’s interpretation was correct as once Mings touched the ball Rodri was onside. Smith remained indignant. “Are we just going to leave players behind the line then?” he said. “It’s farcical. He was 10 yards offside and come back and tackled our player, it’s a pathetic law and a pathetic decision.

“I said to the fourth official David Coote: ‘Did you get juggling balls for Christmas?’ I don’t think any other manager would get sent off for that.” Yet with Ilkay Gundogan adding a late penalty after Matthew Cash handled, at the final whistle the bottom line was that City had moved on to 38 points, as their fine form continued.

A content Guardiola said: “When we lost v Tottenham [2-0, in November] we were 12th but the most important thing is the fact we are back to playing [where] we have to play – to be contenders.” Smith, though, was equally unhappy with the penalty: “Matty Cash is a yard away for the handball, he can’t jump without his arms up. He didn’t even look at it – it flabbergasts me. It was a poor performance from the officials and that’s cost us.”

An all-day downpour made the surface slick and from kick-off Kevin De Bruyne soon had the visitors careering about their penalty area. First was a dipping free-kick Jack Grealish headed out for a corner. The Belgian hit this in from the right, Rodri headed to Silva, his shot was saved well by Martínez, and Mings flung himself into a melee of players to clear.

City’s recent upsurge in form has returned the familiar sight of their opponent being under siege. So it was that Villa were bombarded – Phil Foden next dribbled mesmerically, gliding beyond two defenders before being stopped.

Villa’s sole attack at that point was a breakaway in which Ross Barkley failed to find Grealish in space and, now, came disruption for City as Kyle Walker was forced off with what appeared to be a dead leg, Oleksandr Zinchenko replacing him. There was no break to the home side’s rhythm, though. Foden fed Gundogan along the left, he pulled back to De Bruyne and a fierce effort hit Mings. Next a Raheem Sterling-João Cancelo one-two along the opposite flank had the latter’s cross this time cleared by Matt Targett.

Then a 20-yard pot-shot from Rodri was blocked – inadvertently – by Sterling as the ball headed for goal.

As the interval neared Villa looked to have stymied City’s percussive flow only for a final warning. A corner taken by Bertrand Traoré became a De Bruyne breakaway in which Foden was fed and saw his drive blocked by Cash. This drew groans from the City substitutes: for the spurned opportunity and all those that had come before.

Guardiola had Gabriel Jesus on the bench yet despite the lack of killer touch he remained there as the second half began. When Sterling and Foden each zipped in crosses a dedicated No 9 would surely have been there to turn home. Instead with a floating player in the position – one of Sterling or De Bruyne – Villa escaped once more.

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City did the same when a Traoré counter took him past the last man, De Bruyne, before shooting at Ederson, but their rocket burst of chances continued. This time a Cancelo dummy preceded a shot crashed on to the bar and, at last, Jesus entered. This was enforced by a De Bruyne injury but the question was whether it might actually prove a blessing.

A first answer was no, as the Brazilian failed to take aim when slid in by Foden. But next came Silva’s strike and when Cash handballed, Gundogan made sure.

After the match, Guardiola added that he was unsure if De Bruyne and Walker’s injuries were serious.