First-half goals from Rodrigo, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez put City on the way to a 3-1 win over Aston Villa.

The Blues blew Villa away in a first period full of vim and vigour to close in on Arsenal whose lead has been cut to just three points ahead of Wednesday’s summit meeting in North London.

The visitors pulled a goal back after the break, but City were comfortable and were the better team throughout.

What happened?

Given the build-up to this game, the atmosphere inside – and outside – the Etihad was electrically charged.

From the Villa kick-off, Erling Haaland charged all the way back to the keeper and then the full-back and City looked to make a start that would rattle the visitors – and with just four minutes gone, the Blues were ahead.

Jack Grealish won a corner on the left and Riyad Mahrez’s out-swinging cross was powered home by the head of Rodrigo.

The light blue touch paper had been well and truly ignited.

On 12 minutes, Ilkay Gundogan was sent clear by Rodrigo and saw his shot saved by Emiliano Martinez.

Two minutes after that, Haaland chased a high ball into the Villa box and collided with Martinez – Gundogan put the loose ball into the back of the net, but referee Robert Jones blew for a foul on the keeper.

It had been quite a start.

City were then denied a penalty by VAR after Grealish’s spectacular volley stuck Villa defender Calum Chambers on the arm as he leapt in front of the ball.

The next time Gundogan had the ball in the net, however, it counted.

Six minutes before the break, De Bruyne collected the ball and played a quick pass into the path of Haaland, but as Martinez raced out, Chambers attempted to head it back, bypassing his keeper and allowing Haaland to collect the loose ball and cleverly find Gundogan with a low cross and the skipper couldn’t miss from two yards.

City weren’t quite finished and five minutes later, the Blues were awarded a penalty as Grealish was felled by Jacob Ramsey – Mahrez took the ball and confidently dispatched the spot-kick past Martinez to make it 3-0.

It had been pretty much the perfect first 45 minutes.

Julian Alvarez replaced Haaland for the start of the second-half and that will be a concern if - as seems unlikely - it wasn’t for tactical reasons.

Dias also made way for Manuel Akanji, perhaps with the Portuguese’s yellow card in mind.

The Blues went in search of the fourth goal that would seal the points, but instead allowed Villa a glimmer of hope as a couple of misplaced passes were punished as Ollie Watkins broke forward to drill an angled shot past Ederson with an hour played.

City had a couple of half-chances to restore a three-goal margin but managed the time that remained comfortably. 

Confident City shine

Pep Guardiola will have looked long and hard at last weekend’s loss to Spurs and elected to bring back four experienced campaigners for the visit of Villa.

With Aymeric Laporte, Ruben Dias, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne all returning to the starting XI, but it was the formation City adopted that was most telling.

Dias, Laporte and Kyle Walker formed a back three, with Bernardo dropping deep to collect the ball from the back time and time again.

With Rodrigo and Gündogan providing additional cover, it left Bernardo and De Bruyne to have more freedom to roam and look for the ball.

Whether this is the line-up and system we play against Arsenal remains to be seen - but it worked extremely well on this occasion.

What it means...

City move within three points of leaders Arsenal who still have a game in hand.

With our goal difference better than the Gunners, a victory at the Emirates Stadium in midweek would put City top of the table - though it will surely be an epic tussle between first and second in the Premier League.

What’s next?

City travel to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, February 15 for a top-of-the-table clash with Arsenal.

Given the weekend’s results, this match has perhaps taken on even greater importance, with City having the chance to go above Arsenal with a victory.

The match kicks off at 19:30 (UK).

Then it’s off to Nottingham Forest next Saturday as City take on Steve Cooper’s side at the City Ground.

Forest are unbeaten at home in seven Premier League games and it promises to be another test of the Blues’ title credentials.

Our clash with Forest kicks off at 15:00.

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Man City
Manchester City

STAR MAN: rodrigo

Solid display from the Spaniard and his goal set the tone for the afternoon.

 

Pep Guardiola reaction

“We played a really good game, unfortunately the best moments were in the second half, we played better than the first half and we had the feeling that we were going to score more, we concede the goal and after 3-1 in the Premier League is always open but we make a very good game.

“Arsenal still have played one game less. We will see after all the games when the Premier League is finished.

“But we are going to London to try and get a win. When one team has made 50 points in the first leg it is because they are very good. we closed the gap today because the performance from the team was really really good.

“Our supporters were really good today. I know they know our team has goals. In general it was really really good.”

STATS & FACTS

  • City have now won the last 13 Premier League home games against Aston Villa, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and secure the Premier League title on the final day last season.
  • Aston Villa have won just one of their last 30 away league games against reigning top-flight champions (D6 L23), beating Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford in December 2009 under Martin O’Neill. They’ve lost their last nine such games by an aggregate score of 29-7.
  • This was City boss Pep Guardiola‘s 250th Premier League game as manager. He’s the 29th manager to reach this milestone in the competition, while only five managers have more wins than the Spaniard (184). Indeed, Guardiola has the highest win rate of any permanent manager in Premier League history.
  • Aston Villa manager Unai Emery has never beaten City’s Pep Guardiola in 13 meetings in all competitions, drawing four and losing nine. His first ever Premier League game in charge came against Guardiola‘s City, and a 2-0 defeat with Arsenal at the Emirates in August 2018.

Team notes

CITY: Ederson, Walker, Dias (Akanji 46), LaporteRodrigoDe BruyneGundogan (c), BernardoMahrez (Ake 86), Grealish (Foden 69), Haaland (Alvarez 46)

Subs: Ortega, Phillips, Gomez, Palmer, Lewis

VILLA:  Martinez, Young (Coutinho 76),, Chambers, Konsa, Digne (Duran 60), Luiz, Ramsey (Cash 76), Kamara, Buendia (McGinn 60), Bailey (Moreno 60), Watkins

Subs: Sinsalo, Dendoncker, Zych, Swinkels

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