Express & Star

Surprise Aston Villa shake-up pays dividends in Manchester City triumph

A final training session held just hours before kick-off on the Villa Park pitch helped Unai Emery mastermind Wednesday’s stunning win over Manchester City.

Aston Villa's Leon Bailey (bottom) celebrates with Ollie Watkins (top left) and John McGinn

In a change to the usual pre-match routine and for the first time since taking charge at Villa 13 months ago, the head coach asked his players to report to the stadium on the morning of the match, where the planned starting XI were given final instructions in a session which focused on the team’s shape and positioning.

Emery, ever meticulous in his preparation, is understood to have been more determined than ever to leave no stone unturned ahead of facing the reigning Premier League and European champions.

The swiftly arranged session and extra effort paid off, with Villa putting in a performance the league’s own website described on Thursday as one of the greatest in its own history to earn a 1-0 win and confirm their status as genuine contenders top four contenders.

This was a match where the scoreline really did not tell the story. Though Villa’s goal, which came after Leon Bailey’s shot deflected off Ruben Dias, contained an element of fortune, it was fully deserved and the biggest surprise was the hosts did not win by more. The night ended with Pep Guardiola declaring Villa contenders in the title race.

Rarely if ever before had a team managed by the Spaniard been so dominated. The two efforts City managed on goal, which both came from Erling Haaland in the space of a few first half seconds, were the fewest ever by a Guardiola-managed side in a league match. Villa’s final tally of 22 attempts was the joint-most a Guardiola team has conceded.