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Manchester City 4 Aston Vila 1 - Report

Should Villa stumble from here and miss out on qualification for the Champions League this could yet be a night Unai Emery will come to regret.

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Already shorn of top scorer Ollie Watkins through injury, skipper John McGinn to suspension and then Emi Martinez to illness an hour before kick-off, the Spaniard’s decision to make large-scale changes at Manchester City will come under scrutiny after a heavy defeat kept Villa’s cushion over fifth-placed Tottenham at just two points.

Phil Foden scored a superb hat-trick as the champions secured a 14th consecutive home league win over Villa. Defeats at the Etihad are no surprise, yet Emery and his much-changed unit were left with a nagging sense of what might have been, having competed well for nearly an hour against a home side missing Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne.

Jhon Duran, playing in place of the injured Watkins, scored his sixth goal of the season to cancel out Rodri’s opener and only a mistake from Nicolo Zaniolo, who jumped out of the way of Foden’s free-kick, saw Pep Guardiola’s team ahead at the break.

Villa had chances to equalise early in the second period before Foden scored twice in the space of seven minutes to end the contest. The only bonus from then on for the visitors was they avoided further punishment, though Zaniolo departed due to injury.

Emery, who named a team which featured just four players who started December’s famous 1-0 win over the champions, has long expressed a strong belief in his squad and Tottenham's draw at West Ham 24 hours previously had eased the pressure just a tad.

Yet it was impossible not to wonder what might have been possible had he chosen his strongest team, or see this selection as anything other than a calculated gamble with Saturday’s visit of Brentford, a much more winnable fixture on paper, less than 72 hours away. McGinn will be back for that, so might Watkins and Martinez.

Emery’s planned five changes became six when the Argentina international pulled out with illness just 10 minutes after the teams were announced.

That meant just a second league start of the season for Robin Olsen, while Tim Iroegbunam made just his second Premier League start ever and the first in nearly two years in midfield.

Nicolo Zaniolo, Lucas Digne, Clement Lenglet and Duran were also drafted into the XI, the latter replacing the absent Watkins up front.

City boss Guardiola also made changes but while Haaland and De Bruyne were on the bench, the home side’s starting XI did feature Rodri, absent at Villa Park in December but unbeaten in his last 63 appearances for the champions.

Inside 11 minutes, the Spain international opened the scoring, turning the ball high into the net from Jeremy Doku’s cross after the winger had found space down the right.

Villa had barely touched the ball in the City half by that point but while it was the hosts piling on the pressure, Duran fired warning of his threat when he forced Stefan Ortega to save an acrobatic volley struck from an offside position.

A few minutes later he pulled Villa level, firing just inside the far post to complete a fine move which began when Jeremy Doku was dispossessed on the edge of the visiting box and saw Duran twice exchange passes with Morgan Rogers.

What had started to look an easy night for City was suddenly a little trickier. Jack Grealish saw a bouncing volley go just past the post and was then booked for dissent after being penalised for a foul on Luiz.

Rico Lewis, involved in the build-up to the opener, nearly created another when he slipped in Alvarez but Olsen stuck out a boot to send the shot wide.

Luiz was booked for pulling back Grealish and then perhaps fortunate to avoid another yellow when he brought down Foden.

Yet it still proved a costly foul for Villa as Zaniolo jumped away on the end of the defensive wall and Foden’s free-kick whistled past a helpless Olsen to restore City’s lead.

The few minutes of stoppage time which followed were Villa’s shakiest of the half, Digne diving in to block Alvarez’s shot before the latter then saw a header saved by Olsen.

Villa’s goalkeeper was again called into action early in the second period, this time denying Bernardo Silva after the midfielder had been played in by Foden.

Yet the visitors were far from out of it and it required two good saves from Ortega to keep City ahead. First he tipped Luiz’s rising effort over the bar after a swift Villa break and then, from the corner, was alert to keep out Lenglet’s glancing header.

Another promising counter broke down when Zaniolo opted to go it alone and had a shot blocked.

Those missed opportunities felt particularly costly when Foden gave City breathing space just past the hour mark. Rodri was the creator, battling his way past Diaby and drawing three defenders before then squaring for an unmarked Foden to fire in off the post.

Villa had been about to make changes and Emery pressed ahead anyway, bringing Leon Bailey, Youri Tielemans and Calum Chambers off the bench. It was the latter who then lost possession for Foden to drill his third into the top corner from 25 yards out.

The visitors lost Zaniolo to injury before Sergio Gomez hit the post for the hosts in stoppage time.


Man City (4-3-3): Ortega, Akanji, Dias, Gvardiol, Lewis, Rodri (Kovacic 75), Doku (Gomez 80), Silva (Nunes 75), Foden (Bobb 80), Grealish, Alvarez Subs not used: Stones, Haaland, De Bruyne, Susoho, Carson (gk).

Villa (4-4-2): Olsen, Konsa, Carlos, Lenglet, Digne, Diaby (Bailey 63), Iroegbunam (Tielemans 63), Luiz (Chambers 63), Zaniolo (Kellyman 77), Rogers, Duran (Moreno 70) Subs not used: Torres, Moreno, Kesler-Hayden, Gauci (gk).