Manchester City 2 – 0 Aston Villa
The last time Villa’s first-team played a game of football, 2021 had only just started. Now 20 days later, the Coronavirus outbreak at Bodymoor Heath has thankfully come and gone, without any reports of serious harm being done. The opposition, Manchester City, should have taken on Dean Smith’s men on the opening day of the season. However, an extended previous campaign, due to Champions League commitments, meant the Citizens were afforded extra time off.
The starting XI was unsurprisingly completely different to the youthful side that took on Liverpool in the FA Cup. Though, there was only one change from the side that played the Villans last League game, with Anwar El Ghazi replaced by the now fit Ross Barkley.
This could be seen as a little harsh on the Dutchman, who’s December goal scoring exploits earned him a player of the month nomination. Just before kick-off, it was announced that Conor Hourihane would be leaving the club for promotion chasing Swansea on-loan.
A lively first-half came to an end with the score still poised at nil-nil. City had looked dangerous, with an early shot from Bernardo Silva the most dangerous opportunity. Emi Martinez was out expertly to save then, and if the Argentine wasn’t sweeping up, it was one of the back four blocking or intercepting. Villa weren’t simply sitting back though, with a multitude of fast breaks. Most didn’t result in shots, but the Villans were getting into promising positions, and looking to hurt the high City back line. The defensive work and hard work certainly merited going in at the break level.
Villa would continue to battle, and provide plenty of threat on the break. This wouldn’t matter though, as a clearly offside Rodrigo disrupted Tyrone Mings, passed to Bernardo Silva who fired the ball into the top corner. The VAR didn’t even bother to check, and let a clearly offside goal stand (or a farcical rule, at best). Villa then tried to push and get a goal to equalize. A penalty for the Citizens, as a Gabriel Jesus header cannoned off the arm of Matty Cash, ended any Villa hopes of getting back into the game.
The most surprising part of proceedings, was referee’s cheerleader Peter Walton, appearing to disagree with the VAR decision. Normality was restored after, as Walton fell back into line, and agreed with what the VAR had done. It’s understandable why Dean Smith was so angry, and got sent off. A very good Villa performance was ruined by poor and inconsistent refereeing. How many times will this happen this season?
Emiliano Martinez – 8.5
Emi Martinez was called into action early, as the ball fell for Bernardo Silva. He saved fantastically then, and made a handful of other impressive saves. Phil Foden had plenty of opportunities to cross from out left, but Martinez was often there to claim the ball, and not leave any seconds for another City player in the box. The towering goalkeeper’s distribution was mixed, with some fantastic break out passes, including one to Bertrand Traore, but often the ball would fall straight back into opposition hands.
Matty Cash – 8
Matty Cash had a lot of work to do on the right. Some poor tracking from Traore sometimes left him a little exposed, and this resulted in a lot of joy for Phil Foden. The young City star has the ability to run the best full-backs ragged, but Cash didn’t give in, and stuck to his task. The crosses coming in from the left were usually from the byline, and straight into the arms of Emi Martinez. The 23-year-old was unlucky to give away a penalty, for failing to get his hand away from very close header.
Ezri Konsa – 8.5
Another monstrous defensive display from Ezri Konsa. When Cash was beaten, in swept Konsa to clear. The ex-Brentford man was Villa’s most accurate passer of the ball. The defence tried to pass out from the back when they could, but Konsa took no unnecessary risks, if in doubt he’d get it back to Martinez for a clearance.
Tyrone Mings – 8
Even with Rodrigo creating the City opener from an offside position, Tyrone Mings decision to chest the ball down was poor. This was one bad moment in a rock solid performance. He was a shot-blocking machine, making five blocks, including getting his head in the way of a drilled Kevin De Bruyne strike. A shot that may have concussed most other men. His long passing and leadership qualities helped Villa to remain organised, and then hit on the counter charge.
Matt Targett – 9 MOTM
Matt Targett was a man possessed. in his 76 minutes on the pitch, his performance was sensational. If the ball broke loose in the box, there was Targett to clear. If the City had any impetus down their right, Targett would make the necessary tackle or interception. Five tackles, four interceptions, four clearances, some outstanding numbers from an outstanding display. Fans will be hoping that Targett’s injury isn’t serious, he has proved himself invaluable to Villa this season.
Douglas Luiz – 7.5
There were some flashes of quality from Douglas Luiz, against the club that have the ability to buy him back. Weirdly it was often on the break, where the Brazilian came into his own, with good touches, runs and passes. Douglas added to this with a trio of shots, only one of with truly tested Ederson in the City net. This doesn’t mean he didn’t do his defensive work, Luiz and McGinn worked together well to help shield the defence.
John McGinn – 7
There was a sloppy pass here and a sloppy pass there from John McGinn. The energetic midfielder made some good moves, turning Kevin De Bruyne impressively, and shielding the ball once or twice. He wasn’t in the thick of the defensive action, with only one tackle and interception. this was probably due to much of the Man City play coming down the flanks. The moment that stuck out from everything though, was McGinn fluffing his shot in the box, in plenty of space. It was a chance Villa had to take.
Bertrand Traore – 7
Bertrand Traore can do everything, but not all in one move. The left-footed winger showed skill and pace on the break, but couldn’t add the necessary finishing touch. One flick from an Emi Martinez pass left Kevin De Bruyne flat on his backside, the shot resulting from the move was decidedly tame. Traore’s lack of game time in recent weeks was clear, he looked completely drained at points in the second half.
Ross Barkley – 7
Despite his time off, Ross Barkley looked in the mood to get at City. This showed in the moves he was attempting to pull off, none of said moves came off, perhaps some rustiness showing (and overthinking his finishing), but it’s these kind of risks that could have opened up some space and created something for Villa. Villa’s best moment of the first half came from a lovely link-up between Grealish and Barkley, a combo that the Villa faithful will be glad to see back together.
Jack Grealish © – 8
While his time on the ball was limited, Jack Grealish tried to make the most of his opportunities to run at the City defence. His team leading three key passes highlight Jack’s importance on the break. The golden opportunity for John McGinn, was set up by a clever pass from the skipper. The only downside was there wasn’t an opportunity for Super Jack to get a shot on goal.
Ollie Watkins – 7
Ollie Watkins had one shot in the whole game, but pressed hard and held up the ball when necessary. He was did an impressively good job at providing an out ball for the Villa defence, winning five aerial duels. This is impressive against defenders taller than Watkins, John Stones and Ruben Diaz. Watkins will have to show some killer instinct in front of goal soon, but this wasn’t a game of many chances for Villa.
Off the Bench
Anwar El Ghazi (67)- 5.5
Anwar El Ghazi didn’t do much wrong in his time on the pitch. This was because he didn’t do much at all. In over 20 minutes, while Villa tried to take the game to Man City, the Dutchman touched the ball ten times. On the positive side he did win two aerial duels, and tracked back energetically.
Jacob Ramsey (67) – 6
Youngster Jacob Ramsey touched the ball even fewer times than El Ghazi. The attacking midfielder had to spend much of his time sat back, outside the Villa box, but did get into good positions when Villa countered. He was unlucky to have a golden opportunity snatched away from him, by the outstretched foot of Ruben Diaz.
Neil Taylor (74) – 6
Neil Taylor made his first league appearance of the season, after replacing Matt Targett. Other than getting booked for a late challenge, the Welshman went about his job commendably. Much of the City threat in the second half was coming from Phil Foden on the left.
Dean Smith – 8
Manager of the Month Dean Smith definitely told Jon Moss about how he should have “interpreted the laws of the game.” The red card for Deano seems harsh considering he didn’t swear. Smith said afterwards that he has “heard a lot worse things said to Jon Moss.” The heavy implication that Moss is a bad referee, without actually saying it, is very amusing indeed.
In terms of performance, Deano had prepared the team remarkably well considering the short time spent on the training ground. Defensively, Villa were solid, and it looked as if they could have grabbed something on the break. There were definitely some heart in mouth moments before the opener, but this was always going to be the case against Manchester City.
It’s into a heavy schedule now for Villa. Newcastle at the weekend, who are in very poor form, followed by Burnley in the week. This no doubt provides a chance to get the Villans back into winning ways, and get points on the board.
After the Covid break, it was nice to see Villa compete as well as they did against City, which provides real optimism going into the next two fixtures.