Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 2 (HT 1-0)
Fernandinho hooked home a late, late winner as City somehow found a way to beat Aston Villa but the visitors will have left wondering how they didn’t win the game, let alone draw. As we filed out of the ground, we knew that City had got away with it.
After Brad Guzan laid a gift at the feet of Sergio Aguero in the fourth minute, Villa dominated the remainder of the game. Their team was more athletic, their movement and their passing accuracy was far superior. City in contrast did not pass the ball well and were sluggish, slow and lacking in the intensity that Villa possessed. City had to work hard to keep Villa out but the visitors showed the greater desire to attack. It seemed like City had clinched all three points when Aleksandr Kolarov curled in a sweetly struck second goal in the 66th minute and City should have had a penalty when Silva was fouled in the box, but Villa had other ideas, and Cleverley quickly pulled one back.
City seemed content to hang on for the win, and the longer it went the more likely a Villa goal was, as they pushed City back with some slick passing and movement. Hart had to be out smart to make a one on one save and denied with a smart save. So it proved in the 85th minute. A Villa corner was palmed out weakly by Hart and Sanchez, waiting on the edge of the box, stroked the ball back through a forest of bodies, and past him. Nobody was surprised. Indeed it would not have been a shock had they gone on to win.
Sherwood had justified claims that Villa should have had a penalty when Hart brought Benteke down after the Villa man was incorrectly ruled offside when the score was 2-2, but like so many managers in his position, forgot to mention that City also had a very legitimate claim for a spot kick when Silva was fouled in the box at 2-0.
Suddenly City upped the tempo. Milner won a corner on our left, Kolarov swung the ball over and Fernandinho acrobatically hooked the ball just past Guzan’s right hand to much relief all round.
It was fair to wonder, and some City fans did aloud, why we didn’t show the same urgency beforehand. It was a win that was not deserved, (but saying that we didn’t deserve to lose at Palace). The game clearly emphasised City’s problems. City lack mobility, energy, speed of movement and thought, and in too many cases, desire. Whoever is in charge of this team next season, and it may still be Pellegrini, needs players who can give us an injection of all those qualities. City would do well to have another look at signing one of Villa’s Delph, Grealish and Sanchez. City also didn’t pass the ball as well as this team can. Yaya’s half time substitution with a hamstring injury made no overall difference because Fernandinho could not do all the running on his own. It was rather surprising that he and Milner were not selected to play from the start as they offer more energy than the rest of the midfield. Indeed, there are big decisions to be made this summer.
City: Aguero 4, Kolarov 66, Fernandinho 89
Villa: Cleverley 68, Sanchez 85
Hart: Caught in no-man’s land when he couldn’t reach the ball for Villa’s first goal, and his palm out for their second was weak and straight back into the danger area. His kicking was poor again. Made a couple of very good saves: 5
Zabaleta: Found Grealish a real handful and was beaten a few times by Villa’s youthful starlet, but held his position and stuck to his task: 6
Demichelis: Read the game well and made some good interceptions but understandably was beaten to every header by the man mountain that is Benteke: 6
Mangala: His reading of the game is improving. A run of games can only help him with his game: 6
Kolarov: His defending wasn’t bad, but his distribution left something to be desired with a couple of ungainly slices into touch being the low lights. On the plus side, he scored a great free kick and his accurate corner created the winner. 6 Navas: His attitude is good and he works hard, but his delivery going forward continues to disappoint: 6
Yaya: Other than a volley which went wide and clever pass for Navas, there was little of note from the captain, before he succumbed to a hamstring injury at the break: 5
Fernando: Outpaced and spent the afternoon chasing Villa’s fleet-footed midfield that moved the ball quickly: 5
Lampard: The pace of this game was too hot for him, and like Yaya and Fernando he struggled with Villa’s pace in midfield: 5 Silva: Had a quieter game than usual as we were unable to have enough possession of the ball: 6
Aguero: Could hardly believe his luck when presented with a gift in the 4th minute, but was starved of service for the rest of the game. 6
Subs: Subs: Fernandinho (for Yaya HT) Great finish for the winner. Tried to improve our midfield but he couldn’t do it all on his own: 6
Milner (for Lampard 57): Won the corner that led to the winner. Should have started: 6
Bony (f0r Aguero 83): n/a
Refwatch: Mike Dean: The best of a surprisingly poor set of showings this season: 6
Best Oppo & Man of the Match: Jack Grealish: A lively, quick, intelligent and dynamic presence down Villa’s left and when he regularly worked inside. His passing was accurate, slick and his play was mature beyond his years. It is too early to be talking in terms of great Villa names, but he could end up being a latter day cerebral Gordon Cowans or a marauding Tony Morley. He showed the character to perform to a very high level in a week when his face was plastered across the front pages of newspapers, allegedly taking a “legal high” (nitrous oxide). Some might say he needs to grow up off the pitch as well so that he can consistently play like this, and honours will surely follow. The last time I saw him was on loan at Notts County lasts season where he was decent – a Notts supporting friend said he and another player saved their season (37 appearances, 5 goals) not bad for a teenager (he is now 19) in a grown man’s physical league. His is the sort of talent that we need to be looking at as part of our squad refresh, though his attachment to Villa may be stronger than most with his great, great grandfather, Billy Garraty being part of the 1905 Villa FA Cup Winning side. Could history be about to repeat itself? 8