Only 19 of the 281 Premier League games Manchester City have played since Pep Guardiola became their manager have seen them have fewer shots than their opponents. But Aston Villa are not just a shot ahead of City. They have 20 more.
That had never happened before. Not just in Guardiola’s time at City, but in any of his 535 top-flight games as a manager.
Most of the other 18 with City against Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool. Brighton have managed to outshoot them on a couple of occasions but there are typically underwhelming circumstances when a team does so against Guardiola’s City.
Against Bournemouth in 2020, they took the lead from the sixth minute and did enough to win. Against Nottingham Forest earlier this season, they took the lead from the seventh minute and had 10 players for half the game. Ederson was sent off after 12 minutes at Wolves in 2019.
This time it has nothing to do with the state of the game or any numerical advantage. It’s all to do with Aston Villa’s superiority. “The better team won,” said Guardiola afterwards. “Aston Villa are better than us.” Frankly, he had little to say.
Unai Emery is keen to play down any suggestion that it was a personal victory for him to beat a Guardiola team at the 14th attempt. “It’s nothing special. It’s a process.” What a process. Aston Villa are probably the best coached team in the Premier League.
Emery opted to include Youri Tielemans from the start alongside the trio of Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn for the first time in a Premier League game. His box midfield allowed Villa to outnumber City in the center and dominate them as a result.
The teams didn’t just do what Villa did to City. They won possession in the final third of the pitch nine times in the first half alone. No team has pitched a complete game all season. When it was over, it happened 13 times – a record during Guardiola’s time at City.
Villa created chances as a result but it wasn’t an end-to-end encounter like Chelsea recently. Emery also held City back. Emiliano Martinez’s early double save from Erling Haaland was impressive but they were their only attempt on goal all game.
Interestingly, the second of the saves could have been for naught as it was found to be almost offside. That is also a part of Emery’s Villa. They have the best offside trap in the Premier League and it is a vital weapon for them in defence.
Julian Alvarez thought he found space in the left channel during the first half only to see the flag go up. Phil Foden was disappointed in the second half. Erling Haaland even made a mistake at one point, as if bamboozled by Villa’s offside trap.
City were caught offside five times. That is the first time that has happened to them in any Premier League game this season. But this is the Villa. City are now the ninth team they have caught five times or more. No other team has done it more than twice.
It takes a lot of work to perfect it, hours of work in the training area and in the video sessions, because accuracy is important. Defenders must be on their toes, ready to drop or push up, and always side-side in anticipation of a race with a center forward.
In an interview with Ezri Konsa recently, he revealed that he adapted his body shape when defending. “When the ball goes over your head, the way you have to turn is completely different to what I was taught and some of the other boys,” he said. Sky Sports.
That long line of defense may appear risky but the rewards are clear. Villa were able to squeeze the game, making it too crowded for City’s midfield to cope with. They couldn’t find the space needed to set the trap and keep Haaland away.
Villa are a team that can win in different ways, with different formations, but, at Villa Park, at least, the result is the same. Fourteen consecutive home wins equals a club record and is twice as many as any other Premier League club currently on a winning streak.
The supporters are expecting and so are they. The message on the Villa video screens declared that the giant was awake. As the crowd roared with joy at the final whistle, there was a growing belief inside the stadium that this could only be the beginning.
Can they really maintain it? Competing in Europe will also test the squad and it is understandable that Emery wants to get 30 games in the Premier League season not 15 before talking about a title race. But there is some depth of talent available today.
Guardiola mentioned that the bench at Villa after. While he turned to youngster Oscar Bobb, Villa brought in Moussa Diaby and Jacob Ramsey. First-choice left-back Alex Moreno is fit again but Lucas Digne, a Steven Gerrard signing, gets the start.
That is another surprising aspect of Emery’s success at Villa. Most of the starting line-up for this win over City also started in last year’s 3-0 defeat at Fulham which ended his previous reign. Recruitment is good. But this is a teaching victory.
Konsa is a player who has changed, shining in defense and attack from right back against City. Pau Torres added another dimension to his passing from the back. Behind him, Martinez is perhaps – as Holte End sang – the No 1 in the world. Up front, Douglas Luiz is an empire, joined by fan favorites Kamara and McGinn.
Ollie Watkins is more than a reliable goalscorer, he is a picture of endless movement, and there is quality around him now. Leon Bailey, the match winner, relished his role from the right. Confidence is high and rising. Emery’s Villa is the real deal.