Man City looked like champions against Aston Villa with ‘sniper’ Phil Foden the conductor


Phil Foden celebrates scoring
Phil Foden celebrates restoring Man City’s lead – Reuters/Molly Darlington

The voting began this week for the Footballer of the Year and if this season it is to be another Manchester City player then it will be Phil Foden.

The ballot closes before we know who the Premier League champions will be but, with a nod to Rodri, if City retain their title then no one will have done more to achieve that than “the Sniper” as Kyle Walker calls Foden.

A second hat-trick of the campaign for Foden – including his first goal direct from a free-kick – helped overwhelm a dangerous Aston Villa, damaging their chances of a top-four finish. And Foden ran the show.

City’s attention is on the ultimate prize and after the frustrations of the goalless draw against Arsenal this was a thrilling return to form. This was the touch of champions with Foden their conductor as he played in the No10 role and revelled in the freedom and responsibility.

It is 21 goals for the season for Foden – including 14 in the league – which is an impressive return and is the 23-year-old’s best ever. With 10 minutes to go he departed to a standing ovation.

Foden withe the ball at the end of the gameFoden withe the ball at the end of the game

Foden bags the matchball after bagging his second hat-trick of the season – REUTERS/Molly Darlington

In doing so he took his place among the substitutes including Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne who had been surprisingly rested. Fortunately for City they did not need them with Foden removing the jeopardy from a tricky fixture.

How City needed him. There is a concern as to where their goals are coming from. Jack Grealish started against his former club and, unfortunately, it was another disappointing evening for him. No one doubts Grealish’s effort, he is just not producing. And certainly not the way that Foden can.The changes by Pep Guardiola were, the City manager stated, made with an eye on facing Crystal Palace away on Saturday and partly because that is a 12.30pm kick-off and partly, also surely, because it is Real Madrid away the following Tuesday in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final.

City were certainly Pep-ed up. They started with far more intent, far more incisiveness than in the frustrating goalless draw against Arsenal last Sunday and surged into the lead. It was already a different type of game.

Foden started it, driving forward before picking out Jeremy Doku to his right. The winger crossed low and Rodri arrived to slam the ball, first-time, high into the net. Goalkeeper Robin Olsen, a late replacement for Emiliano Marínez who was ill, had no chance.

Rodri scoresRodri scores

Rodri scores the first – Martin Rickett/PA Wire

If that was expected to settle City and lead to greater dominance then they were quickly undone by a superbly constructed equaliser by Villa that was orchestrated by Morgan Rogers. The 21-year-old former City midfielder twice cleverly exchanged passes with Jhon Duran – two one/twos – before the striker swept his shot low across Stefan Ortega and inside the far post.

Villa’s move had been wonderfully flowing and stemmed from Haaland’s replacement Julián Alvarez losing the ball just outside their area. As the goal went in Guardiola turned on his heel and strode back to his seat in the dug-out as a little bit of air was taken out of City’s momentum.

“You used to play a big club,” the Villa fans goaded Grealish and the winger’s every touch was booed by them. It raised the scrutiny further on the England international’s first start since late February and the visiting supporters were even more gleeful when Grealish was booked for protesting after he was penalised for over-running the ball and catching Douglas Luiz.

Grealish is yellow cardedGrealish is yellow carded

Villa fans tried to wind Grealish, their former darling, up all game – Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Villa were also missing players, of course, and not least the injured Ollie Watkins and the suspended John McGinn but the goal fuelled their belief and City were once again facing a well-drilled side – at times they funnelled into a back six – who would be extremely difficult to break down. And also one who had come for the win, and broke positively, rather than settle for a draw.

And yet Alvarez should have restored City’s lead when he linked with Rico Lewis down the right. Sent clear on goal his shot was repelled by Olsen with an outstretched leg. Soon after he whipped a free-kick over, after Grealish was pulled back on the area’s edge by Luiz – who was booked and was fortunate not to go in the book again after a similar foul on Foden.

How Villa paid for it, nevertheless. This time Foden took the free-kick with the Villa wall crumbling as his shot went between Nicolo Zaniolo and Ezri Konsa to beat a stranded Olsen. There will surely be an inquest on that one, led by Villa’s set-piece coach Austin MacPhee who appeared crestfallen. On half-time City were denied a third goal with Olsen pushing over Alvarez’s close-range header.

Villa's wall falls apartVilla's wall falls apart

Villa’s wall splinters and allows Foden to score – Michael Regan/Getty Images

The goalkeeper then denied Doku with Foden’s influence growing and he wonderfully danced through to set up Bernardo Silva. He turned with Olsen diverting his shot away for a corner. Such is Foden’s work-rate that when Moussa Diaby counter-attacked and sprinted into the City area before crossing, he was the one back to head clear.

Villa continued to threaten. They poured forward when they had the chance and City were indebted to Ortega who tipped over Douglas Luiz’s shot and pushed away Clément Lenglet’s glancing header from the corner.

City heeded the warning. Rodri made it, breaking through a half-hearted tackle by Diaby, who stood and watched, before offloading to Foden. He made it look so easy as he simply passed the ball in off the post from 20 yards. Olsen had no chance and Foden reeled away.

He was soon celebrating again. Foden was dumped to the turf, sprung up, won the ball back – and slammed a superb shot hit beyond Olsen from the area’s edge. It showed incredible tenacity. As he did so he fell again. But it was Villa who were beaten.


Man City 4 Villa 1: As it happened


10:27 PM BST

Phil Foden speaks to Laura Woods

I’m just loving my football at the moment, playing with a smile on my face, trying to help the team because I know I can score goals. I just try every season to better last season’s return and I’m there now. I can do that job out wide but I prefer the middle. The manager spoke about adding rhythm and slowing the game down and I think I’m learning that now and getting the balance right.

I always try to arrive in the box. I’ve been working on all aspects of my game in the midfield but arriving late in the box can get you five goals a season. I don’t practicse free-kicks but I felt confident and asked Julian if I could take it and he let me.

I’m lost for words about Rodri. He can do everything. I can’t see a weakness in his game. He’s our bets player.

We don’t look too far ahead [to the title]. We look to the next game but if it’s possible, we believe and we keep fighting to the end.


10:15 PM BST

Rodri speaks to TNT Sports

Today we played amazing from the first minute. Yes we concede that goal but in general it was one of our best games of the season. We played quite open, got more players into the box. I want to help the team as much as possible. It’s not my job but I know I can help to score more goals, be more vertical, get more assists. I’m trying to improve every season.

We have been struggling to face the teams at the top this season but to beat Villa 4-1, that’s good. We have now to focus on the next game.


10:13 PM BST

Full time: City 4 Villa 1

Foden returns to the pitch to stuff the matchball up his jumper after a wonderful hat-trick. First he goes over to his best mate Grealish, covers his mouth and makes him laugh. Grealish was very good tonight, too.


10:11 PM BST

90+3 min: City 4 Villa 1

Sergio Gomez hits the outside of the left post after Gvardiol surges in behind Konsa to square it to the sub to sweep a shot from eight yards.

Chambers is booked for a shoulder barge into Grealish’s chest to stop him getting away down the left.


10:08 PM BST

90+1 min: City 4 Villa 1

The first of four minutes of stoppage time ends with a Villa corner from the left the is floated deep, straight to Alex Moreno who tries to volley with his swinger and the ball ends up slipping off his right boot and going behind him for a throw-in!!


10:07 PM BST

89 min: City 4 Villa 1

Bailey’s deft touch allows him to bring the ball inside to beat Gvardiol but then slips. Olsen, despite letting in four, has played well and stops another shot, this one from Alvarez after Bobb’s heavy touch ruins his shooting chance.


10:04 PM BST

87 min: City 4 Villa 1

Bobb pounces on Tielemans’ mistake to hit a reverse pass from the right of the D to the right of the box but Alvarez miscontrols it and it runs away.


10:02 PM BST

85 min: City 4 Villa 1

It’s such a formality that McCoist is persuaded to award Foden the man of the match award with five minutes of normal time to go.


10:01 PM BST

83 min: City 4 Villa 1

Villa have been ‘outclassed’ in the second half, says the sage of East Kilbride. But McCoist adds: “But if that wall had stood firm …”


09:58 PM BST

81 min: City 4 Villa 1

Matheus lets fly and his rising shot whistles past the frame.

That’s the end for Foden who leaves to a rousing ovation:

Bobb ⇢ Doku

Gomez ⇢ Foden.


09:55 PM BST

79 min: City 4 Villa 1

Bailey feeds a cross into the box from the right. Konsa, on the underlap, tries to control it but runs into Matheus and demands a penalty, which isn’t forthcoming.


09:54 PM BST

77 min: City 4 Villa 1

Zaniolo, hurt in a collision with Dias a couple of minutes ago, is going to have to go off with an injured thigh.

Alex Moreno ⇢ Duran

Kellyman ⇢ Zaniolo.


09:52 PM BST

74 min: City 4 Villa 1

Foden’s last touch before being substituted is to slip Grealish in with a cute pass down the left but the cross zips through the six-yard box, eluding everyone.

Kovacic ⇢ Bernardo

Matheus Nunes ⇢ Rodri.

And Bobb was about to come on for Foden but Guardiola changes his mind, presumably to allow him to take a solo round of applause.


09:50 PM BST

72 min: City 4 Villa 1

One has to say, Foden is irrepressible when he plays centrally. Thrillingly effective on the wing, he is magnificent in that freer role.


09:46 PM BST

GOAL!!!!

Man City 4 Villa 1 (Foden)  Hat-trick for the Boy Wonder. Raging at not being given a free-kick when seemingly tripped by Lenglet, he springs to his feet, intercepts the clearance, dips his shoulder and wallops it into the top right, the keeper unsighted by a defender. He even slipped as he struck it. What a player.


09:45 PM BST

67 min: City 3 Villa 1

Grealish, Beranrdo and Rodri waltz through the Villa defence, going slowly until they burst out of the blocks to beat a man but Konsa doesn’t surrender and gets back to block Rodri’s shot.


09:43 PM BST

64 min: City 3 Villa 1

Lewis kills Doku’s pass in from the left perfectly to set up a volley … which he hooks past the left post horribly.

Triple Villa substitution:

Tielemans ⇢ Iroegbunam

Chambers ⇢ Douglas Luiz

Bailey ⇢ Diaby.


09:39 PM BST

GOAL!

Man City 3 Villa 1 (Foden)  Foden’s 20th City goal of the season, this one put on a plate by Rodri, City’s MVP this season like the past two. The Spain midfielder drags the ball with his right to beat one defender, turns back inside then hits a glorious stabbed pass with his left to find Foden to sweep his shot into the bottom right with his left instep.


09:38 PM BST

61 min: City 2 Villa 1

Foden comes careering through the middle, shifting the ball from left to right to beat Diaby and then Iroegbunam, “like Gascoigne”, as Ally McCoist says, but runs into Diego Carlos before he can shoot.

Clement Lenglet of Aston Villa battles with Phil FodenClement Lenglet of Aston Villa battles with Phil Foden

Foden dribbles through – Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images


09:35 PM BST

59 min: City 2 Villa 1

De Bruyne, Stones and Haaland run down the touchline to start warming up and are greeted by a burst of applause.


09:34 PM BST

57 min: City 2 Villa 1

In comes the corner from the right and Lenglet wins another near-post header, flicking it towards the back post, on target and Ortega saves the day again.


09:33 PM BST

55 min: City 2 Villa 1

Villa break menacingly with Zaniolo’s crafty pass from deep on the left to Duran who carries it forward and then sprays a pass out to Diaby on the right. It’s four v three when Diaby squares it to Douglas Luiz to shoot from inside the box. Ortega leaps to turn the shot over for a corner.


09:30 PM BST

53 min: City 2 Villa 1

Grealish switches the ball out to Doku out on the right and he dazzles Digne with his feet before letting fly… straight at Olsen.


09:29 PM BST

51 min: City 2 Villa 1

VAR has a second look at Rodri going over in the box but there was very little contact and even that was outside.


09:27 PM BST

49 min: City 2 Villa 1

Pretty end to end now as first Doku sneaks in down the right to shoot. Olsen make a firm parry to save and Foden wishes he was two inches taller as he tried to head in the rebound but it parted his pancake hair. Fifteen seconds later Foden dribbles down the middle, nutmegs Diego Carlos with a cute pass to put Bernardo through on goal but his shot is well saved again by Olsen who has kept Villa in this.


09:25 PM BST

47 min: City 2 Villa 1

Diaby and Konsa fly down the right but Gvardiol closes the angle and wears Diaby’s shot across his shins, diverting it out for a throw-in. Villa switch it quickly to the right to Digne but his cross is floated down Olsen’s throat.


09:23 PM BST

46 min: City 2 Villa 1

No changes in personnel as City kick off, attacking from right to left. Iroegbunam makes a good tackle on Rodri to spark a Villa counter.


09:12 PM BST

Half-time verdict

Suffice to say, this has been a hell of a lot more entertaining than Sunday’s game with Arsenal. Unai Emery will be furious with the way Villa played out those final few minutes. They have been robust, organised, disciplined and broke with pace and precision, as encapsulated by a wonderful equalising goal from Jhon Duran. But they undid a lot of that hard work, firstly with a dismal effort from the defensive wall to keep out Phil Foden’s free-kick and then allowing Julian Alvarez two good chances to extend that lead. Still all to play for though.


09:08 PM BST

Wall falls apart

City’s captain Ruben Dias and Jack Grealish were protesting loudly that Douglas Luiz should have been looking at a second yellow card after taking down Phil Foden from behind. They were probably feeling less aggrieved after Foden picked himself up and stuck the resulting free-kick in the bottom corner. There will be an inquest from the Villa perspective about the defensive wall. It’s not often you see those walls failing to do their job at the top level these days but Unai Emery won’t want to watch Nicolo Zaniolo and Ezri Konsa parting like they did again and allowing Foden’s free-kick to sail between them. It was really poor from both of them.

Phil Foden scoresPhil Foden scores

Phil Foden scores his first goal for four matches – REUTERS/Molly Darlington


09:07 PM BST

Half-time: City 2 Villa 1

Grealish stands up a cross for Alvarez to head and Olsen turns it over. The camera pans to Guardiola who does an audition to join the Ministry of Silly Walks before the referee blows for half-time.


09:05 PM BST

45+2 min: City 2 Villa 1

Brilliant last gasp tackle by Lenglet stops Alvarez from making it three from six yards.


09:01 PM BST

GOAL!

Man City 2 Villa 1 (Foden)  Olsen has lined up his wall for the right-foot effort from Alvarez but Foden takes it with his left, Konsa and Zaniolo drift apart leaving a huge gap that Foden fires through with his left, leaving Olsen stranded, sabotaged by the doziness of two of his team-mates.


09:01 PM BST

45 min: City 1 Villa 1

Douglas Luiz clips Foden’s heels and Grealish leads the prosecution case for a second yellow for the Villa captain but the referee sweeps his hands to brush him off.

City free-kick roughly in the same place from which Alvarez knocked it over …


08:59 PM BST

43 min: City 1 Villa 1

The ref stops the game to check on a head clash but they’re OK. I would like to tell you whose heads clashed but the Telegraph’s TV momentarily went on the blink there. All fine now.


08:57 PM BST

Short memories

Jack Grealish is attacking the corner right where the Villa fans are situated and he’s getting dog’s abuse. Every time he touches the ball he’s roundly booed by the away supporters. He may have Villa in his blood and have been an idol at the club but they’re determined to ensure he won’t get an easy ride on his first league appearance of 2024 for City.


08:57 PM BST

41 min: City 1 Villa 1

Foden dribbles through the centre, feints left to beat Diego Carlos then slips. Half a minute later he has another go after a series of quick, short passes and this time Diego Carlos toes it away but Villa can’t clear their lines and City find Alvarez on the right of the box for a shot that keeps rising until it clears the far post.


08:54 PM BST

39 min: City 1 Villa 1

Alvarez deliberates over the ball for the best part of a minute then spoons his free-kick over the bar.


08:53 PM BST

38 min: City 1 Villa 1

Douglas Luiz is booked for pulling Grealish back by the arm, 22 yards out. Free-kick, left of centre.


08:52 PM BST

36 min: City 1 Villa 1

For the third or fourth time Grealish dribbles in from the left with his right but lays it off instead of shooting. Lewis takes the ball and plays a fine, angled, reverse pass to Alvarez creeping into the box from the right. The World Cup winner lamps a first-time shot that Olsen turns away from close range with his right boot. Good save.


08:50 PM BST

34 min: City 1 Villa 1

Back come City with Rodri, Grealis and Bernardo down the inside left but when Rodri attempts to find Foden, Duran makes the tackle. Can’t fault the centre-forward’s resilience and diligence.


08:49 PM BST

32 min: City 1 Villa 1

Grealish combines with Bernardo Silva to work another cross in from the left but Lenglet reads his intentions and booms a header clear.

Jhon Duran of Aston Villa scoresJhon Duran of Aston Villa scores

Jhon Duran beats Ortega at the far post – Michael Regan/Getty Images


08:47 PM BST

29 min: City 1 Villa 1

Grealish is penalised for running into Douglas Luiz who goes down like a bag of spanners. Grealish keeps griping and earns himself a booking.


08:45 PM BST

27 min: City 1 Villa 1

Zaniolo sweeps up inside his own box after more decent work from Grealish down the left before he crosses. Ally McCoist laments that he doesn’t shoot more often when he beats his man. It’s a fair point. He always seems to want to show that he’s not being greedy these days to the point it’s actually harming his impact.


08:43 PM BST

25 min: City 1 Villa 1

Grealish is now treated to a chorus of ‘You used to play for a big club’.


08:40 PM BST

23 min: City 1 Villa 1

City spring on to the attack from the kick off and play in Doku down the right and he overhits a cross that finds Grealish nonetheless. The former Villa captain hits it with a sidewinder volley, smacking the ball into the ground and watching as it bounces across goal and just past the far post. He protests that Olsen got a fingernail on it … and the replay suggests he is right but the goal-kick has already been taken.


08:34 PM BST

GOAL!

Man City 1 Villa 1 (Duran)  Villa rob the ball off Alvarez and Zaniolo brings it forward up the left, crossing halfway to feed it into Rogers. He shapes to pass to the right with his run but hits it back to his left to Duran who plays a one-two with Rogers, glides into the box and rolls a left-foot shot across Ortega and into the far corner. Zaniolo had run into an offside position but was not interfering.


08:34 PM BST

18 min: City 1 Villa 0

Doku is causing Digne all manner of problems because Zaniolo keeps letting him deal with him on his tod.


08:33 PM BST

16 min: City 1 Villa 0

Can’t tell if it’s City fans with short memories or Villa fans with even shorter ones singing ‘Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that.’ Could be irony, of course, for folk that think it’s the same as brassy but made out of iron.

Manchester City's Rodri (right) scores their side's first goal of the gameManchester City's Rodri (right) scores their side's first goal of the game

Rodri fires in the opener – Martin Rickett/PA Wire


08:31 PM BST

14 min: City 1 Villa 0

Duran’s excellent scissors-volley with his left from Douglas Luiz.s diagonal from the left almost gets Villa straight back in but Ortega makes a smart save … and the replay suggests that had it gone in, he may have been offside by a couple of centimetres. Impressive technique nonetheless.


08:26 PM BST

GOAL!

Man City 1 Aston Villa 0 (Rodri)  VAR check but the goal stands. Akanji works the ball to his right to Foden who slips it wider still to Doku who dribbles upfield and infield to cut a pass back to eight yards that Rodri buries with a rising, near-post shot, Lenglet playing him onside. Nowt Olsen could have done to stop that from that range.


08:25 PM BST

10 min: City 0 Villa 0

Lenglet recovers to stop Alvarez getting a shot away inside the box and Rodri’s scuffed shot through Konsa’s legs is smothered by Olsen. Villa can’t get break the siege and have all 11 behind the ball.


08:23 PM BST

8 min: City 0 Villa 0

Foden whips it to the back stick with his left foot and Olsen takes it comfortably, reading the flight perfectly.


08:22 PM BST

7 min: City 0 Villa 0

Doku is brought down by Digne, wide right parallel with the 18-yard line. Alvarez and Foden stand over the free-kick.


08:21 PM BST

6 min: City 0 Villa 0

Doku, playing on the right, takes a touch too many but still beats Digne but the delay means his pass, when it comes, is cut out by Lenglet. Duran hits the deck when hit in the head during a collision with Gvardiol, fighting for a bouncing ball in the centre-circle. But he’s OK.


08:19 PM BST

4 min: City 0 Villa 0

Grealish picks it up and skitters off up the left, booed by Villa fans as he progresses. He shimmies, sends Konsa off for a paper and a pint of milk, cuts inside to chip it to Alvarez who makes a run to the left of the penalty spot to hook a half-volley from a tight angle into the side-netting. Looked as if he might have been onside as he got into position to let the ball drift over his shoulder to strike.


08:17 PM BST

2 min: City 0 Villa 0

Douglas Luiz goes for a near post inswinger that Lenglet flicks on a la Steve Bould but there’s no one there to pounce in a claret shirt and City clear.


08:16 PM BST

1 min: City 0 Villa 0

Villa kick off, their fans in fine voice and shift the ball back to Diego Carlos who wins it back when it’s given away and they switch to the left with Zaniolo playing a one-two to head up the flank and win a corner.


08:14 PM BST

Douglas Luiz is Villa’s captain

The former City midfielder led his side out tonight in the absence of John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and Emi Martínez.


08:12 PM BST

The teams are in the tunnel

And out they come, Villa having added claret shorts to their home shirt and socks, City in sky blue/white/sky blue as usual.


08:07 PM BST

TNT now segues its manager interviews


08:05 PM BST

Thoughts from the Etihad

It’s a brave starting XI from Pep Guardiola. Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne are both on the substitutes’ bench and there is a first league start in 2024 for Jack Grealish. City have to win. There is little margin for error in the title race and Guardiola is clearly hoping the likes of Julian Alvarez, Grealish and Jeremy Doku step up. Aston Villa are without star striker Ollie Watkins as expected and John McGinn is suspended. Villa are the last team to beat City way back in early December and what Unai Emery would give for a repeat tonight as Villa bid to take another step nearer to Champions League qualification.

Kevin De BruyneKevin De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne drops to the bench – ADAM VAUGHAN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock


07:50 PM BST

For those who haven’t seen much of Tim Iroegbunam

He scored this great goal during his loan spell with QPR last season:


07:47 PM BST

Your teams in black and white

Man City  Ortega; Lewis, Dias, Akanji, Gvardiol; Rodri, Bernardo Silva; Doku, Foden, Grealish; Alvarez. 
Substitutes  Carson, Stones, Kovacic, Haaland, De Bruyne, Gomez, Matheus Luiz, Bobb, Susoho.

Aston Villa  Olsen; Konsa, Diego Carlos, Lenglet, Digne; Zaniolo, Iroegbunam, Douglas Luiz, Rogers; Diaby, Duran. Substitutes   Gauci, Tielemans, Torres, Alex Moreno, Chambers, Kesler-Hayden, Bailey, Kellyman.

Referee  Darren England (Barnsley)


07:42 PM BST

Armband fetishist update!

No word yet on who will lead Villa out since Martinez dropped out with illness. I’d give it to Ezri Konsa but it could be Diego Carlos or Douglas Luiz.


07:30 PM BST

Martínez out

Update to Villa starting line-up: Robin Olsen will start in goal as Emi Martínez has been forced out through illness. Australia international ’keeper Joe Gauci was already on the bench as a precaution.


07:17 PM BST

Villa go one further with five changes

In come Digne for Moreno, Lenglet for Pau Torres, Iroegbunam for Tielemans, Zaniolo for Bailey and Duran for Watkins.


07:15 PM BST

Confirmed: City make four changes

Lewis in for Ake, Doku for Kovacic, Alvarez for Haaland and Grealish for De Bruyne.


07:00 PM BST

Fantasy Football players alert

Don’t kick the cat … but rumours are rife that neither Erling Haaland nor Kevin De Bruyne are starting for City tonight. In addition Bukayo Saka isn’t starting for Arsenal and as we already know Ollie Watkins is out for Villa.


04:43 PM BST

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Having a bet on today’s match? First take a look at the offers on these best betting sites.


04:40 PM BST

Preview: 14th time lucky?

In the 18 years since Aston Villa won their only Premier League game at the Etihad/City of Manchester Stadium, City have racked up 13 straight league victories for an aggregate score of 41-7, making this one of the most one-sided fixtures in recent top-flight history … at least since 1992 and Sky’s Year Zero for football records. Add to that the fact that Unai Emery has also lost there on visits with Sevilla and Arsenal and you may think that Villa travel more in hopelessness than positive expectation, an unusual lopsidedness for a third vs fourth encounter.

And yet, Villa did beat City at home only four months ago by virtue of Leon Bailey’s winner and that ended a run of 15 matches without a win spanning 10 years. Perhaps, then, this is a season to end all barren runs, home and away even if City, kept on a very short rein by Arsenal on Sunday, will be champing at the bit to offer compelling proof that a record-breaking fourth successive title is still within their grasp.

Emery and Guardiola at the Etihad in 2019Emery and Guardiola at the Etihad in 2019

Which way is Beswick? – REUTERS/Andrew Yates

City have drawn three of their last six which leaves them three points behind Liverpool and one off Arsenal. They should have John Stones back tonight but they are still missing Kyle Walker and Nathan Ake and, probably, Ederson though City have been very cagey about when he may be fit again. Any side missing four of its first-choice back five against a team as good as Arsenal is bound to struggle though it wasn’t their defence that failed to spark. It will be interesting to see whether Pep Guardiola tweaks his midfield and wide forwards tonight, Mateo Kovacic’s prowess as a dribbler not really seeming, to this observer, to add a significant new dimension to City’s established style.

As for Villa, John McGinn serves the last match of a three-game suspension, Jacob Ramsey and Mtty Cash are still absent and Ollie Watkins came off at half-time with a thigh strain during the 2-0 victory over Wolves. The England centre-forward will not make it, and Emery said yesterday that “we are going to wait as there is a chance for the next match, which means Jhon Duran will probably lead the line with Moussa Dembélé, Bailey and Morgan Rogers in support. Given how good Nicolo Zaniolo looked off the bench against Wolves and West Ham, Emery might be tempted to give him a rare start.





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