Bernardo Silva’s recent resurgence continues apace and so does Manchester City’s although it was a close run, and controversial thing last night, as Pep Guardiola’s side briefly kept pressure on their title rivals.
So controversial that Villa manager Dean Smith was shown a yellow, then red, card by referee Jonathan Moss for disputing a 79th minute winner which did not even receive a VAR check.
It came from a goalkeeper clearance which Silva headed forward before the alert Rodri dispossessed Villa defender Tyrone Mings, playing his Portuguese team mate into space.
Silva showed composure, and a nose for the net, with a superb shot from just inside the area, as three defenders converged on him. It was a fine finish but there was more than a hint of offside about Rodri’s role in the goal, as Smith forcefully pointed out.
To make the visiting manager’s mood even worse, City doubled their lead in the 90th minute when Gabriel Jesus’s goalbound header struck Matt Cash on the arm and Ilkay Gundogan made no mistake from the resulting penalty.
“I still don’t understand the rule if I’m honest,” said Smith. “I don’t think anybody here can tell me why the goal has actually been given.
“He took advantage of an offside position, he was 10 yards offside, came back and tackled Tyrone Mings from behind.
“What’s Tyrone supposed to do? Let it go through or should we stand 10 yards offside all the time for the next few games?
“But when I realised they weren’t even looking at the screen, I just told the fourth official I thought they had all had juggling balls for Christmas.
“I got the yellow card and, for the red, there weren’t swear word. He said he was interpreting the laws of the game and I just said you should have interpreted the laws of the game earlier in the game.
“I felt I was unfairly treated because I’ve seen people say far worse to Jonathan Moss. It looked like he couldn’t wait to give me a yellow and a red. But I’m frustrated at myself.” The monsoon conditions never relented but then again, thankfully, nor did two teams very much with goals on their minds.
True to form, City dominated possession with Villa, but Ederson had a moment of concern in the first half, when Jack Grealish laid the ball back for Ross Barkley whose accurate curling shot was well held, in the soaking conditions, by the Brazilian keeper.
But the rest of the half was a procession towards the Villa goal and an excellent display of disciplined and committed defending from Smith’s side.
Without a game for 19 days due to their much-publicised Covid outbreak, Villa could not have been handed a tougher fixture for their return than their visit to take on a City side that, slowly but surely, has taken on the air of title favourites in a 15-game unbeaten run.
But Mings and Ezri Konsa stood like giants at the centre of the Villa defence, clearing or blocking everything Pep Guardiola’s side could muster.
It started in the third minute, after Rodri’s header from Kevin De Bruyne’s corner fell invitingly in the Villa six-yard box, setting the tone for a Villa rearguard action that showcased the strides taken under Smith this season.
The outbreak at their training ground, which forced Villa to field an under-23 side in the FA Cup loss to Liverpool, has left them with four games in hand on many rivals and their stay around mid-table promises to be a short-lived thing.
But for City, the frustration at failing to find the opening goal grew exponentially with the gallons pouring out of the Manchester night sky.
The pattern continued after the restart, with Gundogan and Joao Cancelo both finding themselves in good shooting positions but failing to hit the target.
And, as City were in the process of collating 28 shots by the end of the game and Cancelo came closest yet, when he actually struck the bar, from a De Bruyne pass, after 53 minutes.
In between, there was also a warning from the lively Bertrand Traore who took a long keeper’s clearance majestically in his stride, as Kevin De Bruyne slipped, and carried the ball into the area and testing Ederson and former City youngster Douglas Luiz forcing Ederson into a flying, punching save from a long-range shot.
An increasingly frustrated Gundogan was also involved in a furious goalmouth scramble when his near-post header from a corner was well saved by Martinez and Ruben Dias’s efforts to force the ball over the line were stopped by yet more desperation defending.
“I don’t know the rule exactly but VAR is there,” said Guardiola of the controversy. “I can understand why they complain but it was a really good performance by us.” Man City (4-1-4-1): Ederson 7; Walker 5 (Zinchenko 27, 5), Stones, 7, Dias 7, Cancelo 6; Rodri 8; Sterling 6 (Mahrez 72, 6), De Bruyne 6 (Jesus 59, 6), Gundogan 6, Foden 8; Silva 9. Subs (not used) Steffen, Jesus, Torres, Mendy, Fernandinho, Garcia, Bernabe.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Martinez 7; Cash 6, Konsa 8, Mings 9, Targett 7 (Taylor 74, 6); Luiz 7, McGinn 6; Traore 6 (El Ghazi 68, 6), Barkley 7 (Ramsey 68, 6), Grealish 6; Watkins 6. Subs (not used) Heaton, Taylor, Nakamba, Engels, Guilbert, El Mohamady, Davis.
Referee: J Moss 5