A Phil Foden-inspired victory, in a game which ended with both sides reduced to 10 men, left Manchester City needing just eight points to be certain of the Premier League title and allowed Pep Guardiola to concentrate on doing what he does best — winning trophies.
Sunday’s Carabao Cup final with Tottenham now beckons, with City comfortable in the table and a chaotic plan to form a breakaway super league consigned to football history’s dustbin.
Still, an end to the ESL talk did not seem to have mellowed Guardiola who reacted furiously to the dismissal of John Stones, which will keep him out of Sunday’s final.
The England defender was shown yellow and then, after referee Peter Bankes reviewed his monitor, a straight red for a high challenge on Jacob Ramsey a minute before the break.
Guardiola did not have long to wait for the numbers to balance out, however, when Matt Cash collected two bookings in as many minutes, both for fouls on Foden, and was also shown red after 56 minutes.
And that ensured a relatively comfortable second half for City because if they were suffering a hangover due to events on and off the field over recent days, it would not have been helped when they fell behind after just 20 seconds. Tyrone Mings’ delightful long ball floated over Stones and freed Ollie Watkins down the left. The Villa striker picked out John McGinn with an accurate pass for the Scottish midfielder to sweep the ball clinically past Ederson in the City goal.
It was a brutal start for a City side who saw their dreams of a quadruple end in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final and it could have got worse before it got better, with Douglas Luiz, Bertrand Traore, and Watkins all having shots blocked in the minutes that followed. But, eventually, City pulled themselves together, dramatically so given that by the 20-minute mark they had enjoyed 81% possession and, a minute later, scored an inevitable equaliser.
It was a stunning goal, the ball finding its way from Ederson to the back of the Villa goal in one flowing movement.
The keeper’s long pass was headed on by Oleksandr Zinchenko to Foden who, in turn, found Riyad Mahrez. One more pass to the overlapping Bernardo Silva and the Portuguese playmaker’s pull-back found Foden 12 yards out to finish impeccably.
There was a rare moment of City concern when Ederson slipped while taking a goal-kick but the rest of the half, the rest of the game, was a Foden-inspired march to the Villa goal.
It culminated in the second after 40 minutes when Mahrez turned a cleared City corner wide to Silva and his exquisite cross was glanced in by Rodri at the near post, an effort with which keeper Emiliano Martinez might have done better.
After the restart, City carried a major threat, as Cash discovered to his cost, and Foden remained instrumental, playing in Ilkay Gundogan for a shot saved at the near-post, then shooting over from outside the area.
ASTON VILLA (4-1-4-1): Martinez 5; Cash 4, Konsa 6, Mings 7, Targett 6; Nakamba 6 (Barkley 63, 6); Traore 7 (El Ghazi 75, 6), McGinn 8, Luiz 7, Ramsey 6 (Davis 45, 6); Watkins 6.
MAN CITY (4-3-3): Ederson 6; Walker 7, Stones 4, Dias 6, Zinchenko 6; Silva 8, Rodri 7, Gundogan 7; Mahrez 8 (Fernandinho 90), Jesus 5 (Laporte 45, 6), Foden 9. Referee: Peter Bankes 7