Aston Villa 1, Manchester City 2
It was a brilliantly executed moment fit for a future king, but sadly for Prince William it came from a player in the white and green of Manchester City. The Duke of Cambridge’s first visit to Villa Park this season was graced by a magical goal from Bernardo Silva, which captured Pep Guardiola’s vision of football in high definition.
While much of the focus was on Aston Villa’s former crown prince Jack Grealish, making his first return since the £100m (€117.3m) move to City, it was Bernardo who underlined his enduring quality with the finishing touch late in the first-half.
Grealish was introduced late in the match to a mixture of boos and applause from the home supporters, and City resisted late pressure to secure a sixth successive victory.
Steven Gerrard could have become the first Villa manager to win his first three top-flight matches but can take much encouragement from the second-half performance.
This was always going to prove his toughest test yet and, perhaps, in his managerial career so far. It proved just as difficult as he had expected.
City were exhilarating from the first whistle and Villa’s goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had produced fine saves from Joao Cancelo and Rodri before the fourth minute had elapsed. Gerrard watched on in discomfort from the technical area.
Yet they did finally loosen City’s control to break on the counter-attack, with Ollie Watkins almost setting up Leon Bailey for a goal which would have been completely against the early direction of travel.
It was a moment which lifted Villa, and the noisy home support.
But City remained dangerous and took the lead in the 27th minute. Raheem Sterling advanced towards the byline and his cut-back was allowed to roll towards Ruben Dias outside the area, and he thumped a left-foot shot into the bottom corner. It was Dias’s first goal since February.
Villa sustained further damage when Bailey, the £25m (€29.3m) signing, was substituted soon after the goal, with an apparent recurrence of a hamstring injury. Bailey walked to the tunnel almost in tears.
The second goal came two minutes before half-time and was utterly breathtaking.
It started with Riyad Mahrez dribbling out of danger in his own box, with Fernandinho releasing Gabriel Jesus down the right flank. The cross-field pass from Jesus to find Bernardo, who was racing towards goal, was perfect and the Portuguese took the ball on the volley to beat Martinez.
Game over, you would suspect. Not so. Villa were back in it 82 seconds into the second half, after a fine finish from Watkins. Douglas Luiz’s corner was effectively a pass to Watkins at the near post and the striker’s finish was unerring, with the ball arrowing into the corner off the woodwork.
With Villa pressing for the crucial breakthrough, Grealish’s introduction finally came three minutes from time. There was one moment of skill when he took the ball down brilliantly before a misplaced pass to Sterling.
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