Tuesday 21 November 2017

City cruise past brittle Villa to stay in title picture

Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 0

Aston Villa's Alan Hutton and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium. Photo: Martin Rickett
Aston Villa's Alan Hutton and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium. Photo: Martin Rickett
Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring the second goal for Manchester City. Photo: Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff/Action Images
Manchester City's Wilfried Bony outpaces Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark. Photo: Reuters / Darren Staples/Reuters

Paul Wilson

Manuel Pellegrini claimed that Manchester City need nine more wins to secure the title, and here was the first of them in what was in the end a predictably comfortable goal-fest against a stricken Aston Villa.

Beating a dispirited side nailed to the bottom of the table is no guarantee a further eight games will be won, much less that the title will be heading this way, but after three straight defeats in the league City needed to stop the rot and begin consolidating their position in the top four.

Their supporters will forgive Pellegrini for dreaming of a second title as long as City manage to win enough matches to stay ahead of Manchester United and West Ham, whose mini-revivals have raised the embarrassing possibility of welcoming Pep Guardiola to the club with only Europa League football.

Not that the home side looked like a Champions League outfit for all of this game. Granted, it is unusual to face opponents of such limited ambition who are content to play almost all of the game camped inside their own half, but all City had to do was find a way past Remi Garde's flat back five, and for 45 frustrating minutes they could not manage it.

The first half was like a training ground exercise, and about as much fun to watch, although City were quite inventive in finding a number of different ways to threaten.

Once Brad Guzan set the tone in the 11th minute by keeping out a Sergio Aguero shot bound for his top corner after the striker had shown magnificent control in bringing down Fernandinho's pass, the crowd became gradually more restless and attempts on goal became progressively more rushed.

Wilfried Bony was guilty of a bad miss after Gael Clichy's cross picked him out in perfect position on the six yard line, shooting first time but putting the ball wide from right in front of goal.

Later, Aguero saw a shot on the turn palmed away by Guzan then put his next effort just past the post after an interchange with Bony, who ended the first half with a tame header from the edge of the area that summed up City's lack of penetration.

Watching from his technical area, Garde seemed satisfied enough with the way the game was going, though on one of their rare forays upfield Villa missed a wonderful chance to take an interval lead. Joe Hart did remarkably well to get down to Jordan Ayew's shot after almost half an hour of inaction, though with half the City defence having stopped in anticipation of a free-kick that never came it was a better opportunity than the striker possibly realised and he could have taken a fraction more time to make sure.

Villa were left to rue that opportunity to alter the course of the game when City opened the second half with the sort of goal that made you wonder why they had taken so long. For once, their three most effective attackers combined in unanswerable fashion, Aguero driving to the goal-line before turning the ball back for David Silva, who moved the ball across for Yaya Toure to stroke languidly home from near the penalty spot.

Against Villa, that looked likely to be enough, but as if to emphasise the gulf between the sides City found themselves two goals up within two minutes. There was a touch of good fortune about their second with Micah Richards' attempted clearance bouncing back off Aguero's shin and into an empty net, though there was no question that Villa had been opened up again through Silva and Bony, the latter making up for his lacklustre finishing with a delicately weighted through-ball.

When Aguero added a third after a trademark surge into the area from Silva's neat return pass, the contest was clearly over, so much so that Pellegrini felt able to introduce Raheem Sterling for the last half hour.

There has been some debate of late over whether the substitute's up-and-down season has represented a reasonable return on an outlay of £49m and this was another indifferent display, though a goal with one of his first touches will have done the player's confidence no harm. In truth he could hardly have missed and, watching the almost comical ineptitude Joleon Lescott and Alan Hutton demonstrated in failing to cut out a Jesus Navas cross to leave Sterling with a tap-in, the withdrawn Bony must have been highly unamused.

The rout could have been even worse, but Guzan denied Aguero a hat-trick by diving to his left to keep out a penalty after Ciaran Clark had brought down Kelechi Iheanacho inside the area. It will not do the goalkeeper or his side a tiny bit of good, but Guzan still deserved a break.

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