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Silva service tilts the scales for City as Smith fumes over controversial opener

Manchester City 2 Aston Villa 0

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Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters

Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters

Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters

First things first, this was a thrilling game of football. But, given how the drama was building and you could almost cut the tension with a knife - which is saying something in an empty stadium - it always felt like there was the capacity for the game to swing on some late controversy.

As the match entered the final 15 minutes, this looked like being the night when Sergio Aguero's absence was finally going to catch up with Manchester City and disrupt the ominous momentum they've built up.

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Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan slots his side's second goal past Aston Villa's Emi Martinez from the penalty spot. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan slots his side's second goal past Aston Villa's Emi Martinez from the penalty spot. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan slots his side's second goal past Aston Villa's Emi Martinez from the penalty spot. Photo: Getty Images

 

But then Pep Guardiola's latest makeshift striker stepped up to score with a stunning, if contentious, strike to down Aston Villa and secure a ninth successive win in all competitions and provide another reminder of why it might be unwise to bet against this team this season.

Recent weeks have brought a marked upturn in form for Bernardo Silva and he answered his manager's call when he needed it most here, even if a furious Dean Smith was left to rue a law that plenty of City's rivals might also consider an ass.

The Villa boss failed to keep a lid on his anger and was booked for remonstrating furiously with Jonathan Moss but that was not enough to silence him and, after having another bite back at the referee, he was promptly shown a second yellow card and ordered off.

Smith's complaints about Bernardo's goal were logical enough. Rodri was running back from an offside position when he nicked the ball off Tyrone Mings. The City midfielder then laid the ball off for the advancing Bernardo, who held off the attentions of Neil Taylor before spearing a sublime finish into the top corner.

Many will have thought this to be offside because Rodri had influenced the play. Well, no, because the rules state that "a player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball is not considered to have gained an advantage".

Moss told Smith he was merely interpreting those rules but, while they may well dictate that the referee got it right on the night and no one can blame the official for applying them correctly, you have to wonder if something is wrong with the offside law when so many people - players, pundits, managers and fans - struggle to grasp its myriad complexities.

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Aston Villa's Douglas Luiz takes a free kick. Photo: Getty Images

Aston Villa's Douglas Luiz takes a free kick. Photo: Getty Images

Aston Villa's Douglas Luiz takes a free kick. Photo: Getty Images

 

Having seen City throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Villa with no reward despite the persistent, dazzling probing of the outstanding Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Joao Cancelo, and watched on in fear of Smith's tenacious side edging in front during a spellbinding second half, Guardiola's relief at Bernardo finding the top corner was palpable. Gundogan's late penalty, after Matthew Cash had handled from Gabriel Jesus, finally put a breathless game to bed.

City have now taken 26 points from the past 30 available in the league, but they were made to work so hard for this against a Villa side making their first league outing for 19 days after the postponement of fixtures against Spurs and Everton due to the coronavirus outbreak at the club.

As chance after chance went begging for City, Guardiola must have wondered if this was not going to be his team's day. Or, worse still, if Villa were going to make City pay for all those missed opportunities, with Ruben Dias taking the ball off Jacob Ramsey's toe in one instance with the goal gaping and Ederson saving well from Douglas Luiz.

But, really, City could have had several goals before Bernardo finally broke the deadlock. Yet there were periods throughout this game when Guardiola must have longed to be able to call upon Aguero, who is still self-isolating.

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Aston Villa manager Dean Smith is shown a red card by referee Jonathan Moss. Photo: Reuters

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith is shown a red card by referee Jonathan Moss. Photo: Reuters

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith is shown a red card by referee Jonathan Moss. Photo: Reuters

 

In the end, it was his false nine on the night, Bernardo, who came up with the goods. But boy did that goal spark some debate.

© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2021

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