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Man City 4-1 Aston Villa: Phil Foden's hat-trick takes Pep Guardiola's side to within one point of top spot

Report and free match highlights as Phil Foden's hat-trick helps Manchester City to a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa; the win moves Pep Guardiola's side within one point of Premier League leaders Arsenal ahead of Liverpool's game with Sheffield United on Thursday

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Manchester City and Aston Villa

Phil Foden scored a sensational hat-trick as Manchester City beat Aston Villa 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium to keep the pressure on their title rivals.

Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne dropped to the bench for the Premier League champions but it was no impediment. Rodri opening the scoring early on and though Jhon Duran equalised it was the Foden show thereafter as he took the game away from Villa.

A free-kick late in the first half, a sweeping finish just after the hour and a rocket shot from the edge of the box, it was masterful as he moved past 20 goals for the campaign with his second hat-trick of the season. No Haaland and no problem for Pep Guardiola.

Player ratings

Man City: Ortega (7), Lewis (8), Akanji (6), Dias (6), Gvardiol (6), Rodri (9), Bernardo (7), Foden (10), Doku (7), Alvarez (7), Grealish (7).

Subs used: Kovacic (6), Nunes (6), Bobb (6), Gomez (6).

Aston Villa: Olsen (6), Konsa (6), Diego Carlos (6), Lenglet (6), Digne (5), Iroegbunam (6), Douglas Luiz (5), Rogers (6), Diaby (6), Duran (6), Zaniolo (6).

Subs used: Tielemans (6), Chambers (5), Bailey (6), Moreno (6), Kellyman (6).

Player of the match: Phil Foden.

With Arsenal winning against Luton, the result was not enough to take City to the top of the Premier League table but they did move level on points with second-placed Liverpool overnight. Villa remain fourth, two points clear of Tottenham, but now having played an extra game.

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Sky Sports' Adam Bate and Ben Ransom discuss how Phil Foden is thriving in a central role for Manchester City as they chase a fourth Premier League title in a row.

How Foden took the game away from Villa

The inclusion of Jeremy Doku and Jack Grealish, making his first Premier League start of 2024, freed up Foden to occupy a more central role and it was from there that the England midfielder crafted City's opening goal early on. It was to be just the start.

Foden fed Doku down the right channel and the flying winger cut the ball back for Rodri to beat Robin Olsen in the Villa goal. The Swedish stopper was deputising for Emiliano Martinez, who went down ill just before kick-off. There was little he could do.

Team news headlines

  • Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne dropped to the bench as Jack Grealish made his first Premier League start of 2024.
  • Unai Emery went with Tim Iroegbunam in midfield while Emiliano Martinez was replaced by Robin Olsen just before kick-off.

The expectation at that point was that this might be a routine evening for City against a depleted Villa side that included only four of the same starting line-up that had outplayed the reigning Premier League champions at Villa Park in December.

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But a slick counter-attack changed the mood. Duran played a clever one-two with Morgan Rogers before tucking the ball away inside the far post to stun the home support. Those were worrying moments for Guardiola as Villa threatened on the break.

Phil Foden celebrates scoring his second, City's third, goal of the game
Image: Phil Foden was in superb form as he carried Manchester City to victory over Aston Villa

But there was a tempo to their attacking play at the other end, the movement of Julian Alvarez offering something different to Haaland. The Argentina international almost scored only for Olsen to save with his feet but City did not have to wait long.

Foden's free-kick after a fine run by Grealish restored the lead but Unai Emery will not be happy with the way that Nicolo Zaniolo broke from the wall, allowing the ball to arrow past him and leave the goalkeeper helpless to prevent it nestling in the back of the net.

Phil Foden's performance for Manchester City against Aston Villa
Image: Foden's performance for Manchester City against Aston Villa in numbers

There were a couple of awkward moments for City in the second half as Stefan Ortega produced good stops to keep out Douglas Luiz and Clement Lenglet but it was Foden's night. He found the corner just after the hour when set up by Rodri to ease any tensions.

And he was not done, latching onto a loose ball on the edge of the Villa box and blasting the ball past Olsen. De Bruyne is still in Manchester but this season there is a clear shift in influence. It is Foden running things for City now. He could yet take them to another title.

Player of the match: Phil Foden

Speaking to TNT Sports afterwards, Foden said: "I'm just loving my football at the moment. I'm just playing with a smile on my face and trying to help the team because I know I'm capable of scoring goals. I did that so I'm delighted."

He added: "I just set myself [the target] of better than last season. Just get more goals, more contributions. I'm up this year so I'm doing well.

"I seem to have some really technical play in the pockets and out wide, I can do that job but I prefer it in the middle. This year, I'm growing into the game. The manager spoke on showing rhythm and slowing the game down. I've added that to my game.

"He said before, 'you'll grow into that position'. Because before, I was going so quick, attacking every action. Now I'm getting the balance just right.

"I'm always trying to arrive in the box, that's where the goals are at. You get at least five a season by arriving into the box late. So I've been working on all aspects of my game in the midfield. Still a lot of improve on, but I'm enjoying that position."

Pep: Foden can do whatever he wants

Speaking in his press conference afterwards, Guardiola said: "What can I say when he scored three goals? I think he did not start well but the goal helped him a lot with the mood. Everyone has their own talents and Phil has assists and goals in that position."

Asked about his potential, he added: "He can do whatever he wants. I think he is a really top-class player. We know it.

"He has to be focused, sometimes he is a bit distracted. But he has a natural talent a gift, a gift that is special. And, after, an incredible sense of goal. You have the feeling he is going to score. It is not easy to find it. That is why he is so special."

Foden celebrates with Kevin de Bruyne, John Stones and Erling Haaland, who were all rested
Image: Foden celebrates with rested stars Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones and Erling Haaland

Analysis: Foden show raises Haaland question

This was stunning from Phil Foden. Two goals from outside the box, including his first Manchester City goal direct from a free-kick, the one from inside the area might have been the most picture perfect of the lot, beautifully placed into the bottom corner.

He was not credited with the assist for the opening goal but he was its architect, splitting the Aston Villa defence to find Jeremy Doku. It was a joy to watch him enjoying himself in that central role and with freedom to burst into the spaces vacated by Julian Alvarez.

Pep Guardiola will be reluctant for the aftermath of this victory to morph into a conversation about whether City are more fluid without their star forward Erling Haaland, dropped to the bench for this 4-1 win. But it is a legitimate topic for debate given the performance.

City have won six and drawn one of the seven Premier League games that Haaland has not started this season. Perhaps even more significantly, given that they win most of the ones he plays too, they have scored at least two goals in each of those seven games.

They average more goals per game without him than with him. And the sight of Foden, Bernardo Silva and Rico Lewis popping the ball around, made it easy to see why. This felt like City close to their best, how a Guardiola team tends to look. With Foden at its heart.

What's next?

Man City are back in action on Saturday, travelling to Crystal Palace in the Premier League; kick-off 12.30pm.

Aston Villa play again on Saturday in the Premier League, taking on Brentford; kick-off 3pm.

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