Aston Villa did not just beat Man City, they outplayed them. They have the best home record in the Premier League and are now above the reigning champions. Adam Bate was at Villa Park to see Unai Emery's masterclass and assesses what makes his team so good
Friday 8 December 2023 08:42, UK
Only 19 of the 281 Premier League games that Manchester City have played since Pep Guardiola became their manager have seen them have fewer shots than their opponent. But Aston Villa did not just have one more shot than City. They had 20 more.
That has never happened before. Not just during Guardiola's time at City, but in any of his 535 top-flight games as a manager.
The majority of those other 18 with City were against Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool. Brighton have managed to outshoot them on a couple of occasions but there are usually extenuating circumstances when a team does so against Guardiola's City.
Against Bournemouth in 2020, they led from the sixth minute and won comfortably enough. Against Nottingham Forest earlier this season, they led from the seventh minute and had 10 players for half the game. Ederson was sent off after 12 minutes at Wolves in 2019.
This time it was nothing to do with the state of the game or any numerical advantage. It was everything to do with Aston Villa's superiority. "The better team won," said Guardiola afterwards. "Aston Villa were better than us." Frankly, he could say little else.
Unai Emery sought to downplay any suggestion that this was a personal triumph for him to beat a Guardiola team at the 14th attempt. "It is not something special. It is a process." What a process. Aston Villa might be the best coached team in the Premier League.
Emery opted to include Youri Tielemans from the start alongside the trio of Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn for the first time in a Premier League game. His box midfield allowed Villa to outnumber City in the centre and dominate them as a result.
Teams just do not do what Villa did to City. They won possession in the final third of the pitch nine times in the first half alone. No team has done that more in a full game all season. When it was over, it had happened 13 times - a record in the Guardiola era at City.
Villa created chances as a result but this was not an end-to-end encounter as at Chelsea recently. Emery restricted City too. Emiliano Martinez's early double save from Erling Haaland was impressive but they were their only attempts on goal all match.
Interestingly, the second of those saves may well have been ruled out anyway as it appeared to be narrowly offside. That too has been a feature of Emery's Villa. They possess the best offside trap in the Premier League and it has been a key weapon for them defensively.
Julian Alvarez thought he had found space down the left channel during the first half only to see the flag go up. Phil Foden was left frustrated in the second half. Erling Haaland was even wrongfooted at one point, seemingly bamboozled by Villa's offside trap.
City were caught offside on five occasions. That is the first time that has happened to them in any Premier League game this season. But this is Villa. City are the ninth team now they have caught out five times or more. No other team has done it to more than twice.
It has taken a lot of work to perfect it, hours of work on the training ground and in video sessions, because precision is essential. Defenders need to be on their toes, ready to drop or to push up, and always side-on in anticipation of a race with the centre-forward.
Speaking to Ezri Konsa recently, he revealed that he has adapted his body shape when defending. "When the ball goes over your head, the way you need to turn is completely different to what I and a few of the other boys have been taught," he told Sky Sports.
That high defensive line can appear risky but the rewards are obvious. Villa were able to squeeze the game, making it far too congested for City's midfield to cope with it. They were unable to find the space required to spring the trap and set Haaland away.
Villa are a team that can win in different ways, with different formations, but, at Villa Park, at least, the outcome is the same. Fourteen consecutive home wins equals a club record and is twice as many as any other Premier League club has currently won in a row.
The supporters are expectant and as well they might be. The message on the video screens at Villa proclaims that the giant is awake. As the crowd roared with delight at the final whistle, there is a growing belief inside the stadium that this could be just the start.
Can they really maintain it? Competing in Europe too will test the squad and it is understandable that Emery wants to get 30 games into the Premier League season not 15 before indulging talk of a title race. But there is some depth to the talent available now.
Guardiola mentioned that Villa bench afterwards. While he turned to youngster Oscar Bobb, Villa brought on Moussa Diaby and Jacob Ramsey. The first-choice left-back Alex Moreno is fit again but it was Lucas Digne, a Steven Gerrard signing, who started in this one.
That is another astonishing aspect of Emery's success at Villa. The majority of the starting line-up for this win over City also started the 3-0 defeat to Fulham last year that ended his predecessor's reign. Recruitment has been good. But this is a coaching triumph.
Konsa is a player transformed, shining in defence and attack from right-back against City. Pau Torres has added another dimension with his passing from the back. Behind him, Martinez might be - as the Holte End sings - the world's No 1. Ahead, Douglas Luiz is imperious, flanked by those fan favourites Kamara and McGinn.
Ollie Watkins is more than a reliable goalscorer, he is a picture of perpetual movement, and there is quality around him now. Leon Bailey, the match-winner, revelled in his role from the right. Confidence is high and rising.
Emery's Villa are the real deal.