We're now through the worst part of what is still a very tough run of games through to late November (Everton away, QPR away, Spurs home, West Ham away, Southampton home). With Vlaar Benteke and Agbonlahor likely to return to the team after the international break, with Cole and Okore stepping up their fitness, we should be in a good position to put points on the board. For now we are left to contemplate 3 losses, 8 goals conceded without reply.
I don't always agree with Paul Lambert's post match assessment but I thought he got this one right. We were right in the game and were eventually beaten by moments of quality from 2 of the best players in the world. I would argue that we need to have a little more ambition to keep the ball better and spending a little less time defending our box in these games against the best teams, otherwise we inevitably come under too much pressure and concede eventually. But the individual performances were good and they worked hard as a team. Against Man City at completely full strength - Pellegrini also said it was their best performance of the season - we can move on from this one with little regret or pain.
One Moment: The Richardson Miss
I thought Charles N'Zogbia had a poor game, a symptom of a poor season so far. He gave the ball away regularly and predictably didn't track Kolarov. But he did have a couple of moments on the counter on the 2nd half when he worried City. One, he ghosted past several players then failed to make any sort of decision with players either side of him. The other, he got right. Richardson really should have scored but a poor first touch took him too close to the keeper and Zabaleta. Man City had plenty of chances, including Aguero hitting the post seconds earlier, but had this gone in it might have been a very different outcome. We were playing well enough and with enough confidence to compete. Villa Park was full and rocking, which would have swayed the rest of the game slightly towards us.
Most significantly, it's highly unlikely they would have brought on Fernando. He changed the game. He came on and completely nullified our attack - they just had too many numbers, too many fantastic defenders for us to make any impression after that. If he hadn't come on the chances would have kept on coming, presenting the possibility of us getting a 2nd goal on the counter with them pushing to get an equaliser.
I'm not going to say "on another day we would have won it", because they were extremely good and played an almost perfect tactical game. They were worth the win. But it just goes to show:
a) How important it is to go in 0-0 at half time. Against Arsenal and Chelsea the game was gone with early goals, we made this a real contest despite the clearly superior opposition.
b) How important getting the first goal is in games like this. Our counter gets space when the opposition need a goal. When they don't need a goal, we have to open up and that creates holes in our own defence for them to exploit.
c) You simply have to take your chances. No slight on Richardson, he's not expected to be a brilliant composed finisher. It's just after that moment you think "that was the chance". And it was. You don't get many. You don't take them, you almost always lose because oppositions this good almost always score.