After two wins in a row, Villa expectedly fell to a Manchester City side oozing in quality, but it wasn’t always the case that City seemed to be good value for the win.
Here are eleven talking points after Aston Villa lost to Manchester City 3-0.
1. Villa had a good first half
Aston Villa took Manchester City into the break on the back of a goalless scoreline and that should be considered a victory in itself.
For that, we should commend Villa’s defence in the first forty-five. Villa’s reactive defending stopped chances and players like Frederic Guilbert, Björn Engels, Tyrone Mings and Matt Targett came up with a number of heads-up moments where they saved Villa from going behind. Targett cut out a dangerous cross, Mings dealt with Gabriel Jesus, Guilbert did his best to contain the tricky Raheem Sterling and Engels saved Villa from a penalty when he had the wits to tuck his flailing arm into his body when Sterling fired at goal.
However, Villa owe their first-half clean sheet to a bit of luck. Gabriel Jesus and David Silva both missed incredible scoring chances. Jesus’ early shot within five minutes racked up 0.55 xG on Infogol, and Silva added a further 0.20 xG. Silva’s shot was seemingly trickling in, as was Jesus’, but both fell wide.
Sometimes you need a bit of luck to reward hard work, and Villa enjoyed a sprinkle of it in the first-half.
2. Villa had an awful second half
After all the hard work and luck of the first half, it took seconds for Villa to piss it away in an incredible and uncharacteristic display of defending.
Ederson played a long pass out from the back that split the pitch. It dropped out of the sky, and fell to Gabriel Jesus who acted as a David opposite the goliath Tyrone Mings. Jesus’ header caught out Villa with nobody to save them. Björn Engels and Frederic Guilbert, who seemed to assume that Mings had cleared the ball, were caught out which allowed a clear avenue on goal for Raheem Sterling to score.
This error of judgment opened up a Pandora’s box that Villa weren’t able to close. A dodgy VAR call allowed City to score a second, before adding a third. While Villa were able to recover, they weren’t at all able to find their footing.
After a good first-half, the second was the gut punch that was always coming.
3. The Douglas Luiz ‘foul’
After last week’s events, it hurts that a subjective decision went against us when Douglas Luiz went down - but unfortunately for us, VAR was used correctly. Could we cleanly tell that Luiz was fouled? Sort of? Would we be annoyed if Gabriel Jesus was awarded a penalty in a similar circumstance by the referee? For sure.
VAR cannot be brought in to assess these calls which are not clear-cut. If we cannot award a foul instantly and without bias, VAR should not be used as it is a subjective decision. This was correct, and although it took me a while to admit it and acknowledge it - it was the correct decision to not award a foul after the fact. ‘Sort-ofs’ aren’t good enough for VAR.
However, if the referee had awarded the penalty at the time of the ‘foul’ I would not be complaining, at all.
4. Ederson can really kick a ball
A really good thing for a football team to have is a goalkeeper who can storm outside the box and act as a play-maker. The range of Ederson’s passing from the Manchester City goalmouth is a wonder to behold. He is capable of hammer strikes from the back, and with the curve of the football as it falls, you’d be very surprised to hear that it wasn’t thrown from the hands of a quarterback.
Goalkeepers who can pass with thunderous delivery can snap a high-line in half. Villa’s collapse can be blamed on a lot of other little things, but the first goal they conceded came from a booming goalkeeper pass that caught out every single player except Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
The statement made by Ederson here is that if your team doesn’t have a goalkeeper who can act as an offensive weapon in possession, then your team is lagging behind.
5. Is it time for Keinan Davis?
For a number of weeks, Aston Villa have had a ‘Wesley’ question. Is he good enough? Is he gelled with the team? What’s his limit? The Brazilian forward blocked the noise out with a two-goal performance against Norwich City, but we really haven’t seen that performance replicated at all since then.
Now, it has only been two games - Brighton and Manchester City - since Wesley’s big outing at Carrow Road, but his performance today was lacklustre, and he’d be the first to admit that it was a frustrating day at the office. Almost nothing went right for him. I don’t think it’d be particularly cruel to point out Wesley’s performance for Aston Villa today - because you could audibly hear the Villa coaches demanding more from him on the sideline.
Against City, Wesley registered a single shot, and it was off target. I hate to break it to you, but Villa aren’t going to win these games if their striker isn’t shooting at goal. The striker took four touches in the box and fired off one shot. In comparison, Trezeguet had five touches in the penalty area and took four shots. The quality of those chances aside, Wesley isn’t shooting when he could afford to take a chance with the limited time on the ball that he has.
There is a reason that Wesley isn’t getting in on much of the action, and that is because he is playing deep, and isn’t receiving many advanced passes. He’ll grab the ball, hold it up and play it on - and that’s it. The wingers, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn were operating in more advanced positions than Wesley - and that’s going to be a huge problem. This happens because Wesley is usually playing the ball to them, but isn’t catching up with the move, which leaves him adrift in midfield.
However, when Wesley is off-the-ball, his most important role comes to the fore - that of the first defender. In Dean Smith’s Aston Villa side, the striker has been expected to lead the press. Wesley does press, but it is not a constant buzz - and when he does burst forward, it seems to come as a complete surprise to the rest of the team. Wesley’s defensive actions are mistimed, ineffective, and disjointed - up to now - and Manchester City’s midfield had an incredibly easy time without being hassled. Wesley was not the disruptive force that Dean Smith wants him to be.
Villa lack a focal point in these games, and Wesley’s position moves higher up the pitch against ‘weaker’ opposition, but he can’t be a total non-factor against stronger teams.
Keinan Davis was brought on for Wesley and Aston Villa seemed to work more cohesively. His hold-up play unlocked Trezeguet and others in a similar manner to Wesley, but Davis was also able to drive forward. Referring back to shots taken, Davis, who had eight touches in total, was able to take four touches in the box and execute two shots at goal.
Now, Wesley is worth rooting for - but this isn’t a zero sum game. Keinan Davis is worth support as well, and while both strikers don’t seem to be ruthless goalscorers, Villa looked a lot more active with Davis leading the line. Davis was playing against tired defenders, but there seemed to be a lot more activity up-front in general. Both Wesley and Keinan are still young, and there is a long way for them to go yet, but I believe that Davis has earned a start for the next two games.
For one, he’ll be starting the Carabao Cup tie against Wolves anyway - and two, he’ll be playing against Liverpool on the weekend in an identical matchup to the Manchester City one.
6. It was a game of no chances
According to Understat, Aston Villa’s best chances in the game came through a late one-two through Keinan Davis and John McGinn. Davis fired at Ederson, who deflected the shot back to McGinn. McGinn fired at goal, and the ball hit the post and bounced away.
You can see these two chances as the late spike in the graph below:
The sad truth about this graph is this: if Keinan Davis scores, Villa don’t get that chance through McGinn, and if either of them score, the goal is completely pointless anyway. The painful conclusion? Villa’s best production came when the game was concluded, and one of the good chances wouldn’t have registered at all if the first one had found home.
Now, goals are far more important than xG, as goals are tangible. However, we can only judge chances created accurately through expected goals, and without that late double salvo - Villa didn’t offer anything close to dangerous. This was a game for a point, or a stolen win - nothing convincing.
You have to shoot to score. That’s the bottom line, and Villa just don’t shoot in these matches. You have to take your chances, especially so when they are limited.
7. Expectations vs Reality
We all came into this game with a little bit of hope. We wanted Aston Villa to show what they were made of against tough opposition, and for forty-five minutes, they did.
In the first half, Aston Villa showed a resilience in containing Manchester City. In the second half, City broke through in seconds to defy Aston Villa. The first half matched our expectations, the second half bowed down to reality. Dreams were broken and spirits were crushed.
Manchester City are a seriously good team, with elite attacking talent and an extremely talented Manager. Over the past few seasons, they have proven their capabilities in creating and scoring chances, and there are not many teams who can stop them.
This loss was just reality. Aston Villa are a mid-table team at best right now, while Manchester City will be dancing against Europe’s elite. The reality of it sucks, right?
8. Tyrone bounces back
It is very hard to believe that Tyrone Mings was caught out by Gabriel Jesus, and it might go down as a mistake on Mings’ part. Personally, I believe that the other Villa defenders shouldn’t have assumed that Mings would clear the ball because in doing so, they sacrificed space and time to Raheem Sterling, who can distill that into a goal.
Still, Mings should’ve cleared that ball - it was his to win like it has been all season. Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that Manchester City still score, but at least they don’t score seconds into the second half.
However, when Aston Villa truly fell apart, Mings carried himself well. He dared City into forcing him into an error that he wouldn’t repeat, and he was Villa’s last line of defence on two occasions. Firstly, he heroically blocked a shot on the line with his knee after Engels had allowed Sterling through to goal, and secondly he made up for a mix-up with Tom Heaton to show the ball onto the bar - defending incase it dropped onto the line.
Tyrone Mings didn’t let his mistakes define him - and that’s his personality in a nutshell. There were plenty of errors at the back for Villa, but they bounced back and that is all that you can ask for from that unit.
9. Douglas Luiz has earned his place
Aston Villa’s midfield has been a big talking point because of the amount of depth in the three midfield positions. There are a lot of talented players who can make up a third of the midfield three, and Douglas Luiz - the Brazil U23 captain and former Manchester City player - is just one of these.
Luiz earned a call-up to the Brazil first-team this week due to his performances for the Brazil U23 side, a team which he has captained for a while now, and he certainly wanted to show why he deserved his call-up against his former side.
The Brazilian was a buccaneering midfielder who drove through Manchester City, and was unlucky not to score after running in on goal. He seemed to be Villa’s main outlet, and was able to keep up with the pace of Villa’s game, delivering pitch-perfect passes when falling off balance, and driving into the midfield.
There is a big talent here - a seriously big one - and I think he’ll be back at Manchester City by 2021.
10. Trezeguet’s work-rate is to be admired
The Egyptian winger drove back-and-forth throughout the game, and found touches out-wide and in the box. If Villa were attacking the goal, chances were that it was through Trezeguet driving down at the wing.
Now, the quality of his chances, his delivery and his passing leave a lot to be desired, but Trezeguet offers a lot in terms of positioning. He is a forward player who will be involved in chance creation, and will allow team-mates in on goal. He is a counter-attacking threat.
And that’s about it, for now. He hasn’t had a lot of game time at all, and like Wesley, is still finding his feet. However, he does offer threat on the wings, and a high work-rate. He lets nothing pass him by without an effort, and that’s admirable. He has certainly earned another start, but it’s time for some signs that he isn’t just hustle and bustle.
11. Next up
Aston Villa will welcome a busy Wolves side to Villa Park in the Carabao Cup before hosting Liverpool on Saturday. It’ll be a tough test against both teams - a rotated Wolves will be backed to the hilt while Liverpool will look to show their title credentials by battering Villa. I think Villa can find results in both games, but a win in midweek against Wolves is more likely than defying Liverpool on the weekend. Still, we can take plenty of encouragement from Villa’s performance yesterday, and after two wins on the trot they have earned a little bit of breathing space against City and Liverpool.
Up the Villa.