Manchester City cut Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to three points after seeing off a determined Aston Villa side with three second-half goals.
Liverpool can restore their six-point advantage if they beat Tottenham on Sunday but, after dropping points last weekend, the Reds go into that game knowing they have the defending champions breathing down their neck.
But while this ended up being a routine win for Pep Guardiola’s side, they had to work hard and wait to break down a well-organised Villa side.
The visitors had largely frustrated City in the first half but their resistance lasted for only 20 seconds after the restart.
After Villa squandered possession from their own kick-off, Ederson’s long punt forward was flicked on by Gabriel Jesus and into the path of Sterling, who made no mistake.
Jesus should have made it 2-0 soon afterwards when a mistake by Bjorn Engels left him clean through, but a combination of a Tom Heaton save and a brilliant goal-line clearance by Tyrone Mings denied him.
City had to wait until the 65th minute for their second goal, which confusingly was eventually awarded to David Silva, after a long delay for a VAR decision that had concluded it was Kevin de Bruyne’s goal.
It was unclear at first glance whether Silva or Raheem Sterling, who would have been offside from a Silva touch, had got a deflection on De Bruyne’s wicked curling cross but after a four-minute delay that was met with derision by both sets of fans, it was ruled it had gone straight in and was allowed to stand.
However, some time after the final whistle, the goal accreditation panel – an independent entity which has no affiliation with VAR – awarded the goal to Silva, who had wheeled away in celebration.
Nonetheless, Ilkay Gundogan made absolutely sure of the points a few moments later, when Fernandinho’s shot was cleared into his path, and he expertly adjusted his body to put away a fine first-time finish.
The hosts finished the game with 10 men after Fernandinho was shown a second yellow card.
Villa work hard but Grealish fails to shine
Villa came to a sodden Etihad Stadium after taking seven points from their previous three games, and with the message from their manager Dean Smith that City were “not superhuman” and they had nothing to fear.
They did more than just keep City quiet in a tight opening period, with John McGinn bringing a fine fingertip stop from Ederson – the Scot also went close to a consolation before the end when he hit the post after the City keeper had denied Douglas Luiz.
The only slight disappointment from Villa’s point of view was that they did not see more of Jack Grealish with the ball at his feet in the City half, the midfielder’s role here involving rather more defensive duties.
There were still some neat passes and a couple of trademark flashes of his quick feet that saw the away fans break into chants of ‘Super Jack’, but he did not create a single chance or do much to back up his claims this week that he wants a senior England call-up.
Guardiola has more defensive issues
Fernandinho’s late dismissal gives Guardiola another problem in the centre of his defence, with the Brazilian set to miss next week’s game against Southampton while he serves his suspension.
The 34-year-old has been the only real fixture in City’s defence in recent weeks and, although he will be back for the crucial trip to play Liverpool at Anfield on 10 November, his absence means Guardiola will be forced into another reshuffle in the meantime.
With Aymeric Laporte out until the new year and the versatile Rodri recently sidelined for up to a month, it was a boost for City that John Stones was fit enough to face Villa for his first start since 14 September, although his mistake to gift McGinn possession for his early chance was hardly a reassuring sight.
Guardiola also has Nicolas Otamendi available, with the Argentine left on the bench on Saturday, but he and Stones have not played together since City’s capitulation against Norwich at Carrow Road.
Whatever combination the City manager goes for next, it seems his search for a consistent line-up at the back will go on for a few more weeks.
Man of the match – Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
‘It was a special second half’ – what they said
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith speaking to BBC Match of the Day: “I am disappointed with the manner of the goals we conceded. We came with a gameplan and I thought we showed some good enterprise going forward.
“We started quite well in the second half, and City’s first goal is just a lump from the goalkeeper. Tyrone Mings should do better and he knows that then but a top player like Raheem Sterling puts it on the back of the net.
“But I would question City’s second goal: I think Raheem Sterling is offside and he impedes the goalkeeper from making the save.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola speaking to BBC Match of the Day: “Aston Villa played very well in the first half and we played not so good. They are newly promoted and played with real spirit, attacking the channels well.
“But the second half, I don’t know if we played good because we scored early or it was because we played differently, but we won. It was a special second half, we were another level.”
City continue their run against the Villans – the stats
- Manchester City have won their past 10 Premier League home games against Aston Villa by an aggregate score of 33-4. It’s their joint-longest winning run at home versus a single opponent in Premier League history (also currently 10 v Newcastle).
- Pep Guardiola has lost just one of his 20 Premier League matches against newly promoted teams as City manager (W15 D4 L1).
- Villa have lost 14 of their past 15 away games against City in the Premier League (W1), with nine different managers suffering a loss while in charge in this run.
- Villa are winless in their past 14 Premier League games against reigning champions, drawing three and losing the past 11 in the run.
- Raheem Sterling has scored in 43 Premier League games for City without ever finishing on the losing side (W41 D2 L0) – he’s scored in more games for a single club without ever losing than any other player in the competition’s history.
- Fernandinho made his 200th Premier League appearance – the third Brazilian to reach this milestone after Chelsea’s Willian (206) and former Liverpool player Lucas Leiva (247).
- Fernandinho has been sent off at Etihad Stadium more times (three) than any other player in the Premier League since it opened in 2003.
City continue their defence of the Carabao Cup with a fourth-round tie at home to Southampton on Tuesday (19:45 GMT) and host the same opposition four days later in the Premier League on Saturday (15:00 GMT).
Villa are at home to Wolves in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday (19:45 GMT) and then take on Liverpool at Villa Park in the league on Saturday (15:00 GMT).
Match ends, Manchester City 3, Aston Villa 0.
Second Half ends, Manchester City 3, Aston Villa 0.
Attempt saved. John McGinn (Aston Villa) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Attempt saved. Keinan Davis (Aston Villa) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) hits the bar with a right footed shot from outside the box. Assisted by Phil Foden.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Björn Engels.
Attempt missed. Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa) right footed shot from outside the box is too high.
Attempt blocked. Trézéguet (Aston Villa) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Marvelous Nakamba.
Second yellow card to Fernandinho (Manchester City) for a bad foul.
Foul by Fernandinho (Manchester City).
Keinan Davis (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Fernandinho (Manchester City) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is blocked. Assisted by Phil Foden with a cross.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Tom Heaton.
Attempt saved. Phil Foden (Manchester City) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Gabriel Jesus.
Attempt blocked. David Silva (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Bernardo Silva.
Attempt saved. Trézéguet (Aston Villa) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Tyrone Mings.
Corner, Aston Villa. Conceded by John Stones.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Anwar El Ghazi replaces Jack Grealish.
Attempt saved. Phil Foden (Manchester City) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Bernardo Silva.
Attempt blocked. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Phil Foden.
Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City).
Trézéguet (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
João Cancelo (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jack Grealish (Aston Villa).
Substitution, Manchester City. Sergio Agüero replaces Raheem Sterling.
Substitution, Manchester City. Phil Foden replaces Kevin De Bruyne.
Corner, Aston Villa. Conceded by Kevin De Bruyne.
Corner, Aston Villa. Conceded by Fernandinho.
Substitution, Manchester City. Angeliño replaces Benjamin Mendy.
Attempt missed. Keinan Davis (Aston Villa) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Keinan Davis replaces Wesley.
Goal! Manchester City 3, Aston Villa 0. Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal following a corner.
Attempt missed. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) left footed shot from the left side of the six yard box misses to the right following a corner.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Tyrone Mings.
Foul by Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).
Frederic Guilbert (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
VAR Decision: Goal Manchester City – Manchester City 2-0 Aston Villa (Kevin De Bruyne).
Goal! Manchester City 2, Aston Villa 0. David Silva (Manchester City) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne with a cross following a corner.Goal confirmed following VAR Review.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Björn Engels.