Bernardo Silva’s Late Strike Breaks Aston Villa’s Resistance to Maintain Man City’s Momentum
Manchester City maintained their momentum in the title race but if they needed a reminder of how difficult it will be to reclaim the Premier League, Aston Villa delivered just that.
Underneath the hard rain of Storm Christoph, in an exhilarating, end-to-end contest, Villa made Pep Guardiola’s side work for their 2-0 win and at times even threatened to steal all three points for themselves.
Dean Smith was delighted with everything he saw up until the 79th minute and Bernardo Silva’s controversial breakthrough 11 minutes from full time. That led the Villa manager's mood to change somewhat, and then receive his marching orders.
His protests that Rodri was in an offside position before robbing Tyrone Mings of the ball and setting up Bernardo went unheard by referee Jonathan Moss, who produced a red card when Smith went on for a little longer than he liked.
Ilkay Gundogan’s stoppage-time penalty masked just how close they came to being denied their sixth straight league win. This run has powered Guardiola’s side back into contention but extending it came at a cost, with both Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker departing injured.
The best opportunity of the goalless but eventful first half came within the first three minutes De Bruyne’s corner from the right appeared to have come to nothing until it was headed back into Bernardo’s path by Rodri.
From no more than a yard out, Bernardo drilled a shot straight into Emiliano Martinez’s midriff. John Stones searched for his third goals in two games from the rebound but was denied by a combination of Tyrone Mings and Matty Cash.
It would not be the first heroic, last-ditch block by a Villa player in a first half full of them Mings, Cash, Matt Targett and Douglas Luiz, the former City midfielder, all throwing their bodies on the line at one point.
City’s task was made harder still by the loss of Walker, who succumbed to an apparent hamstring injury on the half hour mark having attempted to play on. Guardiola’s side continued to dominate in his absence but still found no way through.
Villa, clearly, are no pushovers and have realistic designs on a top-four finish. Bertrand Traoré reminded City of that at the start of the second half, breaking quickly from a cleared corner, stepping inside and forcing a one-handed save out of Ederson.
It was around this point that the contest began to pick up a breathless, relentless pace, one that De Bruyne could no longer handle. Minutes after combining brilliantly with Joao Cancelo, only for the full-back to clip the crossbar, he signaled he had to come off.
With a shake of the head and a pat on the back by Guardiola, City’s creator-in-chief walked straight down the tunnel, leaving his team-mates to break Villa’s resistance down themselves.
They would have to show patience. Ilkay Gundogan – clinical of late, with three in his last five – spurned a pair of chances in the space of a minute, hitting Martinez when given a clean sight of goal then finding the goalkeeper again with his header from the resulting corner.
City’s frustrations were growing but relief was near. For once, Mings failed to adequately deal with a ball dropping out of the sky, cheating and turning straight into Rodri, who was coming back into play from an offside position.
With possession stolen, a simple lay-off to Bernardo had City on the attack again but there was still much to do. Crowded out by retreating Villa defenders, Bernardo shifted to create a yard of space then bent a strike out of Martinez’s reach and inside the far post.
While City celebrated, it was Smith’s turn to grow frustrated. He and his players wanted VAR to overturn the goal on the grounds of Rodri’s positioning. Smith’s refusal to accept any other outcome led to dismissal from the touchline.
Cash was then penalised in stoppage time for handling a Gabriel Jesus header, with Gundogan converting from the spot. This was never as comfortable a win as the scoreline suggests, though in this widest of title races, yet another three points is all that counts.