Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez celebrates the win after the final whistle. Alamy Stock Photo

The incredible stat that highlights one of the best performances of the season

Aston Villa earned a stunning 1-0 win over reigning champions Man City on Wednesday.

IF YOU DID not see Aston Villa’s 1-0 victory over reigning champions Manchester City last night, you might assume it was a smash-and-grab.

Generally, on the rare occasions when Pep Guardiola’s side drop points, the opposition sit deep, are clinical in their occasional forays past the halfway line, soak up the pressure, and largely rely on an excellent goalkeeping display combined with lacklustre finishing by the Etihad outfit.

That is essentially what happened at the weekend during the 3-3 draw with Tottenham, but on Wednesday night, it was a very different story.

Unai Emery’s side were so dominant that the final result flattered City.

There was one standout stat per the BBC — Man City attempted just two shots in the match, both by Erling Haaland in the 11th minute in quick succession, forcing Emiliano Martínez into two decent saves. By contrast, Villa had 22 attempts.

According to Opta, it was both the fewest ever shots registered by a Guardiola team within Europe’s big five leagues and the joint-most shots faced by a Guardiola side in what was his 535th game as a manager.

It was not the first time Villa have caused Guardiola’s team serious problems. They were held to a 1-1 draw in the same fixture last season.

But more memorably, when the sides met on the final day of the 2021-22 campaign,  Man City needed a win to pip Liverpool to the title.

On that occasion, Villa found themselves 2-0 up with 20 minutes remaining.

Their rivals ultimately triumphed 3-2 amid a spectacular turnaround, but perhaps tellingly, the two players who scored for the hosts that day — Ilkay Gundogan (2) and Rodri — were not on the pitch last night.

City have looked below par at times this season, which is perhaps inevitable to a degree, given the treble-winning heights of last year.

Sky Sports Premier League / YouTube

But Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez have undoubtedly been significant losses, with both players departing in the summer, while Guardiola may also be regretting selling youngster Cole Palmer to Chelsea.

Of course, they are also missing the injured Kevin De Bruyne — consistently one of the best attacking Premier League players of recent seasons — while Jack Grealish and Jeremy Doku were also among the absentees on Wednesday.

Yet Rodri was arguably the biggest miss at all. He was suspended after picking up a fifth booking of the season against Spurs.

While they have not suffered unduly without the more eye-catching and naturally talented De Bruyne, the Spaniard’s absence seldom goes unnoticed.

Earlier this season, when he missed three games for violent conduct, City seriously struggled. Already, they have lost four domestic games in total since the start of the campaign without Rodri, while they have suffered similarly in the past, including in the 2021 Champions League final, when the player was inexplicably dropped ahead of the loss to Chelsea.

Their squad looked especially thin at Villa Park. In front of the back three, Guardiola played two holding midfielders who have been primarily regarded as centre-backs at least until relatively recently — John Stones and Manuel Akanji.

In front of them in midfield were 19-year-old Rico Lewis and Julian Alvarez, better known as a forward player, with England international Kalvin Phillips ignored again despite the selection crisis.

When it was apparent they were in trouble, Guardiola’s only attacking change was to introduce inexperienced 20-year-old Oscar Bobb in place of Phil Foden.

There was a lack of ruthlessness and rare ineptitude evident last night that also characterised Sunday’s 3-3 draw at home to Tottenham.

Consequently, City have already dropped points in six out of 15 games this season — twice as many from the same number of matches last year, when they needed a spectacular second half of the campaign to beat Arsenal to the title.

Yet as poor as Guardiola’s men continue to be, perhaps the bigger story is how impressive Villa look.

A second remarkable stat from Opta and ostensibly another indication of how much City miss the reassuring presence of Rodri — Villa won possession 13 times against City in the final third, which is the most by an opposition Premier League team in the Guardiola era.

Ange Postecoglou has been getting plenty of credit for how quickly he has turned things around at Spurs, but Emery deserves similar plaudits for the magnificent job he has done.

Villa now sit third in the table, two points ahead of City and four behind leaders Arsenal. They have won 14 consecutive Premier League home matches and 10 out of 15 league games overall this season.

It is just over a year since the club sacked Steven Gerrard after 11 months in charge following a poor start to the campaign that saw them win just two out of 12 league games.

The change in personnel has not been as drastic as you might expect — six of the players that started last night also made the XI in Gerrard’s final game in charge, a 3-0 loss to Fulham.

Tactically though, Emery is up there with the top managers in Europe, as the 52-year-old has shown often in his career time and again before now, particularly at Sevilla, whom he guided to three Europa League triumphs.

His recent signings too have been astute — at €37 million, Spanish international Pau Torres, who spent his entire career up to this summer on the books at Villarreal, would have been expected to deliver.

However, there were perhaps some doubts over the acquisition of Youri Tielemans on a free transfer from relegated Leicester City.

Nonetheless, both players have been excellent additions to the squad, while Emery is also getting the best out of 30-year-old Brazilian centre-back Diego Carlos, who made just three Premier League appearances last season but helped the backline keep a clean sheet on his 10th appearance of the campaign last night.

Throughout this season, pundits have invariably spoken dismissively about Villa’s chances of finishing in the top four for the first time since the 1995-96 season, back when Ireland legend Paul McGrath was still playing for them and featured 41 times in all competitions.

They have suffered a few setbacks, most notably a 5-1 defeat in their opening game away to Newcastle.

Regardless, after last night’s astonishingly dominant performance, some critics may now be tempted to reevaluate what is possible for a buoyant squad of players who are continually growing in confidence and exceeding expectations.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel