Three first-half goals helped Manchester City see off Aston Villa in their first game since being accused of more than 100 rule breaches by the Premier League.
Those allegations have made it a testing week off the pitch for the defending champions but they responded in impressive style with some vibrant early attacking play and were able to survive a slightly nervy finish.
It was not quite a vintage display by Pep Guardiola’s side, who will go top of the table if they beat leaders Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, but they were much more like their old selves.
The noisy atmosphere certainly helped. Guardiola had issued a defiant response to the charges before the game, and City’s fans reacted in a similar fashion at a vibrant Etihad Stadium, singing songs about their situation and in support of their manager, and also the club’s owner Sheikh Mansour.
City’s players appeared galvanised too and made the perfect start when Rodri headed home Riyad Mahrez’s corner, but they had to wait until just before the break to add to their lead.
Calum Chambers’ attempt to cut out a Kevin de Bruyne through-ball saw him head the ball beyond his on-rushing keeper Emi Martinez and, although Erling Haaland could not convert from a tight angle, he had the composure to look up and find Ilkay Gundogan for a tap-in.
Mahrez made it 3-0 from the penalty spot soon afterwards, after Jacob Ramsey had clipped Jack Grealish inside the box.
That should have been the end of Villa’s hopes, but they were gifted a way back into the game just after the hour mark.
Bernardo Silva’s error allowed Ollie Watkins space to run through and he beat Ederson with a cool finish.
City still had the cushion of a two-goal lead but continued to be sloppy when they played out from the back and were grateful to see a long-range effort from Philippe Coutinho deflected just over, while Jhon Duran hit the bar with a fierce volley in the dying seconds.
Guardiola had promised beforehand that his team would ignore any off-field noise concerning the club’s situation, but City’s fans created plenty of that themselves.
They showed they were able to smile at some of the possible punishments they face if found guilty, singing “City going down with a billion in the bank” as the team bus arrived, and the chants about their situation continued once the game started.
There were banners too, including one with a rude gesture directed at the Premier League, with the accompanying message reading “investigate this”.
But the commotion certainly did not distract City’s players – if anything they appeared more fired up than they have been in recent weeks, reflected in their fast start which proved enough to earn them the points.
On paper, a second successive defeat might indicate a backward step for Villa after their good start to the year, but Unai Emery’s well-organised side eventually showed why their results have been much improved in 2023.
For long periods before the break Villa sat back and looked to hit the home side on the break, but were let down by needless defensive mistakes – the worst of which cost them the second goal.
They got greater rewards when they pressed higher up the pitch in the second half, bringing loud groans from the home side whenever they won the ball back.
The pace of Watkins was a constant threat, but the non-stop running of substitute Duran set the tone for Villa’s efforts in the final minutes, and he was unlucky not to pull another goal back before the end.
source – BBC