“The way we lost this game was incredible. We led twice, and we had control of the game”
The words of Manuel Pellegrini after the game and an entirely appropriate description of events. Man City twice led in this game yet somehow conspired to lose all three points despite controlling the game throughout and creating a number of good scoring opportunities.
This was a game which could have provided a far more interesting tactical battle than that which actually emerged.
Lambert opted to go with a 3-5-2 for Villa in an effort to strengthen the spine of the team and provide defensive stability for a side with a poor home record and an inability to keep clean sheets.
With Benteke and Agbonlahor both injured, Kozak and Sylla started the game. Luna, Delph and Clark were all fit and made the starting eleven.
Man City lined up in their now usual 4-4-2 formation. Aguero was deemed unfit so Dzeko partnered Negredo in attack. Milner replaced Jesus Navas with the Spaniard dropping to the bench.
Aston Villa had lost the last four encounters with City and had also lost both home league games this season which would have lowered expectations going into the game. As the game developed, those expectations would have lowered further still yet, remarkably, Villa emerged with all three points.
Clash of Systems
Man City dominated this game from start to finish with Toure being particularly impressive in central midfield. The away side had 67% possession and had 21 attempts at goal but only 7 of these were on target, a disappointing return. Villa meanwhile only had four efforts on target yet scored with three of them.
With a 3-5-2 playing against a 4-4-2, there was the potential for space on the flanks and this is how the game developed with both City full backs seeing plenty of the ball as the away side dominated. Kolarov in particular would be heavily involved in the game as the graphic below shows:-
Negredo operated slightly deeper than Dzeko aiming to provide the movement and mobility of Aguero.
Villa were too passive for much of the game, only really increasing the tempo after their equalising goals. The midfield trio were too rigid at times and didn’t offer enough flexibility when the ball went wide. The key battles were on the flanks with the wing backs of Villa forced to contend with the combined efforts of a wide midfielder and an overlapping full back.
Luna vs Zabaleta
Luna operated a little more defensively and was able to compete better with the challenge of Milner and Zabaleta. The Spaniard was also assisted with Milner not being as effective when he comes inside. Also, with Nasri cutting in, Milner would stay slightly wider to provide better width:-
It would have been more interesting had Luna been forced to face his former team mate Jesus Navas for the entire game. The right side may have been as productive as the left if this were the case with Zabaleta and Navas overloading Luna.
Luna had a minimal contribution in the opposing half of the pitch in terms of passes attempted.
Bacuna vs Kolarov
Early in the game, Kolarov continually found space on the left and produced a number of crosses into the box with two early chances not being taken.
In addition to Kolarov being an attack minded full back, ahead of him Nasri was operating very narrow and cutting inside. This presented Bacuna with a decision to make. Should the wing back follow Nasri or allow the Frenchman to move inside unopposed?
Bacuna was also trying to be more adventurous than Luna and started further up the pitch despite having little of no impact on the game meaning he was more exposed on quick transitions. As the game progressed, Bacuna became more conservative.
The wing back also provided a telling contribution at the other end of the pitch with a lovely free kick drawing Villa level for the second time.
Final Third Crosses
As detailed above, both full backs moving forward enabled City to deliver a number of crosses into the penalty area. Given the physical stature of both Dzeko and Negredo, you would have anticipated a greater contribution from both in this area:-
Villa by contrast only attempted three crosses from open play. Pinned back, the wing backs were unable to get forward and offer any constructive attacking contribution in open play. All Villa goals came from central positions with the winning goal being a defensive nightmare for the pairing of Nastasic and Kompany who both failed to deal with a long kick downfield allowing Weimann to score with Joe Hart stranded and failing to make any sort of challenge outside of the penalty area.
This must surely be a worry for Paul Lambert. HIs side repeatedly look uneasy and vulnerable to corner kicks and conceded both goals from corners. City had 13 corners in this game mainly as a result of the full backs getting forward and whipping in crosses as outlined above, causing the Villa defenders to clear at the near post:-
Yaya Toure was unmarked to prod home the opening goal and Dzeko managed to head the second goal from just beyond the near post. Yet on other occasions, Villa were clearly uncomfortable. The problem has to be resolved on the training ground. Villa cannot continue to conceded such cheap goals and manage to escape from games with results.
Home / Away Day Blues
Villa win their first home league game of the season and only their fifth home victory in the last 14 home games in all competitions. It’s an area that Lambert knows he needs to address but with a favouring for a counter attacking style of play, it’s difficult to develop such a style of play at home. How Lambert reconciles this dilemma may determine how well the side perform this season.
The 3-5-2 arguably didn’t provide the key features that Lambert would have been searching for. Man City still managed to carve out a number of clear chances.
Three away games in the Premier League now for Pellegrini and just one point gained. Is this cause for concern? If you look purely at the results it is, but play this game another 9 times and Man City would win. The side played well despite the defeat.