A game generally controlled by City but only won from a set piece.
Man City played in a 4-2-3-1 system with David Silva the main target of their attacks with his movement and control between the lines. He played off Sergio Aguero up front with James Milner and Adam Johnson supporting from wide. Aston Villa played a 4-4-2 formation with Darren Bent and Robbie Keane leading the front line with Heskey playing on the right of the midfield four and Albrighton on the left.
Man City dominated possession for most of the match (ending up with 63.9% of it), particularly the opening exchanges where they dictated play, with Aston Villa lacking pressure on the ball but also leaving size-able distances between the lines.
The away side generally started possession with their full backs, Kolarov and Zabaleta, moving up high, allowing the centre backs to stretch out while De Jong and Barry also remained deep. In the early phases of possession, they moved it horizontally between the deep central four. However when space developed, it was either moved to the full backs to move forward or to David Silva coming short between the lines, as shown below:
Due to the space Silva got between the lines, he was often allowed to turn and play a pass forward or to one of the wide players, generally Johnson on the right.
The Spaniard was the biggest problem for Villa, completing 64 out of his 71 passes (90%). With Villa’s two central midfielders often being enticed to Barry and De Jong, it was down to the centre backs to pick him up. The defensive line was often deep though, so Silva was allowed to exploit it. On one occasion, James Collins picked him up while Aguero made a quick run behind Dunne who just about managed to get it away after a ball over the top. However this demonstrated the problems with the team organisation.
Man City also pressed more aggressively than Villa did. When Villa’s centre backs had the ball, Silva joined Aguero up front to press while De Jong and Barry picked up Villa’s midfielders and Johnson and Milner pressed the full backs. Barry won 13 out of his 19 possession duels and 3 out of his 6 tackles and was key to keeping the pressure up to win the ball back. Meanwhile Aguero and Silva pressured the centre backs well and tried to show them wide, limiting the direction with which they could pass (and due to the full backs and midfielders being pressed well it often had to go long). James Collins, the right sided centre back completed 20 out of his attempted 30 passes. Out of the attempted 30 though, 19 of them were forward with 16 of them being long passes. Meanwhile, out of the 26 attempted passes from his defensive partner Richard Dunne (he completed just 14 of them), 22 went forward. In fact, Joleon Lescott had more successful passes than the amount Collins and Dunne attempted between them.
Aston Villa’s main chance of getting a goal was either going to be a set piece, winning it high up or through taking advantage of their power and pace up front. Long balls were often played to Heskey who tucked in narrow on the right to try and take Kolarov out of position while Bent ran in behind to stretch the centre backs. Heskey won 8 out of his 11 aerial duels and proved a good outball.
Bent and Keane though often struggled to get on the ball due to the control Man City had over possession and didn’t penetrate City enough with their pace and movement. The two of them didn’t win possession in the final third once nor did they make any tackles or interceptions.
Man City dominated the first half, hitting the post and forcing Villa back. Though they ended the first half level at 0-0, they showed good mental strength in the second half and surprisingly got the winner through a set piece, with James Collins getting dragged towards the far post, leaving the player he was meant to be marking, Joleon Lescott, free to finish after the header back from Gareth Barry.
Villa made a couple of chances from set pieces late on, with their superior height an advantage as well as disorganised defence from City but Joe Hart made a very good save towards the end to keep their one-goal lead. The English goalkeeper however did have problems with his distribution, with only 3 out of his 11 long balls forward reaching their target and an overall passing rate of 7 out of 16 (44%).
Man City dominated the game and got a deserved three points to help them in the title race.
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