Aston Villa 0 Manchester City 1: Story Of A Match
Man City come away from Villa with a one goal win and valuable 3-points in their hopes of running down league leaders Man United. Today on the blog Matt Wallace dissects the matchup with his tactical analysis and tells us how City got the job done last night.
Monday night saw Man City travel to Villa Park for an almost top vs almost bottom clash that both sides needed to win. After Man Utd’s emphatic win against Norwich on Saturday, City desperately needed to keep the pressure up, while Villa looked to take advantage of the poor weekend suffered by their rivals.
Kolo Toure continued at the back for City in the absence of Kompany, while Tevez began as a lone striker – something he’s not always adept at. For Villa, they retained the same starting Xi for the first time in 2003.
The early stages of the game were slow, highlighted by Man City’s lack of incisive threat. Without Aguero, this wasn’t much of a surprise. Tevez, as excellent as he is as a striker – and I think he should be starting every week – is much more the sort of player to go looking for the ball, come deep, harass defenders etc. He isn’t suited to leading the line in a team where other players also have a free role.
Mancini tried to contend with this by playing Yaya Toure in an advanced position, almost as a second striker, to give the team a focal point, but it wasn’t that effective. As evidenced by Tevez’ early passing chalkboard above, he was coming deep and to both flanks in search of it, leaving City with little penetration. Silva, ostensibly on the right, kept coming central which left Villa right back Lowton able to get forward and keep Clichy more restrained. As Gary Neville said on Monday Night Football, it basically had City playing a good 20 yards deeper than they needed to be.
This changed with the injury to Rodwell, who was performing well in central midfield. Mancini shuffled the deck a little, bringing on Dzeko to partner Tevez and moving Toure back into central midfield next to Javi Garcia. Milner was switched to the left and Silva the right, though he kept cutting inside and wandering, as he does.
The result of this was that City finally had focus. While Tevez continued to go Tevezzing all over the pitch, Dzeko gave them a focal point through which to build attacks. He was regularly attacking either fullback and winning balls with his height, he was linking well with Tevez once he got these balls and especially well with Milner on the left, pushing back Lowton.
This tactic worked notably well because of Dzeko’s ability to win the ball in the air.
You can see the cluster of aerial duels in the Villa right back area where long passes were played to Dzeko, and while he didn’t win them all, he made himself busy, kept Villa pressed back and caused problems. With this focal point, City were able to use Milner, Silva and Tevez to build attacks.
Milner and Silva
Milner in particular had a good night, something which is not an uncommon occurrence lately. Not only was he a threat coming inside and onto his right foot, but he also had the ability to beat Lowton down the line and whip balls in with his left.
It helps he was going up against an average right back, you won’t often see that happen, but it was another sign of growth in Milner who is proving himself more than a reliable, earnest winger. He’s got skills too.
Guzan and Benteke
For Villa, they had much the same problem all night. While Man City took some time to get into the game going forward, they were still pretty solid at the back and Javi Garcia continued to perform well in front of the defence. This meant Villa struggled getting the ball forward, Agbonlahor wasn’t much of a threat and Benteke struggled for service.
In fact, Villa’s 2nd highest pass combination came from Guzan to Benteke. This long ball has become symptomatic of Villa’s troubles this season. Lambert moved with the reputation for good passing football, attacking and exciting, but it’s been seen rarely. On good days, players like Westwood and El Ahmadi are good passers of the ball, but both struggle with other parts of the game. Delph has been used well as a sort of enforcer, but he’s already picked up 10 yellow cards this season.
They seem to struggle for an identity, not uncommon with teams going through transition and full of youth, and it was evident again last night. Benteke was their only threat, but they struggled to get him the ball with any sort of dynamism or penetration.
Benteke and Toure
And when he did get it, he was up against a pretty good Kolo Toure. The other Toure brother has done well in the absence of Kompany and he was enjoying a physical battle with Benteke all night – the latter’s struggles in getting the ball into the right areas can be put down to good marshalling by the Ivorian.
He was regularly right behind Benteke, using his own strength to neutralise that possessed by the Belgian, cutting out through passes and refusing to get beaten. It was a strong performance, and that of Nastasic too, which was vital in such a low scoring game.
Yet with these tactical notes, the fact remains that the game was decided by one cock-up. The slip in defence allowed Dzeko to pounce, and Tevez did the rest. Man City’s growing dominance in the game had come from a tactical switch, but if Villa cut out that error they’re still going in level. This is the story of the season for so many teams at the bottom – individual mistakes.
The Final Word
For City, the performance was solid but unspectacular. They know they will need to be able to offer more in the final third when they can only muster one fortuitous goal against a defence as bad as Villas.
For Villa the problem continues: out of form, struggling going forward, leaky at the back. They have their destiny in their hands as they play plenty of their rivals – but it’s hard to see where the goals come from.
The Odds: Villa head to Reading this weekend in a desperate battle to avoid relegation. They are best priced at odds of 3.18 with Pinnacle to get the key victory. Meanwhile Man City will host Barnsley in the FA Cup, best priced at odds of 1.16 also with Pinnacle to win.
To read more of Matt's work, visit his blog Holtamania.com
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