Man City's Win Over Aston Villa Shows Substance, But Their Underdog Story Doesn't

The Cityzens seem determined to portray an
18:27, 12 Feb 2023

It’s been a long time since Manchester City’s story could be described as an underdog tale. For some, they stopped being able to claim that status on 1st September 2008, when they rocketed up the rich list after being bought by the Abu Dhabi United group. Perhaps they relinquished their underdog status on 13th May 2012, when Sergio Aguero scored against Queens Park Rangers to clinch the first of many Premier League titles. 

But the year is now 2023 and whichever way you look at it, City have been part of football’s monied elite for over a decade. It’s been a long time since they’ve managed to write a compelling underdog story.


Their war against UEFA, largely driven by a Financial Fair Play sanction in 2014, endeared them to few. Today they were raging against the Premier League after the organisation charged them with over 100 financial breaches. It does ring a little hollow when the team who sit top of the Deloitte Football Money League is acting like they’re a minnow crushed under corporate thumbs.

Amidst the incendiary chants and the booing of the Premier League anthem, a football match did take place at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon. It came against Aston Villa, a team City could claim one category of underdog status against. The Midlands side do boast a European Cup, something the Cityzens are yet to achieve. 

Given their stumble at Tottenham Hotspur a week ago, there was no appetite in the City camp to make this one a contest. Bernardo Silva snuck in behind and drew a solid save from the feet of Emi Martinez. The World Cup winning goalkeeper figured prominently moments later, when City had a goal disallowed for a foul on Martinez by Erling Haaland in the build-up.

The opener arrived through Rodri, who took advantage of some very poor defending at a corner. Running across to the front post unchallenged, the midfielder had all the time and space he needed to power a header home. It was a dereliction of duty on the part of Unai Emery’s men. 

Former Villa man Jack Grealish had a well-struck volley blocked by Callum Chambers and a side-foot saved by Martinez. But City would open the floodgates. Haaland looked to have gone too wide on the attack but he used his position to centre for Ilkay Gundogan. The German, who scored a brace against Villa on the last day of last season to clinch the title, had a tap-in to make it 2-0.

The game was put beyond Villa’s grasp with a bit of apparent gamesmanship from Grealish. The attacking midfielder nipped in behind Jacob Ramsey before collapsing under a challenge that sat somewhere between minimal and nonexistent. Riyad Mahrez was not in the business of fact-finding though and stuck the resulting penalty home anyway.

With City three goals to the good and after the striker receiving treatment during the first half, Haaland was replaced at the onset of the second by Julian Alvarez. The booked Ruben Dias also made way for Manuel Akanji. Manager Pep Guardiola seemed determined to take advantage of the freedom his side’s supremacy had afforded him. 

Just when it looked like this game would meander to its conclusion, City became too lax. Aymeric Laporte’s casual ball to Silva in midfield was cut out by Douglas Luiz. The Brazilian found Ollie Watkins, who slotted the ball into the bottom corner past Ederson. Even in the immediate aftermath, you didn’t get the sense this goal would shake City. But it was a gentle reminder that they were in a game. 

City did respond with more purpose. Kevin De Bruyne found Gundogan, whose wide ball found Grealish. The England winger stood the ball up at the far post for Alvarez, whose header was cleared by Ezri Konsa. Mahrez had a sitter too, when De Bruyne released Alvarez to square to him. The Algeria international could only find the stands with his effort.

On the pitch, City were almost beyond reproach here. They often are, especially during the Guardiola era in which they have been incredibly dominant. But City, for all the appreciation of their on-pitch style, may find themselves on an island unto themselves when it comes to their latest fight against perceived injustice. Many observers feel the club’s chickens are coming home to roost and that any complaints, chants and abuse directed at the league are simply sour grapes.

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