Not many Aston Villa fans expected us to take anything home from Saturday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium, but not many expected a 5-0 thrashing either. While some aspects of our play were encouraging, the final score showed how utterly dominant Manchester City were and added another poor second half performance onto the list this season.
After last week’s impressive display in a 3-2 home loss against neighbours Manchester United, optimism in Aston Villa fans could almost be excused, but any hopes of a repeat of the heroics that led to a 4-2 win in the Capital One Cup at the same stadium a little under two months ago were dead and buried shortly after half time.
Going to the Etihad Stadium is far from an easy task with Manchester City being unbeaten there in the previous 35 league games, so on the day you need as much luck as possible to come away with even a point. Unfortunately we got the opposite end of the spectrum, two penalties against us. One was contentious, the other outrageous. I actually didn’t have too many complaints about the award of the second penalty, although it may have been slightly harsh there’s no arguing that the ball hit Barry Bannan’s arm and it affected the ball massively, as unfortunate as it was for Bannan himself to have slipped. The first penalty however was one of the strangest I’ve seen. Andreas Weimann jumped to head the ball from a corner and the ball narrowly missed his arm, hit Matija Nastasic and Ron Vlaar then cleared. About 15 seconds later, a penalty was awarded…
Not that I honestly think it made a huge amount of difference, but at 1-0 down at the Etihad Stadium the last thing you need against you is a ridiculous penalty decision go against you. The truth is though, that despite Aston Villa fashioning the odd decent chance on the counter-attack, we deserved nothing from the game and Manchester City were rampant. Our “give it a go” attitude cost us by having an attacking line-up, but I don’t envy Paul Lambert’s job of team selection.
We set up in the same 4-3-3 formation that we have used in the previous two league games, with the same starting 11 as last week against United. Hard to argue with that, after all that team did take a 2-0 lead against one of the best teams in the country, the lack of defensive cover in the wide areas cost us dearly however with Maicon and Gael Clichy providing chance after chance for their Manchester City teammates.
Perhaps a better option for either the left or right winger position would have been Brett Holman who has impressed us all with his determination and work rate, but who would you leave out in that instance?
Gabriel Agbonlahor has been in a good vein of form lately and was possibly our best chance of creating a goal yesterday. We were never going to be all over City so our best chance of scoring you’d have to assume would be from a counter-attack, exactly why you need Gabby in the team; his pace is frightening and devastating at times. Supporting Christian Benteke from the right flank was Andi Weimann, who offered little defensive cover to full back Matthew Lowton in the scheme of things. I’m not criticising Weimann at all though. Being a striker myself; I know what it’s like to play on the right hand side and to be expected to track back when it’s something you aren’t accustomed to is very strange. So perhaps he’d be the more viable player to swap for Holman, right? Not after scoring a brace against United 7 days before – in my eyes you just can’t drop a player after they’ve done that.
So in the end our fragility in the wide areas due to an attacking line-up and philosophy is what cost us the most yesterday, but 12 months ago we were crying out for a positive thinking, attack minded manager so we can have no complaints. I’m still far happier watching us have a go and lose than play with six defenders on the pitch as was a common occurrence under McLeish, I might feel differently if we’re still in the relegation zone come March though.
One thing is for sure, Lambert needs to pick the players up after a heavy defeat this weekend as we have two big home games left in November, starting next week with a winnable home tie against Arsenal. They are a fragile team at the moment despite an impressive performance against rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and I believe in Benteke we’ve got the perfect weapon to damage their dodgy defence in front of a home crowd. Following that we welcome Reading to Villa Park - win that and the confidence will receive a huge boost, losing it is unthinkable…