Man City beat Nakamba’s Aston Villa as the match to the title

Pep Guardiola tries to convey a message to his players. Photograph: Franck Fife/AP

Manchester City moved closer to becoming Premier League champions after they beat Aston Villa in a match where both sides ended with 10 men.

City, playing for the first time since they signed up to the European Super League and then withdrew from the competition, had centre-half John Stones sent off just before the break for a knee-high challenge on Jacob Ramsey.

However, Villa wasted the man advantage when Matty Cash was dismissed 11 minutes into the second half following two bookings in the space of three minutes.

Villa went ahead after only 20 seconds as John McGinn guided a shot past Ederson following Ollie Watkins’ low cross.

The impressive Phil Foden finished off a fine City team move to equalise before Rodri headed the visitors in front following Bernardo Silva’s cross.

City led 2-1 when they went down to 10 men, but Villa could not capitalise on the extra player and then offered little threat when it was 10-a-side.

After the match, City boss Pep Guardiola said of Foden: “This guy is growing. His influence in our games is massive. He’s becoming a serious player.

“Phil right now is becoming such an important player. His influence in the final third is so important.”

Guardiola’s team are 11 points clear of Manchester United and need eight points from their final five matches to become English champions for the third time in four seasons.

Stones will be suspended for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Tottenham at Wembley as City, who are also in the Champions League semi-finals, aim to pick up the first of a potential three trophies this season.

A bad day for Stones, but his red does not cost City

Stones has been in fine form this season, making more Premier League appearances than he managed in 2019-20, with his performances earning an England recall after 16 months out of the national side.

However, with Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate in the stands, it was an evening to forget for the 26-year-old.

He was caught out in the first few seconds of the match when he failed to collect a long ball from England team-mate Tyrone Mings, enabling Watkins to set up McGinn for the joint quickest Premier League goal of the season.

Stones was then shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Ramsey near the halfway line and in front of the two dugouts.

After a check by the video assistant referee Jarred Gillett, on-field referee Peter Banks watched the incident on a pitchside monitor and showed the red card to Stones, although Guardiola was unhappy with the decision and remonstrated with the officials.

With a man advantage, Villa’s Douglas Luiz curled a 25-yard effort straight at Ederson but the match swung back in City’s favour following two Cash challenges on Foden, the second of which was a sliding challenge that wiped out the England midfielder close to the touchline.

From then on City were able to dominate possession and now only need three more league wins to become English champions for the seventh time in their history.

Foden shines as football returns to normal

The build-up to the match at Villa Park had been dominated by talk of the European Super League.

City were one of six English teams – along with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham – to join three sides from Spain and three from Italy in the proposed new closed competition, which would have featured no promotion or relegation.

However, Sunday’s announcement, brought widespread criticism and anger from fans, managers, other clubs and politicians, with Guardiola himself saying football “is not a sport if success is guaranteed or if it doesn’t matter when you lose”.

City were one of the first to announce their withdrawal from the ESL on Tuesday evening and there was no repeat of the protests that had seen angry fans demonstrating before Liverpool’s match at Leeds on Monday, Chelsea’s home game versus Brighton on Tuesday and Tottenham’s encounter with Southampton earlier on Wednesday.

This was a game that again highlighted the exciting and thrilling nature of the Premier League and City’s play after going a goal behind was a joy to watch.

Their equaliser started with goalkeeper Ederson knocking a fine 50-yard ball to the left wing where Olexandr Zinchenko played it to the superb Foden. The 20-year-old drilled a low pass to Riyad Mahrez and the Algerian released the overlapping Silva on the right flank and his pull-back was steered into the net by Foden.

The second goal was another well-worked one as Rodri powerfully headed in from another Silva assist.

Not only have City scored the most goals in the Premier League, they also have the best defensive record and successfully managed to stifle Villa in the second half to take a big step towards another title.

‘They schooled us’ – what they said

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith, speaking to BBC Match of the Day: “We made a great start. It was something we had spoken about. We have one of the best players in the league who can run in behind the oppositions defence in the shape of Ollie Watkins.

“We defended reasonably well. It was probably the manner of the goals we conceded that was most disappointing. Cashy will learn from that. The second [booking] was stupid and reckless.

“Some of Manchester City’s play play was outstanding. They schooled us at times.

“I’ve been involved in professional football for 34 years and I haven’t seen football come together like it has this week. That shows you how outraged people were at the [ESL] plans.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola speaking to BBC Match of the Day: “Not the start I dreamt of but we reacted very well, we played so good with and without the ball. Ten against 11, we reacted well, we played so good.”

On John Stones’ red card: “He’s late but the intention to kick him is not there, he wouldn’t go there with intention, he’s not aggressive with the feet, he’s just late. It’s tough, playing a lot of minutes, good learning for him. Even with 10 men we played good, when we had the ball we played good.”

On distraction of Super League: “After that game it doesn’t look like it did distract us, we were focused, of course everyone was concerned, but the players were focused on this game. We are so close. Cup final and Champions League and then Crystal Palace.”

Source: BBC