Feature

How Emery can exploit Rodri absence to beat Guardiola for first time

6 Dec 2023
Villa v Man City

Alex Keble says Unai Emery will never have a better chance to beat Pep Guardiola than today

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Alex Keble previews Aston Villa v Man City.

Manchester City have walked into a difficult patch of form without anybody seeming to notice. They have drawn each of their last three Premier League matches,  conceding 10 goals in their last four matches in all competitions, and have won only 12 points from their last eight league fixtures.

This is hardly an ideal time to travel to Villa Park, where Aston Villa have won 13 Premier League matches in a row, their longest run since October 1931. But like Man City, there are signs of Villa slowing down a little as the fixture schedule begins to take its toll.

Villa’s 2-2 draw at AFC Bournemouth on Sunday was a little fortunate and, although their form is considerably better at Villa Park, another midweek fixture is going to be tough on the legs, especially for players such as Ollie Watkins, John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, who have started every league match this season.

But there are still plenty of reasons to believe Villa can get something from this one – and even, with a win, leapfrog Man City in the table.

The title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Liverpool LIV 26 +38 60
2 Man City MCI 26 +33 59
3 Arsenal ARS 26 +39 58
4 Aston Villa AVL 26 +21 52
View More

Rodri’s suspension is a major boost for Villa. Since his debut in 2019/20 he has missed 16 Premier League matches and Man City have lost six of them, or 37.5 per cent, including the last two, a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal and 2-1 loss at Wolves earlier this season.

Without Rodri, Man City have no orchestrator at the base of midfield and appear more vulnerable to counter-attacks, which just happens to be Villa’s specialty - they rank second in the Premier League for "direct attacks", with 37.

Unai Emery will sit Villa a little deeper, inviting some pressure before hitting the visitors in high numbers through their softer centre, deploying his typically narrow wingers in the half-spaces in order to crowd the Rodri-less danger zone.

In fact, only Man City attack through the middle column of the pitch more often than Villa, with 32 per cent and 31 per cent respectively. McGinn and Leon Bailey will look to drift inside whenever they can, hoping to capitalise on any sluggishness from Man City, as Tottenham Hotspur did in their 3-3 draw on Sunday.

Dejan Kulusevski, and then Giovani Lo Celso after half-time, saw plenty of the ball in central attacking midfield, partly because Spurs were brave enough to weave out of the high Man City press - as Villa will be - and partly because Pep Guardiola’s team are weaker in midfield this season.

Emery has never beaten Guardiola in 13 previous meetings, encompassing spells at Arsenal, Valencia and Villa. He might not get a better chance than this.

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