Steven Gerrard tasted defeat for the first time as Aston Villa boss with his side brave yet bullish against current Premier League champions Man City.
The initial warning signs were there for Villa quite early on as Tyrone Mings blocked Gabriel Jesus’ shot before Emi Martinez palmed away Rodri’s effort after just three minutes.
Villa, who were being watched by Prince William at Villa Park, were beginning to carry a threat from counter-attacks with Leon Bailey, Matty Cash and Emi Buendia all lacking quality in terms of their final ball towards Ollie Watkins.
Gerrard drafted Buendia and Douglas Luiz in prior to kick-off with Jacob Ramsey and Ashley Young both making way following last weekend’s win at Palace.
City, though, went ahead after 27 minutes and, ironically, it was against the run of play with Villa beginning to pick up.
England winger Raheem Sterling checked past John McGinn as City attacked before his reverse ball found centre-back Ruben Dias who sneaked forward and, as Bailey was too slow to react, it was the Portuguese who thumped home from 25 yards into Martinez’s bottom left-hand corner.
Just moments later, Jamaican wide man Bailey was off with what looked to be a thigh strain as his injury niggles with Young his replacement.
Again, Villa stayed compact and jumped forwards on the break but attacks fizzled out before City made it 2-0 just three minutes before the break.
Villa looked to pin Joao Cancelo and Riyad Mahrez in the corner but the pair got the better of Matt Targett before City skipper Fernandinho picked up the ball and fed Jesus on the right flank.
The Brazilian advanced before finding Bernardo Silva who raced ahead of McGinn before volleying home the sweetest of finishes past Martinez to make it an uphill task for Gerrard’s side in the second half.
Villa, though, were out like a flash after the restart with Douglas’ near-post corner finding the clever run of Ollie Watkins who sprinted off Sterling before firing home his fourth of the season in off Ederson’s near post.
Villa more than matched their opponents in the second 45, with Ezri Konsa having a VAR shout for a penalty claim which simply wasn’t one after Nathan Ake’s intervention.
With over an hour gone, Gerrard was forced into a second change when Targett had to come off with a head injury. Teenager Carney Chukwuemeka was Targett’s replacement here as the youngster joined Buendia as a No.10 off Watkins up front, with utility man Young dropping back in at left-back.
City did carve out another chance when Jesus spooned over after being picked out, with the Brazilian getting it all wrong having drifted off centre-back pairing Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa.
Villa rallied soon after, though, and it was substitute Chukwuemeka who had the Holte End baying for an equaliser after he was put through by Buendia. It was Douglas with the initial ball into his South American teammate before record-buy Buendia threaded Chukwuemeka in before his effort from just seven yards out crashed off Ederson’s knee as the ball flew over the crossbar for a corner.
With just three minutes remaining Jack Grealish was chucked on for Jesus as the 40,000-strong Villa crowd bood the former captain relentlessly.
But that proved to be that for Villa on a night where Gerrard said he’d learn a lot about his group of players against the might of Pep Guardiola and City.
Gerrard’s men were superb and, on another day, would have beat City had they been that little bit sharper in front of goal.
As the final whistle went, the Villa players who left it all out there for the claret and blue cause were applauded off for their efforts with Leicester next up at Villa Park on Sunday.
Here are your ratings.
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Starting formation: 4-3-2-1
Emi Martinez: Saved well from Cancelo’s early cross at his near post before palming Rodri’s effort over. Dias’ strike was all too good, though, as was Bernardo’s stunning volley Martinez had no chance with. Martinez didn’t have a fat lot to do in the second half, it has to be said, with Villa dominant. 6
Matty Cash: Covered some serious ground – and had too as Villa looked to beat City’s relentless press with Cash often the out-ball down the right. Cash gave City plenty to think about and was full of endeavour. The full-back either under-hit or over-hit the majority of his crosses here. Improved after the break and got the better of Sterling, much to the delight of those in the lower Trinity Road Stand. Strong and kept to the task at hand. 7
Ezri Konsa: Strong and focused once again from Konsa here who got himself out of some tricky positions with his speed of thought and coolness at the back. The centre-back wanted a penalty in the second half but Mike Dean and VAR thought Ake’s challenge on him was fair after a coming together following a corner. Tackled strongly on Jesus late on with a brilliant challenge. 7
Tyrone Mings: Blocked well from Jesus early doors and that set the tone for Mings here who was decent value once more. The skipper didn’t have a man to mark against City with Jesus, Sterling and Bernardo all interchanging. 7
Matt Targett: Had both Mahrez and Cancelo to content with for large parts with that City duo doubling up on Villa’s isolated left-back. The left-back was caught high up fort City’s second as Jesus was given acres to cross for Bernardo. Overall, Targett did OK and won his fair share of tackles before having to be replaced after a head injury. 6.5
John McGinn: Didn’t see too much of the Scot here, with McGinn often turning provider when it came to deep crosses in City’s box. McGinn always offered a pass to those that needed one. Rallied until the end, did McGinn, and was a constant thorn in City’s side in that pulsating second half. 7
Marvelous Nakamba: Tackled well as Villa’s middle man in midfield once again. Nakamba was workmanlike in his approach once more here before he ran himself into the ground as Sanson injected some energy for the final 13 or so minutes. Another good effort from Nakamba. 7
Douglas Luiz: Came up with a quality assist via a corner on his return to the starting XI, finding Watkins’ run as Villa pulled one back after the break. Douglas played just ahead of Targett at times as Gerrard wanted Villa to find the pair of them on the break. The Brazilian, who got a hug from ex-boss Guardiola after half-time, was solid on his return and looked fired up against his former side. Standout operator in Villa’s engine room. Looked like he had the bit between his teeth. 7.5
Leon Bailey: His game was done on the half-hour after pulling up with what appears to be another thigh issue. Bailey made the wrong decision on a couple of occasions in good areas, including opting to Cruyff-turn away from those in white shirts instead of playing Buendia in who was unmarked. The Jamaican is still getting to grips with the Premier League, hence his body breaking down on him once again. 4
Emi Buendia: Lots of effort from the little man as he came in for Young in the starting XI. Unlike Bailey, Buendia made the right balls with one or two lacking the power needed to find his teammates. Buendia showed glimpses of quality, turning away from the likes of Rodri. Almost teed-up the equaliser with a cute ball into Chukwuemeka. The fans liked Buendia’s work this evening. Full of energy for the cause, while he’s just lacking that tiny bit of quality in the final third at present. Buendia was bright tonight. 7.5*
Ollie Watkins: Looked a threat as Villa peppered balls up to him hoping it would stick and it did more times than not with Watkins getting the better of Dias as the Portuguese fouled him on occasion which allowed Villa to get up. Watkins’ good work was rewarded with a brilliantly-taken goal as he flashed his strike past Ederson after running off Sterling to connect with Douglas’ corner. Worked City’s centre-backs relentlessly up front. Dogged. 7.5
Ashley Young (on for Bailey, 30 minutes): Played well again here did the 36-year-old who was taken out of the starting XI amid the shift he put in at Selhurst at the weekend. Young was shrewd with the ball knowing City’s press was relentless. Young used the ball well whenever he had it and kept those in claret shirts going until the very end. Young dropped back to left-back after Chukwuemeka’s introduction for Targett. 7
Carney Chukwuemeka (on for Targett, 66 minutes): Came on for his first piece of match action under Gerrard with Young dropping in at left-back as Carney played with Buendia off Watkins. The 18-year-old almost became Villa’s unlikely hero after continuing his run into the box before forcing a close-range save from Ederson as Buendia played him in. Almost in on other occasions before City cleared. 6
Morgan Sanson (on for Nakamba, 77 minutes): Came on for his first taste of Premier League action this season as he joined Douglas and McGinn in midfield. Showcased some nice long-range passing out to Watkins late on. Looked lively in his late cameo while he picked up a dead leg after a late one from Fernandinho. 6
Subs not used: Jed Steer, Axel Tuanzebe, Anwar El Ghazi, Kortney Hause, Keinan Davis, Jacob Ramsey.
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Ake, Zinchenko; Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho; Mahrez, Jesus (Grealish, 87), Sterling.
Subs not used: Carson, Steffen, Foden, Mbete, Palmer, McAtee, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand.
Aston Villa: Watkins (47)
Man City: Dias (27), Bernardo Silva (43)
Officials: Mike Dean (referee); Kevin Friend (VAR)
Next up for Villa: Leicester City at Villa Park on Sunday, December 5; 4.30pm kick-off; live on Sky Sports