MANCHESTER, England, Feb 12 (Reuters) – Manchester City produced a defiant response to the Premier League’s charge sheet as they comfortably beat Aston Villa 3-1 to close to within three points of leaders Arsenal on Sunday.
Goals by Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez put the result beyond doubt by halftime as City got back on track following last weekend’s loss at Tottenham Hotspur.
With the club facing more than 100 charges relating to alleged financial misconduct the home fans were in belligerent mood at the Etihad Stadium with a series of ironic chants and voicing support for the club’s owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
On the pitch, City’s players showed they have not been distracted by the developments as they effectively wrapped up the points even before the halftime whistle.
Pep Guardiola’s side needed only four minutes to take the lead when Rodri headed in Riyad Mahrez’s corner and they were cruising in the 39th minute when Erling Haaland was forced wide after racing on to a Kevin de Bruyne pass but showed great vision to set up Gundogan for a side-foot finish.
Villa were left with mission impossible when Mahrez tucked away a penalty in first-half stoppage time after Jacob Ramsey was adjudged to have tripped former Villa player Jack Grealish.
Ollie Watkins scored for the third successive league match to reduce the deficit on the hour mark and Villa also struck the woodwork through substitute Jhon Duran late on but City never looked in any real danger of dropping points.
Champions City have 48 points from 22 games to Arsenal’s 51 from 21 and can go top if they win at Arsenal on Wednesday.
It was not a vintage City performance against Villa but considering the build-up was dominated by serious allegations that could have huge ramifications for the Abu Dhabi-owned club, it was efficient enough to get the job done.
It also set up Wednesday’s clash at Arsenal beautifully, although they may have a worry with Haaland being withdrawn at halftime on Sunday with an injury.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Gundogan told Sky Sports. “We are looking forward to it and know how tough it will be.”
Villa never really recovered from allowing Rodri to get away from his marker and head past Emiliano Martinez after four minutes although they were perhaps unlucky to be trailing 3-0 at halftime as Ramsey’s foul on Grealish looked soft.
They improved after the break as City appeared to take their foot off the gas but suffered two successive defeats for the first time since Unai Emery replaced Steven Gerrard as manager to stay 11th in the standings with 28 points.
“We have to be positive when we are winning, and we have to learn how to respond and although the result was bad we tried to show our mentality in the second half,” Emery said.
“It was a bad result, but we have to learn and use it in the next matches.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Christian Radnedge