Aston Villa have dealt a major blow to Manchester City’s Premier League title challenge as Leon Bailey clinched a 1-0 win against the reeling champions at Villa Park.
Bailey’s deflected second-half strike moved Unai Emery’s side above spluttering City into third place on Wednesday night.
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Pep Guardiola’s fourth-placed team have gone four league games without a win and sit six points behind leaders Arsenal.
After draws with Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham, the treble winners desperately needed to beat Villa to keep in touch with the Gunners.
Instead, they produced their worst performance of the damaging run and could easily have lost by more than one goal.
City looked weary for long periods but with a trip to Saudi Arabia for the FIFA Club World Cup looming before the hectic Christmas schedule, there is little respite in sight.
Reacting to questions this week about City’s blip, Guardiola boldly proclaimed his team will definitely retain the Premier League title.
The City boss won’t be panicking yet, after all, they erased an eight-point gap to overhaul Arsenal in the closing weeks of last season’s title race.
But this was a major setback to their hopes of an unprecedented fourth successive Premier League crown.
“Aston Villa were better. They played a fantastic game, we struggled to make our process and be more aggressive,” Guardiola said.
“The fact we didn’t win the last few games, that’s the quality of the Premier League. We know what’s our level. We’re struggling a bit. I’m here to help them.”
Villa’s 14th consecutive home league victory provided more evidence of the remarkable job done by Emery since he replaced the sacked Steven Gerrard last season.
Emery’s team look genuine top-four contenders and Saturday’s visit from Arsenal gives their manager, sacked by the Gunners in 2019, a chance to prove a point to his old club, who are only four points above them.
“We did a fantastic match. When you are playing Manchester City you have to get your moments and try to control the game. We created chances but it was very tough,” Emery said after his first win over Guardiola at the 14th attempt.
This Premier League top four situation is heating up nicely 😏 pic.twitter.com/Iz7fdp1cDH
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 6, 2023
Liverpool close in on Arsenal
Elsewhere, Liverpool eased to a 2-0 victory over Sheffield United for whom Chris Wilder was back in the technical area after returning to his former club following the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom.
Virgil van Dijk’s first-half volley and a late effort by Dominik Szoboszlai were enough for Juergen Klopp’s side who closed the gap on leaders Arsenal to two points.
Arsenal, who enjoyed a last-gasp 4-3 win at Luton Town on Tuesday, have 36 points from 15 games with Liverpool on 34, Villa on 32 and City in the fourth spot on 30 points.
Manchester United bounced back from the weekend defeat by Newcastle United with Scott McTominay’s double securing a 2-1 victory against Chelsea at Old Trafford.
United sit at sixth place on the table with 27 points, three behind City and Chelsea are 10th with 19 points.
The pressure is mounting on Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper after his side slumped to a 5-0 defeat at Fulham while Bournemouth eased further clear of the relegation places with a 2-0 victory at sliding Crystal Palace.
Eighth-placed Brighton & Hove Albion beat Brentford 2-1.