Aston Villa climb above Man City as Bailey rocks reeling champions
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Aston Villa dealt a major blow to Manchester City's Premier League title challenge as Leon Bailey clinched a 1-0 win against the reeling champions on Wednesday.
Bailey's deflected second-half strike at Villa Park moved Unai Emery's side above spluttering City into third place.
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.
City had conceded 10 goals in their previous four games, so Guardiola shuffled his midfield, selecting John Stones, making his first appearance since November after a muscle injury, and youngster Rico Lewis in a line-up featuring six natural defenders.
Despite the defensive reinforcements, City were repeatedly carved open with alarming ease.
City have often struggled whenever the influential Rodri has been absent over the last year and the Spain midfielder's suspension again seemed to unsettle the champions.
Guardiola wore a worried look on the touchline after John McGinn's sublime pass sent Bailey racing into the area for a shot that Ederson palmed away.
Ederson was called into action again moments later as he leapt to his right to tip over Pau Torres's long-range curler.
City needed a goal to settle their nerves and Erling Haaland should have delivered it.
Surging into the Villa area, Haaland's drive was saved by Emiliano Martinez, who scrambled to his feet to make another fine stop when the City striker rose to head Bernardo Silva's cross goalwards seconds later.
But without the suspended Jack Grealish and injured Jeremy Doku, City were impotent for the rest of the game as Villa took control.
Ederson had to race off his line to save from Ollie Watkins and Luiz looped a header past the City keeper just before half-time, only to see the goal disallowed because the ball had gone out of play before Lucas Digne's cross.
McGinn wasted a glorious opportunity for Villa midway through the second half when the midfielder cut inside Ruben Dias, but screwed his shot wide with just Ederson to beat.
City were clinging on as Villa's slick passing and constant pressing kept them on the back foot.
But Villa finally made the breakthrough their performance deserved in the 74th minute.
Bailey accelerated away from Josko Gvardiol to the edge of the area, where his shot took a hefty deflection off Dias as it fizzed past the wrong-footed Ederson.
It could have been even worse for City as Luiz's strike hit the woodwork on a worrying evening for the shell-shocked champions.
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