A second-half goal glut put City on the brink of the title
City overcame a stubborn Villa challenge to put themselves on the brink of the title. Beat West Ham on Sunday, or even draw, and they will be champions of the second time in three seasons. Brendan Rodgers, then, finds himself hoping that Sam Allardyce, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing can ride to his rescue - and that's assuming Liverpool can dispatch Newcastle. Showdown Sunday ahoy!
You have to say that's magnificent! No other player in the league can do that. Toure collected the ball in his own half and then romped past two defenders with a unique blend of power and finesses before delicately clipping the ball past the out-rushing Guzan and into the net. Simply wonderful.
90+1 min: Lovely! The camera picks up a group if City fans holding aloft a large banner with a big picture of Pellegrini and the slogan: This Charming Man.
90 min: Delphs pings the ball across the face of goal. No one meets it.
Toure did superbly at the edge of the area to work an opening for Jovetic, who passed the ball into the net from 18 yards. "On the night that City (for all practical purpose) claim the title, their fans are more concerned about serenading the movements of Steven Gerrard's rear end than lauding their own team," snarls A Bo. "Blue Manchester are by each second and each petro-dollar becoming more and more what their red neighbours used to be."
87 min: Bertrand is replaced by the 18-year-old debutant Jack Grealish.
85 min: Negredo is about the be unleashed. "A City Premiership win is the lessor of three evils!" crows Manchester United fans Seamus Scanlon. Is that how most United fans feel?
82 min: Hold that last thought! Villa have suddenly perked up and Weimann headed against the underside of the bar! He's convinced that it crossed the line but the replays confirm that the ref was corrected not to award a goal.
81 min: No sign of a Villa comeback. City remain on the front foot and a third goal for them looks far more likely than a collapse.
78 min: Villa change: Clark off, Robinson on. Don't get your hopes up, Liverpool fans. "Good to see that Dzeko has bounced back from the horrific injury that he sustained at Goodison," tut-tutsTony Ricahrds.
76 min: Time for Silva to rest up ahead of the visit of West Ham. Will Andy Carroll be Liverpool's saviour yet?
75 min: So then, the upshot of this victory - for it will certainly be a victory or I will eat my trilby - is that Brendan Rodgers goes into the last day hoping that football Sam Allardyce-style prevails. Funny how things work out.
74 min: Toure's freekick hits the wall and careers behind for a corner.
73 min: Jovetic goes down at the edge of the area under a tackle by Clark and the referee awards a freekick.It's central, right at the rim of the box ...
Good night Villa. Zabaleta was again the creator, bombing down the right and crossing low, this time for Nasri. Guzan blocked the Frenchman's shot but Dzeko was on hand to roll the rebound into the net from close range.
68 min: Villa are suddenly trying to play more expansively but City don't look minded to let them.
66 min: That half-time shot of fennel tea from Pellegrini did the trick: City remained serene and eventually got the breakthrough without ever needing to take Roy of the Rovers risks. They currently have one hand on the title, and Chelsea's hand are now definitively empty. Now the atmosphere is buoyant!
An eruption of joy as Dzeko turns the ball in from close after Zabaleta delivers another low cross from the right.
61 min: Zabaleta clips in another cross from the right. Vlaar muscles Dzeko away from it.
City substitution: Milner off, Jovetic on.
Villa substitution: Bowery off, Bacuna on: it'll be interesting if Villa get a freekick in shooting distance.
59 min: Villa are getting increasingly deep, and not in a philosophical way. They're defending on the edge of their six-yard box, repelling cross after cross as City put on some kind of tribute to David Moyes reign across town.
57 min: Kolarov belts a 25-yard freekick over the wall and in the general direction of the top corner. But Guzan watches it all the way and bats it to safety.
56 min: Delph booked for dispossessing Silva via the forward's leg.
55 min: Dzejko retrieves the ball for Villa after it goes out of play. The fans boo Guzan's casual approach to taking the goalkick. "Kind of ironic that Rodgers is hoping to benefit from this Villa tactic tonight," carps Christopher Kenyon Silvey.
54 min: Villa's first attempt at a counter-attack in the second period comes to a swift end as Kompany puts paid to their meddling. "I think Paul Jaines is giving football fans way too much credit," wibbles Matt Turner. As a Liverpool supporter it took less than 2 months to go from quietly hoping we could make Champion's League qualification to mouth-frothing fury that we "threw away" the league. We are mindless idiots with the memory capabilities of a malfunctioning Commodore 64."
52 min: Vlaar heads a corner out of the box but Silva flips it back in and Kompany tries an overhead kick from eight yards! It's a fine effort but straight at Guzan. "Entitlement?!" blasts James Wallace. "City fans are all too busy chewing on their fingernails to make a noise!"
50 min: Toure drops a sumptuous ball over the top and on to the foot of Dzeko, who fails to control it and thus spurns a clear chance! "Don't take City's agency away!" storms Val. "Villa aren't making it awkward for City. City are making it awkward for themselves. This isn't how champions play." Well that's what we're going to find out.
48 min: Toure falls over Clark's leg and the ref gives him a freekick at the right-hand corner of the Villa box. Nasri dabs it into the six-yard box and it's hooked clear by El Ahmadi. City still not sparkling.
47 min: Toure floats a dainty ball across the box to Zabaleta, who tries to nod it down for a team-mate. But Baker intervenes.
46 min: Pellegrini isn't panicking" he's made no substitutions during the break. Nor have Villa.
Half-time grumble: "The atmosphere is rubbish," groans Paul Jaines. "It seems that the time between amazed, wide eyed excitement at winning a title and grumpy sense of entitlement is down to about 12 months these days, if that."
Villa have made it commendably awkward for City so far. The visitors don't look like nicking the win that would really thrill Liverpool (and even Chelsea) but they are playing havoc with City's nerves. Anything could still happen. If I were Pellegrini, I'd be minded to stick on Fernandinho and Negredo, after spreading donning a daisy chain and reciting some soothing poetry, of course.
45+2 min: What a miss! Again City piled six players into the opposing box and tried to find a way through. Eventually the ball was worked wide to Zabaleta, who pinged a cross into the near post. Nasri surged from deep to meet it four yards out ... but banged it wide!
45+1 min: There will be at least three more minutes before the break. That's an unusually long amount of time added on, most refs following the convenient "one minute in the first half, three in the second" formula.
45 min: Clark, who has had a sturdy game so far, nuts Milner's cross away as City are forced back to square one.
44 min: Villa's mid-half audacity has receded and they're back to clinging on for dear life. Their grip is sure, so far.
41 min: Kolarov fligns in another cross from the left. Everyone - defenders and forwards - misses it, leaving it to hurtle agonisingly across the face of goal.
38 min: Painfully close for City! Zabaleta beat the offside trap and was found with a clever pass from Toure. He could have shot from a slightly awkward angle but instead fired the ball across to Silva, who took a touch to control it. That gave Villa the nanosecond they needed to hurl themselves in front of the ball and Silva's shot was thus deflected away.
36 min: Villa are gaining in impudence. They're starting to spend sustained spells in City's half and pinging the ball about with menace.
34 min: It's pandemonium in the Villa box and six City players try to pick a way through the massed defence. Toure eventually loops a pass towards Dzeko - but Villa again scramble it away. And suddenly Weimann is haring forward on the counter! With no support he elects to shoot from 25 yards and it's deflected behind for a corner. City fans are all a-quiver.
32 min: Good news, of sorts, for Liverpool fans: Fabio Borini has doubled Sunderland's lead over WBA.
31 min: Villa attack! And via a good move, to boot. It culminated with Weimann dinking a tantalising cross to the back post and Bowery straining desperately to try to turn it into the net from close range. but he could only find the seidenetting.
29 min: The volume is rising at the Etihad as City fans realise their teams needs support. Perhaps pan pipe music and good vibes from Pellegrini should suffice? "I have something to say about Pellegrini's 'peace-and-happiness' approach," trumpets Cort McMurray. "In American Baseball, the New York Yankees enjoyed an extended run of success by employing an 'alternating manager' strategy. They’d hire Billy Martin, an egotistical, hard driving, combative type. Billy would aggravate and provoke the club to great success, until everyone got sick of him. The Yankees would then dismiss Mr. Martin, and replace him with a calm, thoughtful, 'players’ manager.' Relaxed and happy, the players would perform vey well. And when everyone got complacent and things went south, the Yankees would go back to Billy Martin. It was Billy Martin then Bob Lemon then Billy Martin then Dick Howser then Billy Martin then Yogi Berra. The strategy produced three league titles and two World Series trophies." So what you're saying is that, as in all the best TV shows, a good cop/bad cop approach is what's required?
27 min: Strong tackle by Clark to dispossess Milner at the risk of a penalty. The ref rightly awards only a corner, which City head clear. "Is this was defending is?" gasps Liverpool fans Ian Copetake. "I've not seen it for ages. I think it has a role to play though"
25 min: City have repeatedly worked the ball wide to Kolarov on the left and he has usually delivered decent crosses ... but not this time, as he wellies one into the increasingly jittery crowd. Only 65 minutes left for Villa to hold out!
23 min: Celebrity Crystal Palace fans Samir Nasri drives to the edge of the area and then curls a high shot over the bar. "This match is the answer to the question 'What's the point of Aston Villa?'. Even though it's a bit of an overstatement to claim that Villa get to determine the PL winner." Oi! That's the 1982 European champions and former employers of Paul McGrath you're talking about!
21 min: "Think of the poetry of it all if Villa stole the title from Man City!" chirps Natalie Wintgers. "Villains. Citizens.Eh? Eh?" City fans are starting to fear that could happen: anxiety is creeping into the atmosphere, and their sudden blurts of "City! City!" are tinged with desperation ...
19 min: Nasri noodles the ball wide to Kolarov, who curls in a vicious low cross. Silva tries to flick it into the net at the near post but doesn't make a firm connection and Villa manage to scramble it away.
18 min: The stats so far: 25% of the match has been in Villa's third, 73% in the middle third and all of the rest in City's box, though that last bit seems an exaggeration.
14 min: News from elsewhere is that Jack Colback has given Sunderland the lead over WBA. It falls to Villa to uphold midland pride, then. "Since everyone's emailing with their preferences, as a Derby fan I'm hoping for a Villa win, followed by the news that the entire Brighton squad are Liverpool fans, who then turn up to tomorrow's playoff game with enormous hangovers," quips David Hopkins.
12 min: Fine move by City, fine save by Guzan! Milner cut the defence open with a shrewdly disguised pass to Zabaleta, who banged a low ball into the box. Toure met it 10 yards out and fired low at goal, but Guzan, going the other way, stuck out his left leg to divert it behind for a corner!
11 min: Delph dashes forward as Villa threaten to spend a few seconds in the City half ... and the he backpasses it into his own. And then City win the ball back. It's going to be a long night for them. "Bacuna, Steer, Sylla, Tonev, Holt, Robinson, Grealish. Look at that strength of the Villa bench!" quivers Paul Griffin. "It's like a roll call from Judgement Day. City have no hope at all. Might as well hand B-Rod the trophy right now."
9 min: Guzan comes for a corner but is easily beaten to it by Kompany and is lucky that the defender can't direct the header on target.
7 min: The City fans have perked up a tad, launching into the now familiar 'Steven Gerrard slipped on his arse' ditty. Their team, meanwhile, continues to dominate possession but have yet to infiltrate Villa's defence. But Villa are looking brittle and don't look like they could hold out for much longer if City can muster a little more precision. "Much of part of me agrees with Ian Copestake (19:18)," begins Patarick Crumlish. "I also remember the words of Red in The Shawshank Redemption: hope is a good thing , sometimes the best of things."
5 min: Dzeko springs the offside trap and then fees the overlapping Kolarov, who drives to the byline and then lets fly from a narrow angle, forcing Guzan to parry with difficulty.
4 min: Villa's game plan is clear: with a five-man defence they are sitting quite deep in the hope of inviting City forward, then nicking the ball and tearing forward on the counter-attack. So far only the first part is working.
2 min: After a humdrum opening City zip the ball into the box and Silva goes down under a clumsy tackle by Westwood. Referee Michael Oliver waves play on, prompting to slap the air in anger.
1 min: Off we go then. City are in summer sky blue, Villa in a claret-and-white quarters get-up that looks like something from Alice in Wonderland.
"After all the hearty dancing and limbo-ing on the grave of Liverpool’s title charge, it would be thoroughly rewarding to see the season end with Samir Nasri in tears,"sobsPeterOh. "Also, in the ‘If I were Michel Platini’ column: Why waste time fining City squillions of pounds for financial shenanigans? Simply dock them 5 points in the league"
The teams totter out on to the pitch in the teeming rain, which appears to have drowned out the sound a little: it seems a pretty subdued atmosphere at the Etihad given the stakes. Perhaps City fans expect a routine win? If the players have that approach,they could be made to regret it. But probably not.
"Regarding that interview with Pellegrini, was that line about it being ' important to try to score and do good defending as well' a message to Brendan Rodgers?" wonders Justin Kavanagh.
"Interesting to see Jack Grealish on the bench," notes Felix Wood. "The wisest and all-round-good-eggest person I know reckons he could be Villa's Ross Barkley in a year or two. I hope so." If he's anything like his famous (sur)namesake Tony, I'll be happy too. Great player, splendid beard.
Niall Quinn on Sky reckons the secret to Pellegrini's success is that he came in with "a holistic approach and just said 'come on guys, everyone stay clam". Aye, some managers use chalkboards and bollockings, Pellegrini is all about incense sticks and didgeridoos.
Thus spake Pellegrini just now: "It is very important for us to try to win the game without thinking about the title and what could happen on Sunday ... it's important to try to score and do good defending aswell." Glad you didn't miss that interview, eh?
"As a Villa fan I've decided I really want us to nick another cheeky big four scalp to keep this title race alive for the red half of Merseyside," announces a magnanimous John Hayward. "That and I've got 20 quid on a Villa win at 25-1!"
Vincent Kompany, interviewed on Sky, claims that he wished Liverpool had beaten Crystal Palace the other night because that would have forced City to concentrate on improving their goal difference even more, rather than just winning. It's a curious logic that sounds like guff: surely he doesn't expect us to believe that he and his team-mates weren't jumping around their living rooms on Monday night and cackling maniacally?
"I have decided as a Liverpool fan that I wholeheartedly want Man City to thrash Villa tonight so that this whole hope thing can be stamped out and I can resume my life and move on," whimpers Ian Copestake. Never mind, Ian, it could be worse: you could be a Chelsea fans, hoping for a monumental collapse by not just one, but two teams.
City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Dimichelis, Kolarov; Milner, Toure, Garcia, Nasri; Silva; Dzeko
Subs: Richards, Lescott, Negredo, Clichy, Fernandinho, Pantilimon, Jovetic
Villa: Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker, Bertrand; El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph, Weimann; Bowery.
Subs: Bacuna, Steer, Sylla, Tonev, Holt, Robinson, Grealish.
The Premier League table and today's protagonists. As it stands.
So are we to get yet another wacky twist in the title race? Or is this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons going to finish up with the championship going to the team with the most money, which, unless you're a Manchester City, would be a bit of an anti-climax, like if Star Wars concluded with the Dark Side prevailing because Luke Skywalker slipped and lopped his own head off with his laser beam. Not that we're comparing Steven Gerrard to Luke Skywalker - nor, heaven forbid, Brendan Rodgers to Princess Leah, crouching in front of his TV tonight pleading "Help us, Aston Villa, you're our only hope".
And what a hope. Villa have been woegeous for most of the season, yet they have somehow already managed to beat City once this term and also toppled Chelsea and Arsenal and held Liverpool to a draw and now that they no longer have to worry about relegation, perhaps they will play with joyous abandon. City, meanwhile, will again play without Sergio Aguero. So a home win is not quite a foregone conclusion. Stay tuned, Brendan!