The king of all comebacks

Posted by Kevin Hughes

So much for post match analysis. There are games which can be meticulously dissected, and then there are matches such as this one -- Villa's 3-2 victory over Manchester City was crazy, chaotic, and verging on the freakish after an exhilarating comeback that owed more to the adrenaline pumping through player veins than any tactical innovation. Trying to make sense of what had happened, and how it happened, seems useless. Better to just accept that it was one of those magnificent matches that football throws up, from time to time.

Villa were outplayed by City in just about every area. That's more or less a statement of fact. City had 21 attempts on goal, 13 corners, and 67% of possession.

Villa manager Paul Lambert had vowed, as always, to 'give it a right go' against the title contenders but there was no evidence of any such ambition during a first half which was dominated by the visitors. Lambert's latest formation was a return to the 3-5-2 set-up which was used, for a short period, last season, but filling out midfield by pushing Leandro Bacuna and Antonio Luna forward as wing-backs didn't stop City from exerting their superiority. And fielding three central defenders didn't prevent Villa from conceding a series of corners, or improve their success of defending them.

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Both City goals came from corners, the first prodded in by Yaya Toure shortly before half-time. It could be argued that Villa were lucky to get to the interval just a goal down, and by that stage the result looked in no doubt whatsoever. How Villa turned it around in the second half owed a little to a slice of good fortune, and a lot to Lambert's players just sensing that it was their day, and seizing the opportunity.

Karim El Ahmadi's equaliser was nicely worked, but the midfielder was offside when Bacuna's pass found him inside the penalty area with time and space to drive a right-footed shot past Joe Hart. A lucky break from the officials for Villa, though perhaps the benefit of a decision was due after one or two big calls against the club already this season.

Villa were caught out for the second time from a corner for Edin Dzeko's flicked header -- the striker surrounded by defenders but still able to get the vital contact -- and normal service appeared to have resumed. Then the game was turned on its head. Villa's second equaliser was down to pure technical ability as Bacuna, who cultivated a reputation as a free-kick specialist during his time in Dutch football, curled a wonderful free-kick over the City wall and into Hart's top right-hand corner. Barely two minutes later, the winner, poked past Hart by Andreas Weimann after the most direct of routes to goal.

Lambert almost bridled at suggestions earlier this week that his team were a long-ball side, despite convincing statistics backing up the claim. Villa don't just lump the ball mindlessly forward, but they do know how to go direct and when to do it, and it can be an effective tool. Weimann's goal couldn't have been more route one. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan gathered a City shot, kicked long to Libor Kozak, who flicked the ball on, and Weimann ran clear to toe the ball beyond the advancing Hart; from goalkeeper to goal in seconds.

It was an amazing conclusion to an amazing game, and for Villa, an incredible result. That Lambert was without not just Christian Benteke, but also Gabby Agbonlahor, his two strongest attacking players, was almost forgotten. What shouldn't be overlooked is that Villa have now played Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City already this season, and have nine points to show from what must rank as one of the toughest starts ever to a Premier League campaign.


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