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Gerrard can’t do Liverpool a favor as Villa loses to City

December 1, 2021 GMT
Manchester City's Jack Grealish, left, and Manchester City's Bernardo Silva react after the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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Manchester City's Jack Grealish, left, and Manchester City's Bernardo Silva react after the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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Manchester City's Jack Grealish, left, and Manchester City's Bernardo Silva react after the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Liverpool great Steven Gerrard couldn’t do his old club a favor.

Now manager of Aston Villa, Gerrard saw his team lose 2-1 Wednesday at home to Manchester City, one of the sides challenging Liverpool for the Premier League title.

First-half goals by Portugal internationals Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva — the latter scoring with a sensational volley from Gabriel Jesus’ cross at the end of a break — gave City a 2-0 lead at halftime.

Ollie Watkins reduced the deficit in the 47th with a first-time finish off a corner to the near post but City held on, helped by the second-half introduction of Jack Grealish — the boyhood Villa fan and former club captain who left for a British-record fee of 100 million pounds (then $139 million) in the offseason.

“We needed this game at this time. A real acid test,” said Gerrard, who had won his first two games in charge of Villa after joining from Scottish champion Rangers. “At times, City looked a level above and it was an education.

“But we said to take the game to the wire and believe in ourselves. We will keep trying to grow and close the gap.”

Second-place City stayed a point behind Chelsea and a point ahead of Liverpool after 14 games, winning despite fielding a depleted team with Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Kyle Walker not even travelling for the game, Kevin De Bruyne still not back as he recovers from contracting the coronavirus and Phil Foden an unused substitute.

City’s bench was weaker than usual and featured youngsters Luke Mbete, Romeo Lavia, Josh Wilson-Esbrand and James McAtee, who had just five senior appearances between them.

“We played 90 minutes exceptional,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “With the quality Villa have, to concede not many chances. I say to the players, ‘They (the injured players) are not here and are not going to help us win. The academy will help us win.’”

City dominated the first half and Dias opened the scoring when he fired in from Raheem Sterling’s cutback after 27 minutes.

Villa struggled to deal with with the visitors’ slick passing and failed to make a dent before Silva added a brilliant second goal two minutes before the break.

“He is the best,” Guardiola said of Silva, who has been one of City’s leading players this season. “He was the best two or three seasons ago. He was the best then, too. He has a special ability to do whatever he wants with the ball. Against a good goalkeeper, it was an incredible finish.

“You have to go back to when we won (the league) with 98 points, review the videos, you will see the same player like this right now.”

City has already played Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Leicester, Brighton and Villa away from home this season, losing only to Spurs on the opening day.

“The importance is being there (at the top),” Guardiola said. “We’ve had an incredibly tough first part of the league, we are there one point behind. The important thing is the way we are performing, the way we are performing is a high level.”

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