Premier League: Four Key Matches That Defined the Relegation Battle

Teemu Pukki of Norwich City (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Teemu Pukki of Norwich City (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images) /
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4. October 26, Aston Villa gets a reality check against Manchester City

For Villa manager Dean Smith, the start of the Premier League campaign was better than expected for the then, newly-promoted club.

Last season, he led his club to a fifth-place finish in the Championship, followed by a run in the playoffs, culminating after giving Derby County a knock at Wembley to earn their Premier League ticket. Aston Villa started with three wins and two draws in their first nine matches.

Coming into their game against the defending champions at the Etihad, they dispatched Norwich and Brighton. Raheem Sterling opened the scoring at the start of the second half, followed by David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan, each striking with goals of their own on the way to a skillful 3-0 win.

Villa’s offense was utterly neutralized as their expected goals (xG) were 0.98, with only five shots on target. Their talisman, Jack Grealish, was virtually non-existent as he did not record a shot on goal.

City was able to keep Aston Villa at a distance from goal playing their typical pressing style to retain possession. They only allowed, on average, 8.08 passes per defensive action within their defensive zone (PPDA).

The result was a reality check similar to jumping into an icy lake for Dean Smith’s club. After the match, they lost to Liverpool and to Wolves that stretched their losing streak to three matches starting a downward spiral.

The slide would result in Villa only winning four and drawing two of their next 17 Premier League matches, landing them near the bottom of the table.