Man City depth pushed to limit as Guardiola hails 'huge personality' after win over Villa

Premier League champions, shorn of several first-team regulars, claimed 2-1 victory at Villa Park for sixth successive win in all competitions

It was the 87th minute when Pep Guardiola first turned to his bench. Some 12 Premier League managers were plying their trade on Wednesday evening and the other 11 had all made a substitution earlier.

Indeed, eight had made their full complement of three changes before Guardiola summoned Jack Grealish for the briefest of reunions with Aston Villa.

When Guardiola made no substitutions in the Manchester derby, it was a matter of choice: with an international break next, he did not have to consider the next fixture. As he was the last to act, it was more a question of necessity. The five teenagers on his bench were perhaps making up the numbers: so, too, the veteran third-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson. Grealish and Phil Foden were not fully fit.

City were down to their last 11 men standing, but they stood tall at Villa Park. They displayed the sort of resolve champion teams often demonstrate. They got the kind of result that can seem to acquire an extra importance at the end of a season. They withstood a second-half onslaught. It was a time when, in other circumstances, they would have turned to fresh legs. Yet, while Grealish entered to hold the ball up, most of the legs available to Guardiola were too fresh.

“We showed huge personality,” said the City manager. His preparations to the game had been fraught. “The doctor came to me and say 'this guy, this guy and this guy can't travel' so I say 'okay,’” he said. Exit Ilkay Gundogan and Kyle Walker and John Stones from his plans. He may be aware that City’s problems elicit little sympathy from their rivals. In any case, he prefers to have a can-do mentality.

“In six years I never complain because the players are not here,” he said. It is why he did not spend his time listing the missing. Had he done so, the names of Kevin de Bruyne and Ferran Torres would also have figured.

Ruben Dias, the scorer of the first goal, adopted his manager’s mantra. “If anyone thought that we didn’t have our full team, I think the team answered that,” the defender said. “Whoever plays, we have a full team.”

City beat Aston Villa with their captain Fernandinho, who is nearer his 37th birthday than his 36th, completing the course as he put in a valiant shift in the midfield. It prompted the question if City are ready for a packed December. “Do we have another alternative?” Guardiola asked. “So we are going to face the challenge."

He has long argued that December, January and February are the toughest months in the English fixture calendar. Lacking a winter break, with the packed festive period, plus added rounds of midweek matches, they are nonetheless when City sometimes come on strongest. A run of 21 straight wins began in December last season. A sequence of 22 triumphs in 23 began in December 2018.

Now they have six consecutive victories, four of them inside 11 days, and eight more games in a month. Guardiola is waiting to see if he is afforded respite to rotate after concluding that Rodri and Bernardo Silva are already overworked.

At least he knows that Aymeric Laporte is available again after serving a one-match ban. De Bruyne, who had only had two training sessions after recovering from Covid, Foden and Grealish should be a little stronger.

Perhaps, too, with their Champions League group won, Tuesday’s game against RB Leipzig offers a chance to rest some and reintegrate others. But the most of those who frustrated Villa will probably have to go again at Watford on Saturday. It is another test of City’s powers of endurance.

Updated: December 2nd 2021, 4:11 PM