Emery will be a little annoyed that Guardiola started with that width this time, stretching Villa’s back five until space appeared.

On Sunday, it took an hour of a narrow and claustrophobic match for Guardiola to bring on Grealish and Jeremy Doku, who provided pure width to pull Arsenal out of their shell.

Emery will be a little annoyed that Guardiola started with that width this time, stretching Villa’s back five until space appeared.

Most notably, Doku’s assist for Rodri’s opener was the result of Zaniolo and Lucas Digne – stretched wider than they expected – getting a little muddled. Zaniolo neither tracked Doku nor closed down Foden.

Villa counter-attack like Emery’s Sevilla and Villarreal
This is hardly the first time Villa have looked to play a purely counter-attacking game under Emery, but it’s difficult to recall an occasion when they burst forward in such high numbers – and seemingly out of nowhere.

Four or five times Villa had a man advantage tearing into the Man City half, evoking those famous European nights at Sevilla and Villarreal when the defending team would spring into action and suddenly find themselves bearing down on goal.

It was intelligent and fine-tuned tactical planning that handed Villa those chances.

Emery recognised there are gaps on either side of Rodri and instructed his players to hit Zaniolo and Morgan Rogers as soon as they won back possession.

These two, occupying the columns of space either side of Rodri and in front of the centre-backs, then looked to carry the ball forward before releasing Villa’s rapid frontline.

And the speed in their attack seemed to scare the Man City centre-backs into retreat, opening up a too-large gap between Rodri and the defensive line, hence that cavalry of claret and blue shirts charging into space.

And then Phil Foden took things into his own hands.

Foden’s hat-trick made the headlines and yet there was more to his sensational performance than that.

Even more impressive than the goals was how Foden worked out Villa’s tactical flaws to solve this match.

By full-time it looked like a simple 4-1 victory for Man City, but this was not routine.

Despite injuries, suspensions, and rested players that left nine of Villa’s first XI missing, the visitors were dangerous on the break thanks to a smart game plan that could have worked for Unai Emery – had it not been for Foden’s brilliance.

Emery’s 4-4-2 involves a clever tweak in midfield
As we might have anticipated, Villa sat deep in a 4-4-2 formation that focused on squeezing space in the middle of the pitch, slowing Man City down and waiting for chances to counter-attack.

But this wasn’t quite as simple as Arsenal’s method three days earlier.

Concerned by how Pep Guardiola’s No 8s tend to dictate things, two Villa players were instructed to drop into the back four whenever the ball was on their side of the pitch.

On Villa’s right, Tim Iroegbunam was told to step back to follow Bernardo Silva and provide support against Jack Grealish.

Guardiola’s use of width causes Villa problems
For the first hour it mostly worked, although Man City still created several good chances because Guardiola had learnt from the Arsenal match.

See: Iraola named Barclays Manager of the Month

Neither side will be happy with their league position or form ahead of this encounter at Stamford Bridge, with United sitting sixth and Chelsea 12th, but each has enough forward talent to hurt the opposition defence.

Palmer, with seven direct goal involvements in his last four outings in all competitions, is sure to relish the opportunity to make hay against a Man Utd side that are producing a low standard of work, when out of possession.

The nominees for March 2024’s Barclays Manager of the Month award have been revealed.

Voting was open until 12:00 BST on Monday 8 April for you, the fans, to vote for your favourite out of Mikel Arteta, Andoni Iraola, Jurgen Klopp and Ange Postecoglou.

The fans’ votes will be combined with those of a panel of football experts to decide the winner, who will be revealed the week after the shortlist is announced.

See: Iraola named Barclays Manager of the Month

Beginning the month with a dazzling 6-0 win at Sheffield United, Arteta’s side followed that up with a 2-1 success at home to Brentford to go top of the Premier League for the first time since Boxing Day. They then produced a fantastic defensive display to hold title rivals Manchester City to a goalless draw.

Alex Keble analyses Manchester City’s emphatic 4-1 win against Aston Villa that keeps the pressure on title rivals Arsenal and Liverpool.

It briefly threatened to be an awkward night for Man City after heavy rotation in both sides created a subdued and occasionally disjointed match at the Etihad Stadium.

Man Utd’s midfield did not show great awareness or desire to defend for that goal, and it was a similar situation against Brentford last time out.

With too much space between the lines, Yoane Wissa was able to drift into this pocket of space untracked (below), to set up Ivan Toney for one of his nine chances.

Palmer loves to occupy these areas and will need to be shackled significantly tighter at the Bridge on Thursday evening.

Substandard stats
Across the last eight matches United have collected 16 points, but their attacking talent and some stellar displays from Andre Onana have covered for some loose off-the-ball work.

Facing an average of 20.6 shots per match, Ten Hag’s side has been opened up regularly, and in a variety of ways.

Chelsea’s Palmer must be one of the front runners to land this season’s PFA Young Player of the Year, consistently delivering goals and assists for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.

His nickname “Cold” Palmer is apt, as he is usually ice-cool with his finishing, particularly via a deadly left foot.

United know all about his ability to drift past defenders into goalscoring positions, as he scored a fine solo goal against them earlier on this season.

Eleven of his 13 strikes have been with his left boot, notching once every 141.8 minutes with a conversion rate of 26.5 per cent.

When space opens for Palmer to shoot, he often goes low and hard towards the bottom corner, as shown on the shot placement map below.