Unai Emery insisted it was too soon to call his Aston Villa side Premier League title contenders after a 1-0 win over Manchester City lifted them above the defending champions and into third place.
Leon Bailey’s deflected strike in the 74th minute proved to be the winner as Villa equalled a club record with a 14th consecutive home victory.
Pep Guardiola said Villa could “definitely” be among those still in the fight come the end of the season but Emery insisted they still have much work to do to catch up with the likes of City, Arsenal and Liverpool.
“We are not contenders,” he said.
“There are seven teams who are contenders more than us. Now we are on game 15. We are going to play game 16 on Saturday against Arsenal and we are going to focus on it. We are happy to be third but to keep it is going to be very, very difficult.
“While we are there we are going to try to keep it. If we keep progressing during the season, playing matches and winning like we are doing maybe we can be a contender but I think we need more time.
“We can believe but we are not contenders. There are another seven teams and that didn’t change. It is game 15. Maybe by game 30 or 32, but not yet.”
The win gave Emery his first over Guardiola as a rival coach at the 14th attempt, 15 years to the day since they first came up against one another.
“Always I like to prepare matches against the best teams, the best players and the best coaches,” Emery said.
“When you are playing in a high level the opponents are of a high level. But beating him for me is not something special. It is really a process I am doing as a coach.”
Defeat left City winless in their last four league matches, down in fourth place and six points off the pace of leaders Arsenal.
Guardiola said the credit belonged to Villa on the night but admitted he had much to think about to get their title defence back on track.
“The better team won,” Guardiola said.
“Aston Villa was better than us. We struggled. It was really difficult. They are well organised, fast and physical players, they are able to control many aspects. That is the reason why they are up there. They played good football and we could not do it.
“It is my duty, it is my job to find a way to come back. Many years now we are together we found a way, we are able to find a way to win games, to find a way to do it.
“Now that we are struggling we have to change the dynamic, win as soon as possible, Luton, Crystal Palace, to change our mind and continue to win there.”
The absence of the suspended Rodri was again telling. This was the fourth match of the season the Spain midfielder has missed through a ban – and City have lost all four.
While there are other key players out – Jack Grealish, Jeremy Doku and of course Kevin De Bruyne – City’s reliance on their midfield holder is obvious.
“Without Rodri we could not win against Liverpool and Spurs, of course Rodri is so important but when Rodri is not there we have to find a way to do it,” Guardiola said.
“Today is simple, the better team won, you have to accept it. In football it happens. I said (to the players), ‘I know you tried, I know you want it, you have proven it to me many many times’.
“Now the results are not good, that’s why I have to see the games, reflect, and see how we try to do it.”
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