Man City are at an interesting point in a most interesting season. Their last two titles went right to the wire, but it is surely too much to ask this time around. Still, they won the league cup for the second time under Manuel Pellegrini (before being promptly dismantled in their following fixture against Liverpool) and are well on their way into the next round of the Champions League. All is not well, but things could certainly be worse. Villa fans know that only too well, and their chief concern will be to avoid embarrassment against a City side that can still be deadly on its day, even if that day is increasingly infrequent.
Pellegrini blamed tiredness for his side’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, but in City have flattered to deceive for the best part of two seasons now, and Pep will require a big broom to sweet out the deadwood. 3 league defeats in a row is the worst run of form City have endured since 2007, and their big name players have been unable to drag them out of their slump.
Yaya Toure has been undoubtedly poor for large parts of the season, but he should appreciate this fixture against a lackadaisical Villa side bereft of confidence. Alongside him, Fernandinho should have enough to deal with Villa’s ineffective attack. Out wide, David Silva (who is clearly playing through a niggling injury, turning in some indifferent performances) will start out wide alongside Jesus Navas, who brings a real edge to City’s attacking play. There will likely be no place for Raheem Sterling, who was utterly ineffectual against his former club on Wednesday.
Up front, and for once Pellegrini’s love of the 4-4-2 is suited to City’s opponents, Kelechi Iheanacho will probably partner Sergio Aguero. Aguero is clearly a brilliant player, but does not look quite as domineering when playing as a lone frontman as he does with a strike partner. Iheanacho has many of the capabilities required for a top-class no. 10, and this fixture could provide a snapshot of a promising future partnership. The last time these two sides played, in the FA Cup in January, Iheanacho bagged a hat trick. He will be looking to seize his chance once again.
City’s defence has improved since the return of Vincent Kompany, though he is still well below his best, and City are woefully inconsistent at the back. Gael Clichy should start ahead of Alexander Kolarov, whose contribution has been limited to offering overlapping runs to give Sterling the easy option, followed by leathering a cross at the first man. Bacary Sagna is likely to replace Zabaleta, with the Argentine set to be rested ahead of City’s Champions League clash.
Villa fans exited during the Everton game in the 74th minute, a reference to the founding date of the club, and they have every right to be disappointed in a squad that has shown a complete lack of desire. Reading between the lines, Remi Garde may feel the same way. Fans can forgive poor performances, but lack of effort is utterly inexcusable, and Villa should be worried for next season. The Championship is not an easy league to get out of, and a lazy application of above average talent gets teams nowhere. Unless there are serious changes over the summer, Villa may have to get used to the prospect of more than a few seasons outside the top flight.
Ahead of this fixture, the best Villa can hope for is a draw, but this seems unlikely. City are at home and will look to bully their diminutive opponents after suffering against the bigger sides. Brad Guzan, who won back his place between the sticks against Everton, will likely have his work cut out, and a defence of Richards, Clark, Lescott, and Hutton will inspire more confidence in City fans than the American keeper.
Up front, things get little better. With ten goals between them, Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew are the most productive of Villa’s attacking players. While even they may find a chance or two against this languid City side, passionate reinforcements will be desperately needed in the coming summer.
One thing that has not yet been mentioned is how important this fixture could prove for City. After their win against Spurs, West Ham are snapping at the Citizens’ heels. Even van Gaal’s United, previously the Premier League yardstick for laughable mediocrity, prior to their youngsters torching Arsenal, are back in contention for a top four spot that City could well miss out on. Though City have a game in hand, they will want to make a statement, if only to themselves, by putting Villa to the sword. If they do not, they really would lay out the red carpet to the chasing pack. City shouldn’t have to worry, but nothing is certain in this quite remarkable season. Fortunately for the men in blue, thrashing Villa has been the one point of certainty for most teams in the division.
Man City predicted starting XI: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Kompany, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Navas, Iheanacho, Aguero