Early last season, I spoke with several Aston Villa fans about their team’s prospects on their return to the big time of the Premier League. After spending over £100M in the summer transfer window, what were the expectations of the Villans?
To a man they said they expected good things and their spending couldn’t be compared to that of Fulham (who had also spent over £100M after being promoted the previous season, only to sink back to the Championship after a disastrous campaign).
They were confidently telling me that they would come to Manchester and defeat the reigning champions and challenge for a top 6 position. They were in for a rude awakening as they avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth thanks, in no large part, to a goal line technology faux pas against Sheffield United.
Man City duly beat the ‘The Villa’ three times last season, comfortably at home 3-0, at Wembley in the league Cup final and a thrashing at Villa Park by six goals to one with Villa scoring their consolation goal in injury time, when half the City team had already disappeared down the tunnel.
Roll forward to this season and many pundits and opposition fans expected Villa to be flirting with relegation again. Much to everyone’s surprise, and to Dean Smith’s credit, Villa sit comfortably in tenth spot in the Premier League with three games in hand over most of their competitors.
In fact, they could jump to 2nd if they win those three games in hand and are certainly not a team to be taken lightly. Ask Liverpool about that. Villa spanked the self-proclaimed world champions 7-2 and not even the best defender in the history of the universe, Virgil van Dijk, could save the Scousers from a pumping of seismic proportions.
Man City go into this game on the back of five straight wins in the Premier League, scoring eleven goals and conceding just one. After a shaky start, City’s previously worrisome defence has been the cornerstone of their season, allowing them to score just one or two goals to guarantee victory in several matches this season. Villa are a dangerous animal this season averaging two goals per game and it should be an intriguing contest.
Villa will be hampered by having had their last two league matches postponed due to covid and their first team haven’t played since the New Year’s Day defeat to Man Utd.
How fit will the players be after such a long time out when they weren’t able to train together? How many will still be suffering the after effects of being cooped up at home for 10-14 days?
I see an exciting battle between Villa’s attack and City’s defence. I’m not expecting City to steamroller Villa and expect the Midlands club to give as good as they get. Grealish is an obvious threat as he auditions in his obviously pre-planned tight shorts for a move to our rivals in the summer.
How will City set up? It’s tough to try and 2nd guess Pep with his team selection. Now that our own covid issues are almost all behind us, we just have a couple of injuries to worry about.
I’m expecting City to line up something like this:
Ederson, Walker, Stones, Dias, Cancelo, Rodri, Gundogan, de Bruyne, Sterling, Foden, Jesus.
But he could just as easily start Bernardo or Mahrez instead of Jesus and play with the false 9 that’s been so rewarding for us this season.
I’m expecting a tight game with City relying on our rugged defence to keep Villa at bay and scoring a goal or two from our chances.
Score Prediction: 2-0