If Manchester City’s purple patch of form is to continue then the Villains of Aston will be more black and blue than claret and blue come five o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
Statistically City like to play Villa more than any other Premier League rival – they’ve beaten them more than any other top flight side – 18 times in total.
They’ve won seven of the last nine encounters, drawn one and lost out just the once, to debut boy Darren Bent’s boot, back in January 2011.
It bodes well for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, albeit they will be without superstar striker Sergio Aguero and midfield maestro David Silva due to injuries.
The loss of Aguero is balanced by the absence of Villa’s highly rated Belgian battering ram, Christian Benteke, who won’t now duel it out against his national skipper and the rock of City’s defence, the boulder that is Vincent Kompany.
Villa have won just three of their cup and league encounters with City in Birmingham during the 21st century, drawing five and losing five, and the formbook doesn’t suggest number four is on its way anytime soon.
That said, the Premier League is a great leveller like no other top division in Europe, and with Pellegrini still wounded from his first trip to Wales, City will presume nothing on this away day.
Indeed, City’s recent PL travels have not been covered in glory with just a trio of victories from 10. It was relatively fruitless trips to the likes of QPR, Swansea and West Ham that cost them dear last season, not forgetting X-rated performances at Southampton and Everton.
Conversely Villa garnered six wonderful points at Arsenal and Norwich this season but have struggled badly at home. Since December last year they have taken a paltry 11 points from a possible 42, but they haven’t lost all three opening home fixtures since 1946.
Enough of the history lessons, the reality is that a stop-start Villa are coming up against a smooth running City, looking every inch the champions-elect, but lest we get ahead of ourselves so early in the season.
It’s a fixture almost shorn naked of the recent City-Villa old boy reunions where good old Gareth Barry was often cast as the villain of the piece by the spurned Holte End hardliners. More generous in their applause to the hugely under-rated James Milner, the England utility man could well get a full 90 minutes, with Bayern Munich on the Manchester horizon next Wednesday.
Fair to say the City travelling support has always been warm in their appreciation of the past contributions of Richard Dunne, Shay Given and Stephen Ireland – none of whom will be on show.
Dunne’s form went south last season and he’s followed suit joining ‘Arry at QPR. Ireland is now reunited with former City boss Mark Hughes at Stoke, and was accorded a level of warmth when he came on as a sub against the Sky Blues at the Britannia.
Shay has been displaced by the excellent Brad Guzan and is left to sit on the bench, comforted by a hefty salary that Villa boss Paul Lambert would doubtless love to get off the books.
As for the boys who are still in City colours, there seems to be a real sense of camaraderie, a team spirit not witnessed last season. As a lifelong City supporter I am not going to denigrate what Roberto Mancini achieved in the eyes of the fans, but there is a certain serenity being cultivated under the calm command of the man from Santiago.
With five league and two cup games under his belt, the players seem to be adapting to Pellegrini’s more expansive style of play. New signings Fernandinho, Navas and Negredo have adapted quickly and Jovetic, denied early season playing time by injury, is shaping up nicely.
The man from Montenegro could slot in alongside the Beast of Sevilla in the unfortunate absence of the sublime Sergio. Yes, Dzeko is playing his part with goals and a new verve and vitality in his all round play, but Negredo is looking every inch a 20-goal PL hitman.
It’s surely a case of Negredo or Dzeko – not both at the same time. Jovetic would provide the speed and guile to complement one or the other. Either way, it’s a nice ‘problem’ for Pellegrini.
The City defence that has kept a PL high of 21 clean sheets since the start of last season, should present an insurmountable hurdle for Villa’s Kozak (who loves ya baby…no sorry…that was Kojak, definitely Kojak) , Helenius, Weimann and Agbonlahor – but you never know.
If City’s midfield duo of Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri maintain the supremely high standards of Plzen and the Moyes Manchester Massacre matches, City ought to be unstoppable.
Pellegrini was quoted after the 5-0 romp against Wigan in midweek as having said: “I spoke with the players before we started the game, telling them we must always try to play the same way.
“We can change names but for me it was very important to see the same team we saw last Sunday, the same philosophy of football and the same high performance.”
Such a philosophy of ‘never mind the personnel this is how we play’, echoes the mantra that has made Barcelona such a success on the global stage. It bodes well for City and reflects the influence of ex-Barca bigwigs, CEO Ferran Soriano and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain.
City showed 10 changes against Wigan from the team that tossed Manure aside last Sunday, but it was a side that was more than capable of challenging for a top five PL berth.
One can only hope that the fire and tenacity that saw City wipe the floor with United can be replicated when going into combat against less illustrious foe.
It’s one thing having the bragging rights of Manchester but it wouldn’t look half as clever if City are runners-up to the team from the second city.
By David Walker