It’s a return to the muck and bullets of domestic football for Manchester City after the mid-week disappointment of the failure to repel invading Roman forces.
Whereas AS Roma did an effective Italian job in limiting City to a 1-1 draw on home soil, the Sky Blues often find the fields of Birmingham to be very fertile ground.
Last season’s shock 3-2 reversal was far from keeping with the norm when City play Aston Villa. Paul Lambert’s Villains seem to be City’s most preferred Premier League opponents, having registered 19 wins over them, more than against any other team in the top flight.
Surely then, reasons to be cheerful as Manuel Pellegrini plots a third win on the road, and the maintenance of an unbeaten PL away record this season.
On the contrary there’s a perception of despondency associated with City, following successive disappointments in the Champions League. One point from a possible six and one goal, isn’t what was expected from the Champions of England.
A five point domestic disparity on Chelsea seems a whole lot easier to make up than the present three point deficit on Roma in Group E, but that’s the approach of the doom and gloom merchants who drink from half-empty cups.
In contrast, the cup half-full brigade envisage a trio of Champions League triumphs against CSKA Moscow – away and at home – and a big night when Bayern Munich visit the Etihad.
It could all come down to a ‘When in Rome’ scenario on December 10th to determine City’s fate in the CL.
Meanwhile back in downtown ‘Brum’ City’s Engineer needs to get his Sky Blue machine revved up for what many believe should be the top priority – retaining their title.
Manuel Pellegrini has said, on several occasions this season, that it will be ‘very difficult’ because Chelsea and Arsenal have strengthened over the summer.
Whether the cool Chilean is playing a game of bluff, or simply wanting to dampen expectations remains to be seen, but with the two London rivals clashing on Sunday, a City win tonight will have Maureen Moaninho taking an anxious glance in his rear view mirror.
When City contrived to somehow lose to Andre Weimann’s 75th minute winner – having twice held the lead – in late September 2013, Pellegrini was under intense scrutiny with just one point garnered from nine on the road.
Results away from ‘Fortress Etihad’ were destined to be his undoing, or so the salivating pundits and anti-City media would have had us believe.
It didn’t quite go to plan for the City haters, as a recent record of just one defeat in their least 15 away league matches (37 points taken from a possible 45) illustrates.
Villa’s home form adds further credence to City closing the gap on Chelsea to just two points by the end of the night. They’ve won just 14 of their last 56 league outings at Villa Park, losing 28 and averaging a point a game.
That said, nobody envisaged Lambert’s Lambs taking the spoils last time, especially as they had just 33% possession and eight attempts on goal, compared to City’s 21.
Tonight could see the return of standout striker, Christian Benteke after six months out with a ruptured Achilles, but Villa will still be missing skipper Ron Vlaar from the centre of defence with a calf injury.
City may well be beating the drums for Fernando, with the defensive midfielder poised to add some steel to a team that is prone to leaking goals.
The loss of the £12m summer signing from Porto has been cited as a major factor in the conceding of goals and dropping of points, since he limped out of the horrible home defeat to Stoke in late August.
Just one clean sheet in half-a-dozen PL matches is most unusual for City, a team often lauded for their goalscoring exploits, but always built on a solid showing in the goals against column.
Eliaquim Mangala could replace Martin Demichelis in the centre of defence, but that would in no way reflect on the popular Argentine’s performance levels. The 33-year old looks likely to be offered a new one-year deal before his current two year term runs its course this season.
Pellegrini may continue his rotation system and bring in Aleksander Kolarov to replace Gael Clichy at left back.
The practice of keeping players fresh by resting them and ensuring playing time for the majority of the City squad, is not without obvious merit. It doesn’t however, help foster understanding, especially among the back four.
Is it a factor in City’s inability to keep clean sheets?
We’ll have to leave that one to our trusted MP, albeit those trust levels are being examined a little more closely after Pellegrini selected his favoured 4-4-2 formation against Roma, only to be overrun by the opposition’s 4-5-1 in the middle of the park. It happened before against Barcelona and Bayern – it can’t keep happening.
With only Samir Nasri ruled out, there can be no excuses for failure, despite Villa’s feisty start to the campaign.
A Gabriel Agbonlahor winner at Anfield brought almost as much joy to City fans, as it did Villa’s, such is the intense dislike for bleating Brenda and Slippy G after Liverpool fans proclaimed themselves as champions on April 13 – the last time City lost away in the PL.
Former Holte End hero James Milner must surely start the match given his recent outstanding efforts. He has still to sign a new contract before his current deal runs out at the end of this season, and you’d be hard pressed to find a City fan who doesn’t want ‘Jimmy’ signed up like a US President – for four more years.
It boils down to hopefully four more months for Super Frankie Lampard, as City hope to extend his stay following his dramatic impact during his loan from New York City.
The ex-Chelsea legend, in keeping with his temporary Mancunian (via Abu Dhabi) employers, loves playing against Villa, having put the ball in their net on 13 occasions – the most against any single opponent.
With recent history in mind, it seems bizarre to say a Villa win would lift them above City in the table. It’s unthinkable, but it’s far from the realms of the impossible.
Any Champions League hangover could see Villa give Pellegrini a monstrous headache with only an unpalatable pill to swallow.
It simply must not happen.
By David Walker
Dedicated to a kind, considerate and courageous man who most of us had never met or even heard of until recent times of anxiety, terror and now tragedy.
Alan Henning never wanted to be a hero, he just wanted to help those who were in desperate need. We can but salute a wonderful man and honour his memory. RIP Alan.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu
COMPETITION TIME IN CONJUNCTION WITH ETIHAD AIRWAYS
READ BUT NEVER RED IS DELIGHTED TO INVITE READERS TO WIN A BOXED MANCHESTER CITY HOME SHIRT IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CITY’S SHIRT SPONSOR ETIHAD AIRWAYS www.etihad.com @EtihadAirways
A special one-off T-shirt has been produced to reflect the international flavour of Manuel Pellegrini’s squad – all you have to do is tell us how many individual players are named on the shirt and how many countries? If a player’s name appears on multiple occasions PLEASE ONLY COUNT IT ONCE.
You can enter by leaving your answer in the comments section on the www.readbutneverred.com website or www.rbnr.co.uk alternatively on Twitter by following us @ReadButNeverRed and leaving your answer or posting on Facebook and if you like us click the LIKE button 😉
The winner will be drawn at random tomorrow and announced in the Read But Never Red match report and reflections on Villa v City.