As a general rule Manchester City like playing Aston Villa – more often than not it ends in City cheers and Villa tears.
Given the perilous plight of Paul Lambert’s claret and blues, the Villa faithful could be sobbing their hearts out if City push them closer to the relegation trapdoor.
It’s a proverbial ‘must win’ as City strive to sustain an unlikely assault on the retention of their Premier League title and Villa battle for top flight survival.
If ever an opening goal was likely to determine the outcome of a football match it would be this encounter. There’s lies, damned lies and statistics, but Villa have failed to win any of their 13 PL games when they’ve fallen behind (D2, L11).
Conversely, Roberto Mancini’s side haven’t lost any of their league fixtures when they’ve broken the deadlock this season (W13, D2). City have beaten Villa 17 times in the PL – more than any other opponent – and it’d be a major upset if the reigning champions failed to make it 18, especially as the Villains have only one win in their last 10 league outings.
City’s 2-0 victory over Chelsea saw the Sky Blues approaching a vintage that so richly satisfied the palate in 2012. If they continue in similar vein, Mancini’s men could make inroads in bridging the 19 goal disparity between the 50 goals netted after 27 games this season and the 69 during their title winning campaign.
The shortcomings in front of goal have been critical and calamitous contributions to City’s stuttering defence of their PL crown. Underwhelming 0-0 draws at the likes of West Ham and QPR have cost them dearly. Any repeat at Villa Park, would guarantee an even swifter dispatch of City’s most prized possession to the swamplands of Manure.
Mancini remains defiant in the belief that 11 wins to close out the season, would see City emulate their 89 point title winning haul and ramp up the pressure on a ‘lucky’ Manchester United.
It’s a sumptuous notion, but with away days pending at City’s perennial nemesis of Everton and, until recently, Spurs, that’s more than likely all it will ever be.
Pragmatically, City have now to look over their shoulder and stave off the challenge from a Tottenham team aspiring to take AVB into the runner’s up slot.
A seventh away win of the campaign will maintain a five point buffer over the resurgent North Londoners and just – but only just – keep the Trafford troglodytes in view.
Even with Captain Fantastic, Vincent Kompany, absent for a sixth consecutive game, the City defence should prove hard for Villa to breach. At £12m, Matija Nastasic could be the ‘bargain’ of the season, whereas a rejuvenated Kolo Toure is playing as if a new contract depended on it. Hang on a minute…
The centre back pairing could be preferred, meaning the luckless Joleon Lescott will be a benchwarmer at the ground where he scored City’s winner, inspiring the City ditty ‘He’s top of the league, he’s top of the league, Joleon Lescott, he’s top of the league.’
City’s player of the year elect – Pablo Zabaleta will lead the team in Kompany’s absence – and both he and Gael Clichy can wreak havoc down the wings against Villa’s kindergarten defence, likely to be shorn of skipper Ron Vlaar and ex-City favourite, Richard Dunne.
Villa are scrapping for their PL life and desperate men can be given to extraordinary deeds when self preservation is the task at hand. The City rearguard will need to shackle the impressive Christian Benteke if Joe Hart is to capture a third successive Golden Gloves award for the highest number of clean sheets.
To coin a football cliché, City may have to earn the right to play their superior football, but with the memories of the last MCFC away day at St Mary’s still vivid and raw, anything less than a win will, rightfully, incur the wrath and scorn of owner, manager and supporters of the blue side of Manchester.
The deployment of Yaya Toure up field would appear a must for the duration of the season, especially with the emergence of Jack Rodwell in the comprehensive destruction of Chelsea.
Despite often unjust criticism, Javi Garcia grows ever more accomplished, sitting in front of City’s backline – his ‘proper’ position – as opposed to the headless chicken nightmare he endured at Southampton as a makeshift centre back.
The industry – and often understated skill – of James Milner has long since surpassed the anaemic offerings of Samir Nasri, with the consequent removal of the largely inadequate Frenchman from first team selection.
Milner combines well with the silky-skilled Silva on a regular basis, whereas Nasri only served to clutter up the place, denying Silva the space to optimise his vision and deft deliveries.
Sergio Aguero is looking sharp and in the mood to emulate his 30+ goal haul of last year, and a clearly contented Carlos Tevez could be primed to punish opponents, after ending his eight game goal drought against Chelsea.
With welcome signs that commonsense will prevail at the Etihad this summer and Roberto Mancini’s services WILL be retained, it’s down to the players to prove that they too want, and deserve, to be alongside their Italian boss come August.
It’s a desire that needs to be evident in abundance if City are to win, leaving Villa to face up to do-or-die challenges against Reading and QPR.