The FourFourTwo Preview: Aston Villa vs Man City
“CHELSEA! ... CHELSEA! ... CHELSEA! ... CHELSEA! ... CHELSEA! ... CHELSEA! ... CHELSEA! Oh, they’ve not seen us, we’ll get them later... CHELSEA!”
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Chelsea 3-0 Villa (Prem)
- Villa 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-1 Villa (Prem)
- Villa 2-1 Hull (Prem)
- Villa 0-1 L Orient (LC)
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 1-1 Roma (CL)
- Hull 2-4 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 7-0 Sheff Wed (LC)
- Man City 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Bayern 1-0 Man City (CL)
In any normal season you might immediately have this one down as an automatic away win, but in reality just a point separates these two sides after six games and varied starts to the campaign.
Aston Villa have lost their last two matches of a treacherous run; both 3-0 to Arsenal and Chelsea, but before that were unbeaten from their first four after a 1-0 hit-and-run at Anfield fired them to second.
Eventually, though, a team shorn of its best defender (Ron Vlaar) and star striker (Christian Benteke) was always going to have an off day at both ends; now the task for Paul Lambert is ensuring it doesn’t happen again – not that the Scot is particularly fussed.
"If somebody said to me 'You'll take three points from Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea', I would certainly have taken it," he said after the Stamford Bridge defeat. "We're into a run of games where we know it's really tough. We're up against Manchester City next, which will be really tough, and those four teams I've just mentioned will be there or thereabouts when the title gets handed out."
That much is true. Good news for Villans everywhere is that Vlaar and Benteke are both close to returns (more on which below). Even better news is... erm, actually that’s where it ends.
Traipsing to Villa Park on Saturday teatime are a wounded Manchester City side already five points behind leaders Chelsea, and stumbling in the Champions League after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Roma.
Just 37,000 turned up to watch Manuel Pellegrini’s Euro chasers being held by the impressive Italians, leaving City with an uphill battle to qualify from Group E having already lost to Bayern Munich.
But the champions will surely head to the West Midlands baying for blood after last weekend’s 4-2 win away at Hull, in which they were pegged back after taking a two-goal lead (thanks to summer signing Eliaquim Mangala's hapless first half performance) before eventually romping to victory.
City have won five of their last six meetings with Villa, meanwhile, and kept clean sheets in four of the last five – the exception being last season’s 3-2 defeat. It’s not too early to say this is a must win for Pellegrini’s men.
The game might come too soon for Villa skipper Vlaar, out since the end of August with a calf problem, and Benteke, who returned to action with a goal for the Under-21s after his Achilles woe. Both players’ impending comebacks are enough to be cheerful about for claret and blue fans, though.
It’s fairly positive stuff at Carrington too, with only Samir Nasri's groin offering any cause for concern. Fernandinho and Stevan Jovetic are fit again, having both featured on Tuesday.
Key battle: Aly Cissokho vs Pablo Zabaleta
Cissokho developed a reputation as a marauding full-back during his days at Lyon, but so far hasn’t stamped his mark on English football in the same way. His defensive work hardly stands up on its own – just ask Liverpool fans – but the one-time France international will have to be on his guard against Zabaleta.
The City right-back registered 2 assists in the win at Hull last weekend, meaning only fellow Citizen Aleksandar Kolarov can match his 8 since the start of last season.
He’s particularly effective against the league’s weaker sides when City are afforded possession, which they most certainly will be here against a side who love nothing more than sucker-punching opposition sides.
Simply, he’s unselfish – if a little undisciplined, as three yellows and a red in his last four games would suggest – and it’s that diligent work down the right which often reaps rewards for City.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 4-0 Villa (PL, May 14)
- Villa 3-2 City (PL, Sep 13)
- Villa 0-1 City (PL, Mar 13)
- City 5-0 Villa (PL, Nov 12)
- City 2-4e Villa (LC, Sep 12)
Grizzly Scot Lambert lives the simple life at Villa Park, and isn't afraid to admit it. Expectations are hardly lofty – they’ve not finished below 16th or above 15th in the last three seasons – but they appear capable of beating the drop every season while having their moments against the big boys along the way.
Lambert may have been satisfied with his side’s efforts at the Bridge last weekend, but admitted they can’t be so feeble at the sharp end if they’re to have more of those ‘moments’.
"When you come to places like this you've got to score,” he conceded. “[But] we're playing without a recognised striker at the moment."
There are no such problems for Pellegrini, whose team have scored at least twice in their last six Premier League away games. Despite his two-striker system not working against Roma, the Chilean is likely to retain it here. "In the way we played last game [at Hull], we played very well with two strikers,” he said.
"It was not an easy decision to change from the beginning. We play a lot of games against a lot of strong teams this way and we do very well.”
Facts and figures
- Sergio Aguero has scored 10 goals in his last 12 Premier League away games.
- Frank Lampard has scored 13 Premier League goals against Villa, more than he has netted against any other opponent, including 8 in his last 6 starts against them.
- Villa have attempted just 9 shots on target in 6 league games this season, fewer than any other side.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Conceding early cost Villa at Chelsea. They’ll sit back again and hope for the best, which won’t end well. 1-3.