Manchester City vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
‘Villa will need to bring their A game to this one’
A tough period beckons for Villa, starting with a visit to the Etihad to take on Man City a full 19 days after their last match against Man Utd.
A lack of games has seen Villa drop to 11th in the table, with between two and four games in hand on every team in the league. Based on their last six games though, they are placed fifth in the league in terms of form.
Man City are looking back in form and in the title race after a slow start to the season, finding themselves in second place with a chance to go top.
Villa supporters were fearing the worse when Dean Smith spoke about staggered returns back for players after the recent Covid-19 outbreak, but the recent evidence from the training ground suggests Villa will have a stronger than perhaps expected squad available.
Man City – W W W W W
Aston Villa – D W W D L
Pep Guardiola on defensive improvement
“If you see today Raz [Sterling] and Bernardo [Silva] and Gabriel [Jesus] and when they came in Ferran [Torres] and the other subs the way we press, how aggressive we are, how intense we are – it is so important, so good.
“It helps the central defenders to be better but we cannot deny the guys behind don’t make mistakes, they are so consistent and when the opponents scored a goal it is because they did well – not because we give it to them.
“Last season it happened many times that the opponents didn’t do anything and we gave them goals. That makes it so difficult but this season we have improved a lot because we concede few [chances] and the difference is we don’t make mistakes. After that the quality of the players up front make the difference.”
Dean Smith on team fitness
“Obviously I’ve got some players who’ve contracted Coronavirus and I’ve got to check whether they’re fully fit or not.
“I don’t think we’ll be hamstrung by it at all. We’ll have a few players who’ve been affected by it, but we’ve also got a lot of players who’ve had a so-called winter break.”
On upcoming schedule
“The players that I’ve got here have got that hunger and desire to play football games.
“I’m sure the majority of them would admit that six games in 18 days is better than 12 days on the training ground. We’ll be looking forward to all the games, that’s for sure.”
Man City vary between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 with the latter formation seeing the most use this season. With it, they use Gabriel Jesus up front, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling either side of Kevin De Bruyne, Rodrigo and Ilkay Gundogan behind them and a defense consisting of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ruben Dias and Benjamin Mendy.
58.7% possession and 88.6% pass success are the telltale signs of a team that utterly dominates games. Man City press high and hard out of possession and hold that high line with the ball, using intricate passing plays to work their way through teams. 91% of all passes they play are short, equating to 624 per game.
A lot of teams have the issue of a lopsided setup, relying on superior quality on one particular flank over the other (i.e, Villa predominantly attack via the left flank for obvious reasons). Man City is one of only a few teams that doesn’t have this issue, only showing a negligible preference for the left (37%) over the right (34%) flank. This balance offers them a clear advantage going forward, allowing them to focus their efforts on their opponent’s weaker side.
29 goals from 33.47 xG is indicative of their early season bad form; they have never struggled to create chances, but seemed to have plenty of woes in front of goal. They have even had to play without any strikers in their squad for periods of this season. This problem has been rectified, scoring 11 goals in their last five games.
They have conceded a league low 13 goals so far from 14.12 xGA. They have faced a total of just 88 shots from open play, a testament to their organisation as a team.
Man City are hard to break down while also being even harder to deal with going forward. Taking them on is always a daunting task, but to do so while they are in good form is even more so. Villa will need to bring their A game to this one.
One to Watch
Kevin De Bruyne is a strong shout to be considered the best player in the league right now. Whether or not that is the case, he is clearly the primary creative force in a strong Man City team. 10 assists is by far the most in the squad, with Sterling’s three coming in at a distant second. He has also chipped in with three goals of his own, making him the team’s fifth top scorer.
3.2 key passes per game and a pass success of 81.5% shows his contribution to the side. They are by no means reliant on him, but his presence elevates the team to a whole different level.
Man City 0-2 Aston Villa – 28-04-2007
John Carew and Shaun Maloney were on target the last time Villa beat Man City away in the league.
How it could play out
Villa have received a major boost with the news that Jack Grealish was not one of the players to have contracted COVID-19 – it still remains to be seen which players did have it and how close they are to being match ready, but it will be a relief to everyone that the captain will be available straight away.
Provided he wasn’t one of the afflicted players, surely Ross Barkley is fit and ready to come back into the fray by now? The club have been playing their cards very close to their chest in regards to Barkley’s situation, which is understandable, but if he is not ready by now, then the injury he sustained must be far worse than first expected. Given there is talk about a permanent switch in the summer, then if he is this injury prone, would he be worth it?
The match against Man City has come at an inopportune time, given that they have started to find form again. The last few games they have played have seen them close to their devastating best; if they were Villa’s opening game of the season as was originally planned, they would arguably have been a much more palatable opponent.
On the other hand, depending on the recovery situation, Villa players will have had a considerable period of rest to get back to full fitness while Man City have been playing a full schedule of matches. This could prove to be a real boon for Villa.
It is enlightening to realise that we are at a point where Villa could actually give Man City a real challenge, considering the team’s situation only a year ago. The club’s progress in a short period of time is to be admired, and while such rapid progress is not unheard of, it is nice to see it being achieved in such a measured way.
This game could definitely go either way, and that is a credit to everyone at Villa.
Man City 1-1 Aston Villa
A hopeful, but possible prediction, considering all of the moving parts involved in this fixture. Until we know for sure what Villa’s situation is, it is simply impossible to tell.