The Big Match Preview: Aston Villa vs Manchester City (Carabao Cup Final)
On Sunday, Manchester City will be hoping to win their third consecutive Carabao Cup, and their fourth in the past seven seasons, when they face Premier League rivals Aston Villa in the final at Wembley. Villa have their own affinity with the competition – they have lifted the trophy five times, the most recent in 1996, and been runners-up three times.
A win would hand Pep Guardiola his sixth major trophy in his time in Manchester, and further cement his status as the club’s most successful manager in its history.
City go into the final with a lingering feeling of euphoria after the late comeback against Real Madrid in Wednesday’s Champions League clash. That followed a strong showing away to Leicester in a 1-0 victory against City’s nearest challenges for second place. Although our form had been inconsistent prior to that, there is a definite feeling of momentum building within the team now as we enter the defining stages of the season.
Contrastingly, since Villa earned their spot in the final with the 2-1 triumph at home to Leicester City, they have lost all three league games – away to Bournemouth and Southampton, and at home to Spurs. The most recent game, the defeat at Southampton, was a particularly abject performance from Dean Smith’s side. That left them languishing in seventeenth place, but West Ham’s win against Southampton has seen them slip into the relegation zone.
When the two sides last met, Pep opted for his orthodox 4-3-3 system but deployed Gabriel Jesus as an inside forward on the left-hand side. This allowed Mendy freedom on his side of the pitch, which, combined with Joao Cancelo starting over Walker, reflected Pep’s efforts to utilise his full-backs to break Villa’s deep defensive line. At Wembley, however, Pep will likely opt for Sterling on the left with Aguero through the middle, and play in a more typical fashion.
In the 6-1 defeat, Dean Smith set Villa up to play a 3-5-2 without the ball and, in the rare moments when they did, a 4-1-4-1. City pressed aggressively the two Villa centre backs either side of Tyrone Mings in the centre in an attempt to compel Villa to play passes through the middle of the pitch. With Jack Grealish operating as Villa’s only real outlet and creative hub, City easily shackled the midfielder by closing him quickly and in numbers. City will definitely implement a similar approach, forcing Villa to play it long or through the centre and making sure Grealish is not allowed time on the ball.
Aymeric Laporte’s night was ended prematurely against Real Madrid. The news suggests it is a hamstring injury, and the Frenchman faces at least three weeks on the sidelines. Leroy Sané returned to action on Thursday night for the Under-23s against Arsenal but he will not be involved on Sunday. Aside from that, City have everyone available. Pep has already confirmed some weeks ago that Claudio Bravo would retain his place in goal.
The big news for Villa is that John McGinn, who resumed training earlier this week, has been ruled out. Keinan Davis could be fit enough to return from injury and bolster Villa’s attacking options, with Wesley still injured. Nyland will start in goal with Heaton and Steer both unavailable. Villa’s January signing Mbwana Samatta will likely lead the line – he played, and scored, against Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht in the Belgian league back in August.
Head to Head:
City have an aggregate score of 9-1 in the two games against Villa in the league this season. City won 3-0 at the Etihad and 6-1 at Villa Park. City have enjoyed a strong record against Villa, even prior to the ADUG takeover in September 2008. In 40 Premier League games, City have won 24, drawn nine and lost seven. Incredibly, in only five of those games did City fail to score. The last time Aston Villa beat City was in September 2013, a 3-2 loss at Villa Park – only Fernandinho still plays for City from our matchday squad that day. The last time the two faced each other in the League Cup was in September 2012 at the Etihad. Villa ran out 4-2 winners that day after extra-time.
Lee Mason will be the referee in charge at Wembley. Ian Hussin and Harry Lennard will be running the lines, with David Coote the fourth official. Mike Dean will be the man responsible for VAR, with Neil Davies his assistant.
This will be Mason’s first major Wembley cup final that he has officiated. He has refereed four City games this season, including the third round Carabao tie against Preston. In the league he has refereed the wins at home to Southampton and away to Sheffield United – where he awarded a penalty that was missed by Gabriel Jesus.
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