Manchester City meet Aston Villa on Wednesday as they eye the top spot in the Premier League table for the first time this season.
The Blues have now climbed up to 2nd in the Premier League table after an emphatic win last Sunday. They host Aston Villa at the Etihad on Wednesday in search of three more points which would take them to the top of the Premier League table.
This is City's game in hand and was originally meant to be played on match-day one the season. Guardiola’s men will look to strengthen their title charge by adding to their five-match winning streak in the Premier League. The Villans have not caused too much trouble in recent meetings, but surely Pep’s focus will only be on ‘Aston Villa’.
An emphatic 4-0 victory against Crystal Palace thanks to gigantic contributions from John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling, will surely boost City’s confidence heading into a crucial part of the season.
Dean Smith’s men, who will be playing their first game since the COVID-19 outbreak at Villa's Bodymoor Heath training ground, currently sit 10th in the table having played only 15 games so far. Aston Villa have been one of the better sides from outside the traditional top six this season - taking important points from Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal. Coming into this fixture, they have lost only one game in their last five Premier League outings.
After a good weekend outing against Palace without any on-field injuries, City have a strong squad to face Villa.
Sergio Agüero remains unavailable for this fixture, but the good news is that he is back in training after completing his period of self-isolation. Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Aké are not in contention for this game, Laporte has started training and could be available for the game against Cheltenham Town. Everyone else is fit and in contention.
As for Aston Villa who have been in isolation for the last 10 days, Dean Smith did not comment on the availability of his players for this fixture. However, he identified key players Jack Grealish and John McGinn as ones that did not contract COVID at the time of the outbreak.
Head to Head:
It's been a pretty much one-sided story between these two sides over their last few meetings, with the 2019/20 Carabao Cup final being the most recent clash. City won that fixture at Wembley thanks to a superb Sergio Agüero finish and a sublime header from Rodri.
The last Premier League game between these two ended up as a goals-galore 6-1 win at Villa Park.
The Blues have won all of their last five meetings against Villa, with the aggregate score being 19-2. Overall, City have won 75, drawn 41, and lost 57 of their previous meetings with Villa before Wednesday's fixture - with this being the 174th occasion on which these two sides meet.
The Manager's thoughts:
Pep Guardiola was cautiously appreciative of his side and their current run of good games, he said; "We are playing good in some moments and we can improve. The mood of the team after winning a lot can suffer and right now it is in the right position, we just expect to be consistent when the results are not good because it is still a long road to run."
"I don't know what is going to happen in the future, I'm not so good to interpret or know, I just want to know and feel what we have to do tomorrow to beat our opponents Aston Villa..."
When asked to comment on Aston Villa, the manager went on to say; "I wish they are healthy and all recover well and come back healthy. This is the most important thing and I expect the best. They bought Watkins, they settled many things and the dual holding midfielders are fantastic."
"Barkley provides a lot of quality, and the quality they have with Trezeguet and Grealish. They are confident, they are not suffering near the bottom of the league. It is completely different from last season."
As for the opposition manager Dean Smith, he had good things to say about his Mancunian counterparts, when asked to speak about City he said; “We are looking forward to it, they are a very good team and they’re at the top of their game. It’s a chance for us to test ourselves again. The run that they’re on and the way that they’re playing doesn’t surprise me."
"It made me smile when people were writing them off, because you look at their quality and they have one of the best coaches in world football.”
Manchester City look to have regained their mojo gradually over the past few weeks. With a flurry of fixtures ahead, Pep Guardiola will look to rotate the squad efficiently to get some fresh legs in.
Against Palace, Guardiola chose to rest Rodri who has been ever-present in the midfield this season. Foden and Cancelo - who have played quite a few games without rest - didn't start, but came off the bench.
City will look to dominate Villa right from the start, Pep will trust his squad with the usual 4-3-3 formation with some tweaks according to the personnel. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva looked much better after switching flanks in the second half against Palace, and we expect Guardiola to continue with more of the same. City now have a target man up ahead with Gabriel Jesus back in the team, the striker has on more than one occasion played on the left this season to allow the front three to rotate their positions in-game.
Referee Jonathan Moss, who was the referee in City’s 2-0 win against Fulham back in December, will referee his 11th Premier League game of the season. Moss will be joined by assistant referees Harry Lennard and Dan Robathan, along with David Coote as the Fourth Official at the Etihad Stadium.
Andy Madley (VAR) and Simon Beck (AVAR) have been handed the VAR duties.
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