Aston Villa-Manchester City Preview
A fortnight of stewing apparently served two-time champions Manchester City well because they have looked like their imperious selves since coming out of the international break.
Pep Guardiola's side look to again cut into Liverpool's lead atop the table Saturday when they host promoted Aston Villa at the Etihad.
City went into the break on the heels of a stunning 2-0 home loss to Wolverhampton, giving up both goals on clinical counterattacks. The defeat dropped the Cityzens (6-1-2) eight points behind Liverpool, who had boasted a 100 percent record.
Things began to turn around for Guardiola and his side after the sojourn. City played a solid road match in swatting away upstart Crystal Palace 2-0 at Selhurst Park last weekend and picked up two points after their neighbours Manchester United held Liverpool to a draw.
City followed up their workmanlike win with a 5-1 thrashing of Champions League debutants Atalanta at home Tuesday behind a magnificent performance from Raheem Sterling.
The England international carried the goal-scoring baton from Sergio Aguero, who had a first-half brace, and did the Argentine one better by netting three goals in a scintillating 11 minutes. Sterling, who assisted on Aguero's first and drew the penalty for his second, has been in blistering form all term for club and country with 16 goals in 17 combined appearances.
"All the credit is for him. He's a guy whose physicality is incredible. He is so strong," Guardiola told City's official website about Sterling. "Day after a game, he could play another. His regeneration is incredible; he can play both sides. He is an extraordinary player."
The one-sided affair gave Manchester City the maximum nine points from three matches and all but certain passage from Group C as they are five points clear of both Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk.
The injury bug, though, continues to plague City. Central midfielder Rodrigo - playing out of position at centre back due to personnel shortages - was forced out of Tuesday's win with a hamstring injury and is not expected to play. John Stones will likely be drafted into a pairing with Nicolas Otamendi after coming off the bench for the second straight contest after missing more than a month with a soft-tissue injury.
City also continue to be without defender Aymeric Laporte, who is a long-term absentee with a knee injury. Otamendi was also a recent returner to the first team after missing out versus Palace with a back issue.
Villa (3-2-4) are holding their own thus far after a three-season exile in the Championship and enter this match 12th in the table. The Midlands club have roared to life offensively with 11 goals in their last four matches and are seeking a third win on the trot following a 2-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion last Saturday.
The Villans took full advantage of playing the final 55 minutes with a man advantage, overturning a deficit through Jack Grealish in first-half stoppage time and Matt Targett at the death. Grealish's goal proved vital for morale, with Villa having their third goal of the season chalked off following a VAR review.
"We know his ability. He's been showing it for a while," Targett told the team's official website regarding the 23-year-old talisman. "But it's great to see him doing it back in the Premier League now. I am close with him and it's just nice to see him flying with a goal and assist."
Aston Villa failed to nick a point off Big Six sides in their first two attempts, losing to both Spurs and Arsenal, with precious points frittered from leading positions in each match. City, though, present an entirely different challenge, one Villa boss Dean Smith hopes his side are ready to embrace.
"They are the champions of England for a reason. They don't lose many games, although they have lost a couple this year," Smith said at his Thursday press conference. "They're chasing Liverpool at the moment because they are some points behind them. It's a tough place to go, we know that, but we have great belief in ourselves.
"My final message when we go over the white line will be 'listen they're not superhuman, they are human just like yourselves, if you run harder than them and you're mentally stronger than them, you've got a good chance.' It's 11 v 11. The mental side of going into games like this is so important - 'don't fear them, respect them by all means because they are top players.'"
Villa have gone 275 minutes without a goal against City since Carlos Sanchez scored in the 85th minute of a 3-2 loss at the Etihad in April 2015. The Villans are winless in their last six against the Cityzens (0-1-5) in all competitions and have lost nine straight league matches on the blue side of Manchester since John Carew and Shaun Maloney tallied in a 2-0 victory in 2007.
Updated October 24, 2019