- Oli Coulson
Everything you need to know, Predicted XI – Manchester City vs Aston Villa Preview
Manchester City will be looking to seal their fourth Premier League title in five years on Sunday 22nd May (4 pm BST kick-off) as they take on Aston Villa at the Etihad. This is not one to be missed.
I'll get straight to the point; Kyle Walker and John Stones are back. After a few days of rumours sparking joy amongst City fans on Twitter, Yorkshire's finest returned to training this week with Pep Guardiola eager to give them every chance to prove they're ready for the final game on Sunday. Ruben Dias sadly remains absent and has been left out of the Portugal squad for their June fixtures, but aside from that, everyone else is in contention.
As for the XI, I think the two returnees slot straight into the backline. Whether they both finish the 90 is a different story, but after the mixed up defensive lineups Guardiola has had to work with in the last couple of games, getting two of our senior players back is huge. I'd expect Aymeric Laporte and Joao Cancelo to complete the backline.
As for the other six outfielders, the midfield is the easiest decision Pep will make all season, with our best three in Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri and Bernardo Silva.
Picking the front three as ever is a game of Pep Roulette, but recently crowned Premier League Young Player of the Season Phil Foden and the ever-present Raheem Sterling staying high and wide with Gabriel Jesus' imperious work rate charging around the central areas is the way I think it goes. Don't be surprised if the departing Fernandinho comes on late in the game either.
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo; Foden, Jesus, Sterling
League position: 1st
Top scorer: Mahrez (24 in all comps)
Previous result: D 2-2 vs West Ham United (A)
A midweek without a fixture is a rare treat for City and with Pep giving the players a few days off early in the week, the players returned to training all smiles and recharged ready for a final push. Ilkay Gundogan caused chaos by taking a flight to go get married spurring the transfer frenzy machine into life with talk of a departure.
Ederson pulled pints at Fernandinho's leaving do, to which the Brazilian midfielder invited everyone from coaches and teammates to City's kitchen staff, all at his own expense.
Pep was all smiles in his pre-match press conference, repeating the mantra win to be champions. The instructions are clear, the minds are refreshed. At least they've been having a serene week!
Obviously, you can look at last week's 2-2 as points dropped, but considering the way Jarrod Bowen ran riot in the first half, City's comeback was impressive, even if Riyad Mahrez's late penalty was saved. But frankly, whilst it might be the remit of the 'Overview' section to discuss form, it sort of feels irrelevant. Everyone reading this knows what City have been like in recent matches, the final day of the season, especially when the title race is alive, feels a little bigger, a little more individual.
City have been here before, just last week we celebrated the 10th anniversary of 93:20, that famous goal of Sergio Aguero's against QPR. Eight years since the second title win, at the Etihad, against West Ham with goals from Vincent Kompany and Samir Nasri. Three years since the title win at Brighton. We've been here before. We know what to expect. Say it again: Win to be champions.
League position: 14th
Top scorer: Ollie Watkins (11 in all comps)
Previous result: D 1-1 Burnley (H)
Aston Villa are an interesting team, blessed with talents like Philippe Coutinho, the ferocity of wonderkid Jacob Ramsey, and the indefatigable nature of Emi Martinez all overseen by Steven Gerrard, whose reputation is beyond established, as both a player and a manager.
Whilst the table suggests little improvement since Jack Grealish departed last summer, Villa do feel a steady presence in the Premier League and one to be taken seriously. Big money owners with bigger ambitions, even if they're yet to breach the top 10 since their return to the top flight. They've built a solid top-flight level squad, and the permanent addition of Coutinho is a huge coup for a club who aren't playing European football next season.
Maybe this is their Carlos Tevez moment, albeit without a cross-city divide sparking fury elsewhere. A genuinely huge name, an incredible player wanting to be part of a journey to take a team upward, even if he has to play below his perceived level. Villa fans if they see will probably be upset by it, but then again ever since Grealish joined City, they've not been our biggest fans anyway, and if Grealish is to play a part on Sunday, I'm sure the reception from that part of the South Stand won't be the warmest.
As for their team, they are nursing some injuries. Ezri Konsa is out with a severe knee injury and Gerrard said in midweek he doesn't think Kourtney Hause and Leon Bailey will be available either. However Calum Chambers stepped in at centre-back in midweek and I think he will again here alongside Matty Cash, Tyrone Mings and Lucas Digne.
A midfield containing former City player Douglas Luiz with John McGinn feels likely, with Coutinho being joined in attack by their top scorer Ollie Watkins. As for the remaining slots, Gerrard played with two strikers last weekend and the extra midfielder but switched to a double 10 type deal behind Watkins in midweek. I'd suggest the extra defensive presence of Marvelous Nakamba may be the better fit for Villa, meaning Ings returns to the frontline alongside Watkins.
Predicted XI: Martinez; Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne; Luiz, Nakamba, McGinn; Coutinho; Ings, Watkins. (4-4-2 diamond)
Head to Head
These two sides first met in 1899 at Villa Park, where City lost 2-1. It took another two years and four fixtures between the two for City to get their first win over Villa in April 1901. In the most recent fixture between the two, City won 2-1 away in December last year with Portugal providing both goal-scorers in Dias and Bernardo. City are unbeaten in 12 against Villa.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett
Fourth official: David Coote
VAR: Darren England
Assistant VAR: Adrian Holmes
Written by: @olicoulsxn
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