City take a trip to Villa Park on Wednesday 1st December for the first instalment of the Jack Grealish derby on Matchday 14 of the Premier League season.
Regularly, a game against Villa isn't all that much of a thriller for City. We're expected to win, but with the summer addition of Jack Grealish, the born in Birmingham, life long fan of the claret clad Villa, even becoming their captain? This fixture has a whole new meaning for both sets of fans. City want to see their star man, once Villa's star man, deliver. Villa want to prove they don't need him anyway, even when all the stats from their season so far shows they miss the hairband donning midfielder more than they'd hope.
Let's not forget this isn't the first time that City have taken a star from Villa: ex-captain Fabian Delph in 2015, ex-captain Gareth Barry and James Milner all made trips up the M6 in the early days of Sheikh Mansour's time running City. All 3 won Premier League titles here, 467 appearances in all competitions for City between them. All 3 also took slack from their former club's fans when playing against Villa in City's blue. It's hard to imagine any different a reaction for Grealish as well, despite him taking every opportunity to shower his former club in praise and appreciation. So all this adds up nicely to what should be a fiery atmosphere under the lights in Birmingham.
City look in fine form at the moment, currently sitting on a 5 game win streak in all competitions including that win in the derby, the brilliant midweek comeback against PSG and last weekend's statement 2-1 over West Ham in the snow and ice only the North can bring. Raheem Sterling has 3 goals in his last 4 games for the club which is great news to Pep Guardiola. Bernardo Silva is hunting down his 3rd Etihad Player of the Month award for his consistently incredible November, pulling teams apart from midfield, Cancelo in the form of his life. As City prepare for the coming winter, they couldn't be performing to a better standard as they sit one point behind leaders Chelsea. It really is a fantastic time to be a City fan as the Blues are showing no signs of slowing down, which at the busiest time of the year with the fixtures piling up, is vital.
City have made do without Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish since the international break. Foden and Grealish both arrived back from England duty with minor knocks and rejoined training earlier this week according to Guardiola. KDB has been isolating with COVID-19 but tested negative earlier, however, he has yet to rejoin training so should still be considered a doubt for this game. Ferran Torres is still not back in training after his metatarsal fracture and Aymeric Laporte finds himself ruled out through suspension.
So whilst having some really key players on their way back, the starting XI will probably look largely the same as it has in recent fixtures. Ruben Dias will undoubtedly be joined by John Stones at the back and due to this, I would expect a seemingly rare start for Zinchenko at LB, and Walker in at RB. A midfield of Rodri flanked by Gundogan and Bernardo is simply too good to change, even if KDB travels. However, maybe one of Foden or Grealish will find themselves out on the left-wing alongside Jesus and a resurgent Sterling, I suspect Foden could get the nod, with the homecoming Grealish entering the fray later in the game. Predicted XI: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko; Bernardo, Rodri, Gundogan; Foden, Jesus, Sterling.
Aston Villa now under the management of Steven Gerrard find themselves creeping back up the table with 6 points from 6 (2-0 v Brighton & 2-1 v Palace) under the Scouser. The team look to be the sum of their parts again under Gerrard, after 5 damaging losses in a row under previous boss Dean Smith left them too close for comfort to a relegation scrap. The team play more coherently under Gerrard so far and it seems getting a manager in during the international break was a huge help, there's another team up here in the North West who probably should've followed suit! But like his Rangers side and not even dissimilar to Guardiola, Gerrard focuses on width, playing with aggressive fullbacks in Matty Cash and Matt Targett to let a fun front 3 containing any of Ings, Watkins, Bailey, Buendia interchange around. A midfield 3 of Ramsey and McGinn in front of Nakamba does give me a bit of a City vibe. You can see Gerrard isn't trying to copy the heavy metal football that seems to be the flavour of the month, but his Villa sides have lost the possession battle so far so there's work to do if he's trying to recreate Pep-ball. Either way, they look reinvigorated and excited under Gerrard and the energy of a packed Villa Park could be enough to cause trouble for City, provided Villa aren't slipping about the pitch.
Predicted XI: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Makamba, Ramsey, Bailey, Watkins, Buendia.
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: Ian Hussin and Darren Cann
Fourth Official: Peter Bankes
VAR: Kevin Friend
Assistant VAR: Simon Bennett This is Dean's first game in charge of City this season.