- Tom Cayless
Preview: Everything you need to know, Predicted XI – Manchester City vs Aston Villa
After a carnage-filled past seven days, which included Manchester City's annual defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the Premier League charging them with over 100 breaches of financial rules, the Blues host Aston Villa in a must-win game at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon. The game kicks off at 4:30 pm (GMT) and will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom.
With only John Stones seemingly missing for Pep Guardiola's team, the boss will almost certainly have a pre-match selection headache. Will he go with the tried and trusted 4-3-3 or utilise the 3-2-4-1 system that's been employed for the majority of this season?
Against Spurs last week, Guardiola opted for a back-four of Kyle Walker, Manuel Akanji, Nathan Ake and Rico Lewis, with the latter stepping into midfield alongside Rodri. One suspects that he will change, although we can never be sure.
Despite Akanji becoming one of Guardiola's favourites this season, I believe he may be swapped with Ruben Dias. Lewis will more than likely keep his place and step into a pivot with Rodri. That only leaves two places in defence; Ake should be rewarded with a starting place at left-back, following his impressive form all season. Finally, Aymeric Laporte is due a start after not being selected in City's previous two outings.
For me, the midfield picks itself. Rodri will undoubtedly start. Despite his quiet form since the World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne picks himself. Guardiola chose against De Bruyne last weekend, and City did struggle going forward – he will surely be back in the starting XI. The last pick is between either Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva or Phil Foden.
Rumours have been circulating that the City academy graduate will be starting on the left of City's middle three; that's something I like the sound of. Foden, like De Bruyne, has been off the pace recently, but why anyone would doubt the back-to-back Young Premier League Player of the Year is baffling, to me at least. I honestly think that Guardiola may try Foden behind Erling Haaland this week, something we may be accustomed to next season if City follow up on their plan to sign a winger this summer.
As for the front three, Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez and Erling Haaland should all start. Grealish has been good for City recently, and so has Mahrez, with the two combining for six goal contributions in the past five games. Haaland, on the other hand, has become a victim of his own success. The Norweigan hasn't scored in his past two games, but in the game before that bagged a hat-trick against Wolves. On 25 goals in the league alone this season, it's crazy to think there are some out there questioning the 22-year-old's contribution. Start him in every game possible; as for as I'm concerned, he's inevitable.
Ederson; Lewis, Laporte, Dias, Ake, Rodri, De Bruyne, Foden, Grealish, Haaland, Mahrez
Since Unai Emery took over from Steven Gerrard last November, the Villians played 10 (excluding friendlies during the World Cup), won five, drew one and lost four. Notable wins include a victory against Manchester United in Emery's first game, a 2-0 win away at Spurs and a tight 2-1 victory at the American Express Community Stadium against Brighton. They did, however, fall to defeat against League Two side Stevenage in the FA Cup.
The Spaniard has tended to opt for a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-2 system. World-Cup winner Emiliano Martinez is the regular between the sticks. Former United star Ashley Young will take up the right-back spot, and Lucas Digne on the left. Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa are the trusted partnership for Emery, with summer signing Diego Carlos out with an Achilles tendon injury. Youngster Jacob Ramsey, John McGinn, Boubacar Kamara and former City player Douglas Luiz have all been rotated in midfield. With Villa more than likely going to play on the counter-attack, Kamara and Luiz will probably start with either McGinn or Ramsey.
Ollie Watkins will likely start up front, with former Norwich winger Emiliano Buendia to the left and Leon Bailey on the right. Watkins is in impressive form, with two in his last two, but still only has five goals in 20 Premier League appearances this season. Bailey, who grabbed a goal in the last meeting between the clubs, will be looking to change his fortunes as he hasn't contributed to a goal for about a month.
The most recent encounter between the two sides came early this season, a 1-1 draw at Villa Park. City took a second-half lead through Haaland after he converted from a delicious De Bruyne cross. City couldn't hold on, though, as Bailey's first-time effort beat Ederson for the equaliser. The home side did have the ball in the net again, through Philippe Coutinho, but it was rather controversially ruled offside.
What's not as controversial is deciding the most iconic meeting between the two clubs. May 22nd, 2022. A day that will not only go down in City's history but football's history too. City and Villa met on the final day of the Premier League season, with Guardiola's side needing to match or better Liverpool's result to win the league. City found themselves 2-0 down with just 20 minutes to go when once again, City came back. A flurry of goals from Ilkay Gundogan (x2) and Rodri turned the whole season on its head, in typical City fashion, and ensured another league title triumph.
Referee: Robert Jones
Assistants: Lee Betts & Ian Hussin
Fourth Official: Chirs Kavanagh
VAR: Jarred Gillet Assistant VAR: Eddie Smart
Written by: @TomCayless_
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