Allen Hamilton

What: English Premier League
Who: Manchester City (3rd; 35 points) vs Aston Villa (15th; 20 points)
When: Tuesday 28th December, 2010, at 15:00 UK time
Where: Eastlands, Manchester, England

Back in Business

Handed the opportunity to sit at the head of the English top flight for the first time in 81 years a week ago here against Everton, Manchester City blew it. An early Everton goal sent shockwaves throughout the City side and Roberto Mancini’s men never recovered. The 2-1 victory Everton left with was well deserved.

However, City quickly brushed off that disappointment with a fine 3-1 victory over Newcastle at St. James’ Park. Alan Pardew’s men had scored a 3-1 win over Liverpool at the same ground just a few weeks before and the Magpies were tipped to provide stiff opposition. "We were delighted to have taken the three points at a ground where Chelsea and Liverpool both dropped points", said City midfielder Gareth Barry, who will face his former club in this match.

For City’s momentum to continue though, and the belief in a title challenge to spread throughout the club, victories must be followed by victories. And Mancini understands and accepts that the Citizens’ home form has not been up to par. "I know that we must improve at home", said the Italian, "this is very important."

Jury Still Out on the Frenchman

Having looked solid upon the arrival of Gerard Houllier, Aston Villa are now on a worrying run of form. Since pushing Manchester United all the way in a 2-2 home draw at the beginning of November, Villa have lost five of their last six games, only digging out a win at home to West Brom on 11th December. Houllier’s methods may take time to work, but such a worrying spell of form has many of the club’s faithful wondering when the corner the club can turn is coming.

Houllier can point to some mitigating circumstances however. Games against Liverpool (away), Arsenal (home) and Tottenham Hotspur (home) have formed part of their recent losing run and the Frenchman is not dissatified with performances, believing them to show his troops are on the right track. Following Boxing Day’s 2-1 home defeat to Spurs, Houllier commented: "I think it is a poor result, but not a poor performance."

The Frenchman will need to turn better displays into points however, as the Midlands side sit just four places above the drop zone. With Chelsea to come at the weekend, Houllier could do with plotting a way to at least a point at Eastlands. And for the former Liverpool manager, who is most at home with counter attacking football, this may just be possible.


Recent form

Manchester City:
Juventus 1-1 Manchester City
(16/12; Europa League)
Manchester City 1-2 Everton
(20/12; Premier League)
Newcastle United 1-3 Manchester City (26/12; Premier League)

Aston Villa:
Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa
(06/12; Premier League)
Aston Villa 2-1 West Brom
(11/12; Premier League)
Aston Villa 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur (26/12; Premier League)

Key absences

Manchester City: Emmanuel Adebayor

Aston Villa: Emile Heskey; Ashley Young (doubt); Luke Young (doubt)

Players to watch

Manchester City – Carlos Tevez: Having performed a U-turn and committed his future to City, Tevez is continuing to show just why he is the highest paid player on the Eastland outfit’s books. Two goals against Newcastle made it 12 Premier League goals this season for the Argentine, and should he continue in a similar vein then the magical 20-goals-a-season barrier will be breached. Always full of running, Tevez is a huge threat to the Aston Villa defence.

Aston Villa – Marc Albrighton: The winger has been a bright spot in Villa’s poor season so far and, at just 21 years of age, already looks like being a fixture in the club’s first eleven for a long time to come. Albrighton scored Villa’s consolation against Spurs on Boxing Day and is a constant threat with his raw pace and ability to deliver a fine final ball. The England Under-21 star could come into his own if Villa hit City on the break.

Match prediction

Manchester City have often slipped up when least expected to, but it is a fact that they must be taken seriously as Premier League title contenders this season. Aston Villa however, look to still be feeling their way under Gerard Houllier and good spells of play have been ruined by sloppy mistakes. At Eastlands it is hard to see Villa keeping the home side out for 90 minutes, though this looks unlikely to be a Liverpool-esque romp. Manchester City 2-0 Aston Villa.