Premier League action continues as the clubs get ready to work on their way up in the points table. This week we have defending champions Manchester City visiting Villa Park to face Aston Villa. This fixture is slightly more than just a regular Premier League fixture as this marks the return of local hero Jack Grealish to his boyhood playground. Along with his return, this game will be the first time Pep Guardiola locks horns against Steven Gerrard in the managerial battle and we hope this match be the first of many for both managers.
Aston Villa is currently placed 13th on the points table and finds themselves below the likes of Brighton, Crystal Palace, and newly promoted Brentford. They also conceded 21 goals so far this season but, have scored just 18. An abysmal run of defensive performances saw their former manager Dean Smith getting sacked and the board took a risk by handling the managerial responsibilities to Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. After appointing former Rangers’ boss, Villa have improved defensively and have successfully won the last 2 games.
As they show signs of improvements as the weeks’ pass, there is a growing confidence in Villa camp since Gerrard took charge. Improved performances from Cash, Mings, and Targett in recent weeks suggest that Pep Guardiola’s men could have a tough time at Villa Park.
Man City, on the other hand, had probably the best November among all the Premier League clubs. Since their defeat against Crystal Palace, Manchester City went on to win every match in the month of November. These fixtures consisted the likes of PSG, Club Brugge, West Ham United, and a Manchester Derby. This run of form and their results in all-important games points towards the abilities of Manchester City players and Pep Guardiola’s rotation management.
Although this fixture won’t provide any threat to Guardiola’s season, he must be keen to secure a top spot his side is chasing by a single point. We can expect Pep to field a respectable and strong lineup to keep Gerrard’s men guessing.
WHEN & WHERE?
Date: Wednesday, December 1, 2021.
Time: 8.15pm GMT.
Venue: Villa Park.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Assistants: Ian Hussin, Darren Cann.
Fourth official: Craig Pawson.
VAR: Kevin Friend.
Assistant VAR: Simon Bennett.
We could see former Manchester City player Douglas Luiz lineup for Aston Villa as he was NOT suspended in the last match against Palace. Yet, Steven Gerrard will be without the services of Bertrand Traore as he is picking himself up from a hamstring injury. Trezeguet will, unfortunately, miss this fixture due to his long-term injury but, we could see him in action within a few weeks.
Danny Ings is expected to provide assurance in the attacking unit along with Anwar El Ghazi who could jump in for fresh legs.
Guardiola might have to keep in mind about his players’ fitness and avoid fatigue to his only available players. We might see a lot of shuffling for this fixture but, the lineup is still expected to be compatible to grab three points,
Ferran Torres and Kevin De Bruyne are sure-shot absentees while Phil Foden’s appearance is still doubtful. Jack Grealish is ready and might make a late appearance waiting for his old fans’ response.
John Stones is expected to start in defence as Aymeric Laporte is suspended due to the accumulation of yellow cards. Cancelo seems un-droppable right now hence, Walker could make way for Ukrainian powerhouse Zinchenko in the fullback spot.
GERRARD TO SET THE TEAM DIFFERENTLY FOR MANCHESTER CITY?
Steven Gerrard won both of his last 2 matches because he studied his opposition in the right way. He mirrored his opponent’s 4-3-3 against Palace and got a perfect result. He did set up his tactics in an approach to take the game in hands early and kept attacking from all sorts of areas on the pitch. Nakamba and McGinn were like boulders in the midfield who did their job of standing firm and progressing the ball extremely well amid Palace’s press.
City will not allow Villa to enjoy much possession of the ball and hence Gerrard will have to keep the balance of mobility and clinical finishing in his squad. Manchester City won’t be opening much of their defence and hence Jacob Ramsey and Buendia have a big responsibility to provide Watkins and Ings with perfect chances.
Unlike last game, Targett won’t be getting any room to overlap as he will be coming up against Mahrez and to double the threat a certain Portuguese named Cancelo. To tackle this we could see Gerrard keep most of his men in defensive zones and break Manchester City on counters and set pieces.
WILL MAN CITY TAKE EARLY CONTROL OR GROW WITH THE TIME?
Football is an unpredictable game, and anything could happen here. Irrespective of all the possibilities, Manchester City are surely going to give a hard time to Villa defenders by pressing aggressively. It is possible that Manchester City may take control of the ball for a long session of the period in the first half but would still have difficulties in finding the net.
We could see Zinchenko invert midway and drop in to shrink the pitch from one side to allow Mahrez more room on the other flank (the same tactic used against Paris). This might work here as Aston Villa defenders may find themselves out of position and away from the mark. We can expect this fixture to be played at a really slow pace and growing as the reading on the clock increases.
As Aston Villa won’t be having any pace on their left, it will be safe to start Cancelo on right back and provide Walker with much-needed rest. Cancelo seems an invincible figure in the current lineup as he has appeared in every PL game so far this season. Recording 8 goal involvements for the club this season, Joao Cancelo has grown as a player tactically and statistically. He will be expected to keep Watkins and Targett in their own half and might be asked to deal with Bailey’s pace if Gerrard decides for a substitution.
Attacking-wise, he will likely have overlapping runs from the right and provide early crosses and switch of plays to Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. Much of the initial creative burden will be on his shoulders and let’s see how he deals with Villa and the crowd in this game.
McGinn had a brilliant game for Aston Villa when he was against the likes of Milivojevic and Gallagher. He brilliantly used his experience and talent in his usual box-to-box midfielder position. He worked hard for the entire match and got rewarded with a goal following his attempt from the edge of the box. John McGinn grew into the game and that winning goal was just a cherry on top of the ice cream.
He will likely face the press from Gundogan and will have to find passes that are out of Rodri’s radar but most importantly, he will be tasked to handle the threat from Bernardo Silva for the majority of the match. John McGinn’s performance will be deciding factor for both managers’ decisions to make substitutions in the second half of the game.
Aston Villa predicted lineup: (4-3-3): Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey; Buendia, Ings, Watkins.
Man City predicted lineup: (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Stones, Zinchenko; Gundogan, Rodri, Bernardo; Mahrez, Sterling, Jesus.