Another exhilarating season of the Premier League will reach its conclusion on the final matchday, when defending champions Manchester City welcome Aston Villa to the Etihad Stadium in their bid to retain the title. A win for the Cityzens would ensure that the title stays in Manchester, as they look to pip title contenders Liverpool to the crown of English football.
Pep Guardiola’s men who are currently a point clear at the top of the table, will look to have a satisfying conclusion to their season. Man City will look to return to winning ways after a 2-2 draw away at West Ham that ended their winning streak in the league and threw the cat right amongst the pigeons, but three points at the Etihad in Sunday’s final showdown would ensure their fourth title in five years regardless of the outcome at Anfield where Liverpool will welcome Wolves.
Regardless of their slip up at the London Stadium, City are still in pole position to secure the title – and their records leading up to this game will only encourage them. The defending champions are currently on an eleven game unbeaten streak in the league and have found the back of the net at least twice in all of their last eight games. Manchester City have also cruised to three consecutive wins at home in their last three games at the Etihad – scoring 13 while conceding just one – while Guardiola will look to maintain his record of winning all his final matchday fixtures in England.
However, Aston Villa will look to make things as difficult for the champions as they possibly can. Managed by former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard who famously took second place in another title race that went right down to the wire in 2014, the Villains will aim to be the ultimate party poppers as they look to rain on City’s procession. Gerrard who never managed to win the league title for Liverpool in his time as a player could win it for his former side this season if his team manages to frustrate and hold off City – and that is exactly what Villa will set up to do.
The Birmingham outfit will go into this game off the back of a 1-1 draw with Burnley at Villa Park, and are currently sit 14th position in the league standings. Villa need to win at the Etihad to have an outside chance of finishing in the top half of the table, but their recent form does not bode well for the Villains – Villa have only two wins from their last 10 games, have failed to keep a clean sheet in four consecutive games and have lost their last eleven visits to the Etihad.
WHEN AND WHERE?
Date: Sunday, 22nd May 2022.
Time: 3 pm (UK).
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Assistant Referees: Stuart Burt, Simon Benett.
Fourth Official: David Coote.
VAR: Darren England, Adrien Holmes.
City could yet be handed a couple of injury boosts ahead of the final day of the season, with Kyle Walker and John Stones both returning to team training earlier this week after initial fears that they would miss the rest of the campaign. Stones could displace Fernandinho at centre-back if he is fit enough, but Walker may not be risked, and Guardiola will definitely be without Ruben Dias and his new hamstring injury. Guardiola did not make a single substitution at the London Stadium and may elect to keep Grealish in the starting XI against his former club, although Raheem Sterling could still return if penalty villain Riyad Mahrez makes way.
As for Villa, defender Ezri Konsa has begun his 16-week road to recovery from a serious knee injury, and he is joined in the treatment room by Kortney Hause and his troublesome abdominal problem. Leon Bailey is also facing an uphill battle to make himself available due to a foot injury, and the quick turnaround should tempt Gerrard into a couple of alterations, starting with either Bertrand Traore or Philippe Coutinho displacing Carney Chukwuemeka. Calum Chambers will continue to partner Mings at the back while Hause and Konsa remain out, while Danny Ings – another former Liverpool man – could provide some welcome fresh legs in the final third.
The hosts are likely to go for the kill from the first whistle as they will look to take the pressure off their shoulders. The Manchester outfit are expected to have the lion’s share of possession once again, but they will hope to find a breakthrough as soon as possible. City’s compulsion and desperation to find the back of the net will leave gaps open at the back for the visitors who will look to exploit the hosts on the break. The probable return of John Stones will give a lot more balance to the City rearguard as they go up against a creator who has rediscovered his mojo in Philippe Coutinho – who will look to feed Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings in behind the City defence. If Villa does get the first goal, it promises to be a tense afternoon at the Etihad – considering a free-scoring Liverpool side are likely to do their part at Anfield.
Kevin de Bruyne
The hosts’ main man is none other than their Belgian playmaker who will aim to make one last impact to help his team across the finishing line. De Bruyne has already racked up 15 goals and 7 assists this season, leading the list for most goal involvements for City in this season’s Premier League. The Belgian has been a consistent marksman from midfield for the Cityzens this season, and his finishing has seen incredible improvement – de Bruyne has scored his 15 goals this season from an expected goals (xG) tally of only 5.87. It is the midfielder’s highest goal tally in the English top-flight as he has added a clinical nature to his game, and he will look to better it further in order to help his team win their fourth league title in five seasons.
The visitors as well as Liverpool will look to their star playmaker Philippe Coutinho to make something out of nothing and deliver an almighty sucker punch to City’s title aspirations. The former Liverpool man has looked like a player reborn after joining the Villains on loan from Barcelona in the January transfer window, having racked up four goals and three assists from the tip of his former teammate Steven Gerrard’s midfield diamond. His impressive performances saw Villa make his deal permanent, and he will hope to do his former side a favour by stopping City in their tracks. If Coutinho manages to slip either Watkins or Ings in behind the City rearguard early on, Villa have every game of getting something out of the outing.
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko; Silva, Rodri, de Bruyne; Sterling, Jesus, Grealish.
Aston Villa (4-3-1-2): Martinez; Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne; McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey; Coutinho; Watkins, Ings.