Aston Villa need to have a fearless flexibility against the reigning champions on Saturday.
Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
Manchester City’s 2019/20 campaign has not gone to plan so far in the Premier League.
The reigning champions have been forced into a makeshift defensive line due to injury, which has possibly been made worse through yesterday’s Champions League game, have lost to the likes of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and have not looked the impenetrable force they were for much of last season.
Coming fresh off the back of a 2-0 win against Crystal Palace, Manchester City followed that up with a 5-1 demolition of Atalanta in the Champions League (where they faced former Aston Villa goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini) before they square off against Aston Villa in the early kick off this Saturday.
Aston Villa, in turn, have the entire week to prepare for the clash against City – but supporters of the claret and blue are hoping their dreams of getting something positive from this game don’t turn into nightmares, especially after an underwhelming, albeit exciting win against Brighton & Hove Albion.
Manchester City’s losses to Wolves and Norwich happened with the Citizens enjoying a massive chunk of possession, 75% and 68% respectively. Aston Villa have enjoyed the lions share of possession in most games throughout the season so far, but also have been the recipient of multiple man advantages through opposition red cards. To put it bluntly, Aston Villa will not be enjoying any kind of major possession of the ball against Manchester City.
However, that may not be such a bad thing. Dean Smith prides his team on springing forward when counter-attacking opportunities arise. Pace, matched with intelligent tactical awareness, could very well put a dent into the Citizen’s plans. How many times this season have Aston Villa supporters witnessed their side holed up in their own end, only to weather the storm and spring an attack of their own?
This kind of ‘bend, but don’t break’ defending works for Aston Villa due to the wealth of smart decision-makers sprinkled throughout the starting eleven. Tyrone Mings has not shied away from getting the ball forward whenever possible this season, with the towering centre-back completing 50 of 57 attempted passes against Brighton – including five successful passes into the final third of the pitch. Some may say that Mings will have more to do against a star-studded Manchester City side, and they’d be right, but if Mings can punish City by starting a counter-attack from a defensive position the way that he did against Brighton, Villa could forge more than a few opportunities to score.
So far this season, Manchester City have been prone to errors just as much as they’ve been susceptible to getting drawn out of position on the counter-attack. Against Norwich, City centre-back John Stones fluffed his lines and was the direct contributor to Teemu Pukki scoring the winning goal for the Canaries. Since then, Manchester City have been ravaged with injuries in their defensive corps.
Aymeric Laporte, Kyle Walker and Nicolas Otamendi are three key defensive players that have been out of action recently for Pep Guardiola’s side. Otamandi and Walker may find themselves fit to play this weekend, but the loss of Laporte until early 2020 cannot be exaggerated. John Stones is also close to making a full return to fitness after appearing for 14 minutes against Crystal Palace. He also managed 49 minutes against Atalanta as stand-in centre-back Rodri departed with an ankle injury.
The mental errors on show in City’s 2-0 loss against Wolverhampton Wanderers were individual in nature, but weren’t overly enigmatic. Wolves sprung very quick attacks on the counter after being pinned into their own half for extended periods of the game, which resulted in their goals due to slack defending. Dean Smith has built his side to do the very same thing that has hurt City – be defensively responsible and look for opportunities.
Pep Guardiola’s side dispatched Atalanta in their mid-week Champions League Group Stage fixture, but he sure isn’t giving his side any confidence with his recent quotes. The Manchester City gaffer is well aware of what mental lapses his side have amounted to, stating:
“After creating chances you have to be solid. You cannot give away the goals that we have given this season. We have made a number of mistakes that we should not make.”
However, Manchester City are exactly who you know they are. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Kun Aguero are some of the world-class players amongst the panoply of talent. Aston Villa will need to be at the top of their game to get anything from this fixture, but it shouldn’t make them shy away from giving everything en route to a possible positive result.
Stranger things have, and will happen over the course of this Premier League season. This fixture has more of an air of “why not” rather than “why us” to some supporters. These are the games in which the support have that extra sprinkle of belief of an upset in the build-up.
The odds are not in the favour of the Villans, but as long as they put in a heartfelt performance against one of Europe’s top teams, supporters will be happy.