Aston Villa vs Manchester City – Pre-game Assessment

Unlike Graham Potter and Patrick Vieira who would have been concerned at the thought of competing with a Steven Gerrard managed Aston Villa team, Pep Guardiola will likely be excited at the prospect.  Having won all their five games in October, including two Champions League fixtures, he will want to keep his Man City squad tuned up for the challenges ahead.  Pep will remind his team that the noise at Villa Park will be deafening and that the eleven on-field disciples of SG will be something to not take lightly.

Pep will have their attention, but will he have the pick of the players to get the job done?  With most of his best offensive players sidelined with injuries (Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, and Ferran Torres), against West Ham he had to use Riyadh Mahrez as his nominal center forward (in effect, a false 9) and resort to academy forwards on the bench.  That was an ordinary Manchester City team.  Still, even an ordinary Man City beat West Ham and is predicted to win the Premier League.

The one tactical adjustment that Gerrard could well make is to put an even greater emphasis on defense than he did against Crystal Palace.  He might have seen enough of a positive showing by the accomplished Douglas Luiz as a substitute to use him to beef-up the middle of the field which is currently City’s strength.  With Walker and Cancelo drawing Ramsey and McGinn out to the sidelines to blunt their threat, the central midfielder will need to fill the gap inside.  He cannot do that effectively, if he is filling the hole in front of the back three.  Luiz is excellent in the middle and Nakamba is rock solid filling the hole.  I would not be surprised to see Gerrard make that adjustment and include both.

Watkins appears to thrive as a single striker with Ings, Bailey, Buendia, Young, El Ghazi, Traore, Trezeguet, and Sanson, competing for the other slot or slots as forwards.  Against City, Gerrard may start with Buendia and, if that is not working satisfactorily, sub in El Ghazi, Young, or Bailey as early as halftime, especially given the extra running they will be required to do.

The message will be the same to his players, with a little more emphasis “Do not do anything that makes it easier for them to score against us”!  That includes getting caught in possession, passing carelessly, giving up unnecessary freekicks, getting a yellow card, giving away corners, and letting opposing players have too much time on the ball. Bailey needs to improve in at least two of those areas though his upside potential is very high.

Our midfield trio of McGinn, Luiz, and Ramsey are capable of holding off City’s and our Villans can limit the light blues to a single goal, especially with the Villa crowd behind them.  City’s defense is unlikely to cede an easy goal, so we may end up in a 1-1 tie, something the “gaffer” will accept (though he will never admit to that).

It is going to be intense from the get-go to the final whistle!


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