Villa Match Preview vs City: Heskey to Offer Midfield Muscle in Manchester?

Aston Villa travel to Eastlands hoping to right a couple of wrongs from last season that were undeniably two of the lowest points of the Gerard Houllier regime.

A 4-0 defeat in the league hurt Villa’s fans before we got our own back a month later at Villa Park, with Darren Bent scoring the match-winner on his debut. A short while on and Villa were back in Manchester, surrendering their FA Cup status and a potential quarter-final with Reading by playing a reserve team who were well beaten 3-0.

Villa make the trip under Alex McLeish in relatively good knick with the likes of Agbonlahor, Collins and Ireland all set to get the better of injury scares, with the latter facing the possibility of a reunion with his former employers, as is Richard Dunne. Carlos Cuellar is back in contention for a place in the squad which is good to see, with only Jermaine Jenas a certain absentee from the list of senior squad members with a debut for the Spurs man likely to be put off for another few weeks.

Emile Heskey is one of a number of players to have continued their comebacks during the international break and if rumours are true the big man may be used to add a bit of steel to a somewhat lightweight line-up in attacking areas. Likely to be deployed behind Darren Bent with star man thus far Gabby Agbonlahor shifting left, Villa may look to stifle a centre-midfield trio from the hosts as they failed to do so last term.

Good news on the potential injury front against Villa sees both Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli as doubts. The Italian netted 4 times in 2 games against Villa last term and when he couldn’t play at Villa Park, Edin Dzeko failed to fire in a lone striker role. The Bosnian is likely to spearhead City’s attack once again, with the hosts main threat coming from the likes of Silva and Nasri in support. Delph and Petrov may be tasked with ensuring that the aforementioned duo do not have space between Villa’s midfield and defence, though who will play on the right flank is less of a formality for both sides.

Adam Johnson may well keep his place for the home side after scoring against Blackburn last time out while McLeish must decide whether to rest Barry Bannan who played twice for Scotland last week despite a gash on his heel. It may be the case that Stephen Ireland could be asked to play on the right against his old club or Charles N’Zogbia could get a quick recall after being dropped against his former teammates at home to Wigan last time out.

One thing that may be key is ensuring that we have protection for full-backs Warnock and Hutton, which in my mind would make Marc Albrighton the ideal candidate to start in front of the latter due to his increased work rate and defensive contrbution, though having not started all season, I can’t see this happening. A look at the WhoScored.com player position maps (above) from the 4-0 defeat last season and 1-0 win shows that Villa were far more effective when operating with a more balanced wide attack rather than looking to pack the midfield which would be my main worry.

Of course Villa’s record in this fixture leaves plenty to be worried about, Villa’s win last season was their only victory in the last 6 meetings between the sides, losing the last 4 away from home, conceding 12 and scoring just once in the process. We will need to be wary of conceding second half goals, staying focused for the entire 90 minutes as City have scored a mammoth 17 of their 23 goals in the final 45 minutes.

Pre-Match Predictions

Possible Starting XI: Given; Hutton, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Petrov, Delph; Ireland, Heskey, Agbonlahor; Bent

Key Man: Richard Dunne

Goalscorer(s): Bent

Final Score: 3-1 City

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