Tuesday 28th December 2010
Opponent: Manchester City
Venue: City of Manchester Stadium
Kick Off: 15:00
Aston Villa head to Eastlands in what is set to be James Milner’s first game against the club since moving to Manchester City in the summer. Villa’s Player of the Season left the club with a parting gift when he netted against West Ham in the 3-0 victory on the opening day of the season but will not be in such generous mood when Houllier takes his men to Manchester. Milner will be accompanied by fellow ex-Villa favourite, now not so much, Gareth Barry as Mancini looks to top the league as season enters the New Year. The Italian’s side will do just that with a win although it may only last a few hours with table-toppers and fierce rivals United to play later in the day. Fortunes are quite the opposite at Villa Park after the defeat to Tottenham on Boxing Day left them just 5 points off bottom club Wolves (sob). The two games that you want to be must wins to revive your season would be City and Chelsea away but that is what faces Houllier and his not so merry men!
Villa are set to be without Emile Heskey who was injured early on against Spurs after Heurelho Gomes landed on his ankle in what should have been a penalty for Villa. Houllier looks set to be without the two Young’s once more with Ashley and Luke still a way off a return though fitness tests will determine the fortunes of both.
Other than that Villa are now beginning to run out of injuries to fall back on as reasons for their downfall which means the pressure is really on Houllier now. The Frenchman must decide whether to pick the right team or the team which have least offended him in recent weeks after omitting the likes of John Carew, Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland from the entire squad last time out. The decision led to a lack of fire power on the bench when Houllier really needed it and certainly wasn’t in the teams best interest. It seems all three may well be on their way but whilst they’re still on the books they’re still available for selection and should be used.
Worryingly rumours have arisen that Nigel Reo-Coker was left out in favour of youngsters Delph and Hogg against Tottenham as he is reluctant to sign the new contract offered to him. It has been suggested that the vice-skipper is asking for around 50k a week and Houllier has refused to play the midfielder until he lowers his demands. If this is true then it’s getting ridiculous. You can’t just sit and refute problems behind the scenes that are so blatant and the fans need to know what’s happening before the club become a victim of petty games, it’s becoming obvious why Houllier has the odd bust up with his players and it’s not good for the team.
The likes of Petrov or Reo-Coker should replace Hogg and possibly Delph, though the ex-Leeds midfielder had a decent return after a long spell on the sidelines. Ciaran Clark will be hoping to regain a place, as will Barry Bannan though the club need experience to see them through a patch where the young guns have fought valiantly but to little avail.
Manchester City will have Kolo Toure available after suspension and the centre-back is likely to go straight in for want-away Joleon Lescott. Besides this Mancini has very few injury concerns with the likes of Milner and Barry set to start and undoubtedly pile on the misery.
In 17 games in charge at Villa, Houllier has won just 5 of which just 1 were on the club’s travels. City lost last time out at home, to Everton but an early Barry goal helped them back on track with a 3-1 win at Newcastle on Sunday. City failed to take the chance to go top of the league for a short period in losing to Everton and wont want to do so again and this time I’m seriously concerned for Villa.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-5-1): Friedel; Lichaj, Cuellar, Collins, Warnock; Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Delph, Downing; Agbonlahor
Key Man: Carlos Cuellar
Final Score: 3-1
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