According to today’s Yorkshire Evening Post, City have agreed compensation with Leeds United over the transfer of 14-year-olds, George Swan and Louis Hutton.
Their move hit the headlines a few weeks ago, when outrage stories on the movement of young players proliferated in the aftermath of Chelsea’s ban for the illicit signing of Gael Kakuta. Ken Bates had chipped in demanding points deductions for clubs taking young players, but not for the first time this has proved to be bluster from the ex-Chelsea chairman.
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The chance to claim third place in the league and assert our ‘top four’ credentials over a strong rival is the aim in tonight’s clash at Villa Park. Mark Hughes has his biggest selection dilemma of the season with a host of attacking players to choose from, and it will be fascinating to see if he picks the right combination to unlock a Villa team that has only conceded five goals in six Premier League matches.
Both teams are in good form with Villa having won four on the run prior to last week’s extra-time defeat to Blackburn. However the absence of first choice right-back Luke Young will give encouragement to City. Either Martin Petrov or Craid Bellamy should fancy their chances against Cuellar.
If Hughes selects the team on current form, then Tevez with his two goals against West Ham would start alongside Adebayor, and Ireland would miss out. Martin Petrov has stepped in and offered more of an attacking threat than Wright-Phillips on the opposing flank. Bellamy looks a cert to start given his form and ability to play on either flank, as well as through the middle.
Only Shaun’s defensive dilligence would justify selecting him ahead of the Bulgarian at present. Against a hard working Villa side, that may be enough to give Wright-Phillips the nod, though don’t expect Petrov to look happy about it! It was noticeable that Hughes took off Wright-Phillips rather than Petrov to make way for Santa Cruz in the West Ham game, indicating that Shaun’s place may be under threat for the first time since his return to City.
In the centre of midfield, de Jong is in great form, and this is just the sort of competitive away fixture for which he was bought by Hughes. Alongside him, Barry is an automatic choice at the moment. The England midfielder won’t want to miss out on this fixture, even if he does get a bit of stick from the locals. I have a feeling it won’t all be jeers and a lot of Villa fans will recognise the service he gave to the club. Barry isn’t the type to stir up controversy, and we’re unlikely to see him do an Adebayor at the Holte End is he scores.
If Zabaleta keeps his place ahead of Richards, this could mean a starting eleven with no players from the Academy. Does anyone know the last time this happened? It must be a few years ago. Such a line-up would be seized upon by those criticising the club for buying a team, but this wouldn’t be valid.
Ireland, Wright-Phillips and Richards would only be absent due to a dip in form, while Onuoha is injured. They are all capable of forcing their way back into the side. It would offer a remarkable vindication of the quality and consistency of Hughes’ purchases. Only Petrov would be a non-Hughes signing.
For Martin O’Neill, there is also a selection dilemma with the return of Sidwell giving him the option of playing three in the middle. Villa fans are amongst the few who want their manager to player 4-5-1 rather than 4-4-2, as they have a much better record using a lone striker.
O’Neill likes to switch between the two, and it will interesting to see what happens. Toure and Lescott ought to be able to contain Agbonlahor on his own, even if he is in freescoring form. Carew has caused us problems in the past and always looks a danger.
The tackling back of Tevez and Bellamy could negate a three man Villa midfield if Barry and de Jong play. If Barry and Ireland were a two man midfield, we’d be in greater danger of being overrun.
At the back we need to mind those set pieces where Martin O’Neill’s sides are always strong. The extra height offered by Richards would be useful here, but Zabaleta’s tackling is a better bet against Ashley Young.
Hughes on Dunne:
“We gave him the opportunity to further his career and I’m sure he’s grateful for that. That won’t stop him trying to beat City because he’s a professional and that’s what he will want to do.
“He was a very good player for City over a long and at times difficult, and that will always be remembered.”
Nigel de Jong:
“The Villa game will be a good marker for the first phase of the season.”
Whichever line-up Hughes picks, we’ll have an excellent bench from which to make changes if required. Santa Cruz will be looking to increase his game time, and could make a difference if things aren’t going our way.
Possible line-up: Given, Zabaleta, Toure, Lescott, Bridge, de Jong, Barry, Bellamy, Petrov, Tevez, Adebayor.
Predicted score: 0-3 to City.