Preview: Manchester City v Aston Villa

Roberto Mancini captured the importance of this game by describing it as a “semi-final” for the Champions League. He’s right in that if we lose then we’re likely to be out of the running. A draw could be enough for us, but Villa have to win.

In big games, Mancini takes a measured approach, whereas O’Neill demands a high tempo and pressing all over the pitch. If the scores are level in the final minutes, expect Villa to throw everything at us.

Fortunately we have the quality to deal with it, so long as we play to our capabilities. There could be space for our forwards and they need to exploit this. Both Chelsea and United have demonstrated how to overcome Villa recently and we need to show a similar level of performance.

At the beginning all eyes will be on Marton Fulop. The Hungarian is sure to be given a rousing welcome and has the opportunity to make himself a cult legend.

Bridge may be fit to start, but will he be fully up to speed? He wasn’t against United and we’ll need someone who is against Villa. Martin O’Neill’s sides rely on creativity from the flanks, and stopping crosses will be key.

If there are doubts about Bridge, then Zabaleta would be the best choice defensively. A more natural left-back could be brought on later if we need to improve our attacking.

Villa are a physical team, dangerous from set pieces, and for that reason Onuoha would be a good choice for right-back. He offers greater physical presence than Zabaleta and marks wingers better than Richards. However Mancini will be more likely to go with Zabaleta.

Against the likes of Carew and Heskey, our best central defensive pairing would be Kompany and Lescott. Toure is much improved recently and we’ll just have to hope his lack of inches isn’t costly. If he keeps as tight on Agbonlahor as he did on Van Persie, then we should be ok.

Vieira’s better performances have come as substitute, so starting him against an energetic Villa side would be a worry if Barry is injured. Whether we have enough to take the game to Villa in central midfield is a concern.

After spending the first half last week tracking Clichy, Johnson had no energy left to attack in the second period, and his place must be vulnerable to Wright-Phillips. Bellamy scored at Villa Park earlier in the season, and whether he gets into goalscoring positions is often a guide to how well we’re playing.

Providing Adebayor is fit, we should return to a front two of the Togolese and Tevez. Without Adebayor, it’s to be hoped that Ireland is the third central midfielder, otherwise the formation risks being overly defensive.

Mancini is normally a smooth operator with the media, so it was a surprise to read his comments about Tevez. Could it be he’s trying to provoke a reaction from the Argentine after two quiet games? There will certainly be an additional focus on Carlos’ performance.

Much will be made of the return of Richard Dunne, and he’ll want to put in a performance similar to that of Kolo Toure last week. We can’t let him. If we can draw Villa out, then the big man is vulnerable when asked to cover large areas of turf. The movement and skill on the ground of both Tevez and Adebayor can exploit this.

Roberto Mancini:

“We work for this for a year – now at the end of the season we have three games. We wanted fourth position, now we have chance.”

Having the chance and taking it are two different things. To often in the recent past, City have got themselves close to achieving something, only to fail. It’s time for the players and the manager to show they’re better than “typical City”.

Blue Days line-up: Fulop, Onuoha, Toure, Kompany, Bridge (if injured, Zabaleta), de Jong, Barry (if injured, Vieira), Johnson, Bellamy, Tevez, Adebayor.

Prediction: 4-1 to City.

Verdict: Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0
Player ratings: Manchester City v Aston Villa

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