The big news ahead of this game was Aston Villa’s surprise £18m, rising to a possible £24m, capture of Darren Bent from Sunderland. But despite the distraction of the big money transfers, James Milner and Gareth Barry will be making returns to their old stomping ground with their previous team in turmoil.
If the Premier League table started from the date that Gerard Houllier took over, Villa would be rock bottom with just 15 points. Last weekend’s late equaliser against rivals Birmingham has kept them out of the relegation zone, but come kick-off they could be right back in there. However, the Frenchman has well and truly taken a hold of his team by spending upwards of £25m in under a week.
Now what is next for Villa? On paper they definitely have a squad good enough to survive, but no team is ever ‘too good to go down’ - ask Leeds and Newcastle fans.
The situation now is that Houiller has absolutely no excuse if he fails in the battle against relegation. The pressure is on.
Can City really go all the way?
In a drastic change from Villa’s fortunes, Manchester City topped the Premier League for the second time this season last weekend, only to then be overtaken within hours by their arch rivals Manchester United. However, if United slip up against Birmingham, a win could see them stay there for much longer this week.
In addition to that, things could not be going much better at Eastlands. They have just signed the much praised Edin Dzeko from Wolfsburg, who impressed in his debut last weekend, and will be desperate to open his account for his new club.
But, as mentioned before, City still do not look like title challengers. Despite beating Wolves and looking comfortable for the majority while doing so, they still managed to somehow be hanging on come the final whistle as Wolves came back from 4-1.
This again happened in midweek against lower-league Leicester. City fans would not have been comfortable until stoppage time when Aleksandar Kolarov wrapped up the result.
If City are going to win the title this season, Mancini needs to instil some concentration.
Darren Bent is expected to go straight into the starting line-up for his debut after making the £18 million switch from Sunderland, with John Carew likely to complete his loan move to Stoke City before the game.
Another new signing, Jean Makoun, should also make his Villa bow after completing the £7m move from Lyon and will add some much needed bite to a weak midfield.
On the injury front, only Stephen Ireland (knee) will miss the game from the first team squad but no return date is yet known for the midfielder.
Possible starting XI: Friedel; Walker, Cuellar, Dunne, Clark; Agbonlahor, Makoun, Petrov, Downing; Young; Bent.
Manchester City went top of the Premier League after the 4-3 win over Wolves last weekend, but still managed to show their weaknesses in doing so, which is haphazard defending and a lack of concentration.
The continual absence of Micah Richards (back) will not come as good new to City fans, along with the news that Mario Balotelli (knee) will not be returning until March at the earliest.
Possible starting XI: Hart; Boateng, K Toure, Kompany, Kolarov; Y Toure, De Jong, Barry; Milner, Dzeko, Tevez.