Wednesday 4 March, Kick-Off 19:45 GMT, City of Manchester Stadium, Eastlands, Manchester
Big Problems for City
Manchester City look to have lost much more than three points last weekend at the hands of West Ham United, as they are surely to be without £46m in striking talent, with the likes of Craig Bellamy and Robinho sidelined. Bellamy limped out of his Upton Park return with knee discomfort and is seeking medical treatment in London, whilst facing several weeks on the sidelines. Robinho re-injured an ankle that saw him miss several games earlier in the season. Mark Hughes will be foreced to reshuffle his forward line.
The welshman will not welcome to this mini injury crisis, as his side's dismal one win in all league away ties is starting to undoubtedly blemish his image as Manchester City manager, with Luiz Felipe Scolari and Jurgen Klinsmann recently being linked with the post. Hughes' Arab employers have always backed the former Manchester United-man, yet poor league results have seen the Citizens slipping down the table. Hughes will take his only consolation this week from City’s passage into the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup where they face Aalborg BK. The Mancunians' only shot at silverware this season could be the ticket for Hughes keeping his job.
A Slight Hiccup
In a season that has seen Aston Villa come into their own as a Champions League spot contender, manager Martin O’Neill fears that his Villans have become a little too over-confident after dropping points in a shock comeback by Stoke City last weekend. In fact, Villa have failed to win in their last five in all competitions, which has seen the Midlands side knocked out of the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup. O’Neill may be disappointed with his side’s elimination, but will be relieved at the reduced fixture congestion as he can focus on his side's push for the Champions League. O’Neill would be content to meet the Citizens at Villa Park with the Sky Blues dismal away form, but a visit to Eastlands might prove a little more tricky.
O’Neill needs to galvanise his men, and has issued a rallying cry ahead of their visit to Manchester after the weekend's slip-up to Stoke City. Whether it is overconfidence or merely a slip in form, the Villans are keen to regain their stronghold on the fourth spot as Arsenal continue to waste points and gift the Midlands club with little competition from below. That could all change if Villa continues their current slump, but a win in the difficult City of Manchester Stadium could steady the ship as it would be their eighth league win on the road this season.
Portsmouth 2-0 Man City (EPL)
F.C. København 2-2 Man City (UEFA)
Liverpool 1-1 Man City (EPL)
Man City 2-1 F.C. København (UEFA)
West Ham 1-0 Man City (EPL)
Everton 3-1 Aston Villa (FA)
Aston Villa 1-1 CSKA Moscow (UEFA)
Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea (EPL)
CSKA Moscow 2-0 Aston Villa (UEFA)
Aston Villa 2-2 Stoke City (EPL)
Robinho, Craig Bellamy, and Micah Richards are all major injury doubts for this midweek tie with Aston Villa. Robinho went over on his ankle, an injury already sustained earlier in the season that led to the Brazilian missing several games.
Bellamy was substituted in the second half of his return to Upton Park due to knee discomfort and has seen a specialist in London over the injury.
Richards was substituted early in the West Ham match with a hamstring injury and is a major doubt.
City will be boosted as they lose many of their first choice striking options by the return of Valeri Bojinov, who made a cameo against West Ham for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon in pre-match warm-ups back in August. The Bulgarian could be in for his first start since the injury ahead of this one, although Felipe Caicedo looks set for the start due to lack of match-fitness for Bojinov.
Shaun Wright-Phillips returns to the squad after serving a three-match ban.
Squad: Given, Hart, Schmeichel, Richards, Onuoha, Dunne, Kompany, Bridge, Garrido, Zabaleta, Elano, Caicedo, Ireland, De Jong, Fernandes, Vassell, Weiss, Evans, Bojinov, Logan, Berti.
Villa could be without newly acquired striker Emile Heskey after the former Wigan man was substituted in the second half of the Stoke City match. The England international was treated for a reoccurring Achilles injury.
John Carew could start in Heskey’s place after returning against Stoke and scoring his 10th goal of the season from a back injury.
Wilfred Bouma has made his reserve-team comeback after being out for eight months with a dislocated ankle, but will not be in contention for this encounter.
Squad: Friedel, Guzan, Cuellar, Knight, Davies, L. Young, Shorey, Milner, Petrov, Barry, A. Young, Gardner, Reo-Coker, Salifou, Sidwell, Carew, Heskey, Agbonlahor, Delfouneso, Harewood.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
England midfielder Shaun Wright-Phillips returns from his three-match ban in the knick of time, as City’s attacking options seem to have been significantly limited. Wright-Phillips will probably be given the brunt of the attacking responsibility possibly linking up with Elano, as Hughes tries to create a potent attack.
Ashley Young has been in fine form this season, and the Englishman will have been singled out as a threat by Mark Hughes. Villa boss O’Neill knows the weaknesses of Manchester City, including their defensive woes and he could use Young’s speed and pace to dog the City backline who were opened up several times by West Ham last weekend.
It is never easy visiting the City of Manchester Stadium, as City have enjoyed relatively good success at home in the league this season. These solid performances are in stark contrast to their pitiful displays away Eastlands, winning once on their travels all year. On the contrary, Villa are looking to make it 8 wins in a row, 10 overall on their travels and this stat could come back to hurt a struggling City side.
City will have to be on their front-foot to repel the advances of fourth-place Aston Villa, but could well battle to a draw in the City of Manchester Stadium.
Man City 1-1 Aston Villa
Will Ashwell, Goal.com