After a demolition job in the Champions League in midweek, Manchester City return to Premier League action as they look to pile the pressure on league leaders Liverpool in the early kick-off.
City come into this game knowing a win would cut the gap at the top to just three points, albeit for a couple of hours at least, with Liverpool facing Spurs this weekend. Aston Villa come into the fixture with similar drive and motivation, as they look to make it three wins on the bounce after victories against Brighton and Norwich.
Hi Dan, thanks for joining us ahead of Saturday’s game. How would you assess Aston Villa’s start to life back in the Premier League?
I’d say looking at our league position now, we are right where I would expect us to be. Performances throughout the season so far have been better than our current points tally suggests, but I can’t tell you that I’m disappointed with where we are in the league at all.
The physicality and pace of the Premier League is something I feel the players are now coming to terms with – there’s a clear gulf in fitness levels from Championship players to Premier League – the likes of Mings, McGinn and Grealish are finally at an adequate level of fitness and I feel that’s shown as we’ve progressed. Also the likes of Wesley, Nakamba and Engles – with them all coming from other leagues, they’ve needed to acclimatise to life in England and I feel like they have finally done so.
How does this start to the campaign compare with Villa fans’ expectations going into the season?
Before the season started, a lot of Villa fans were feeling extremely optimistic (some significantly more so than others), with a real feeling that we would break into the top ten and (as much as it pains me to say it) “do a Wolves“.
I’d honestly say that we’ve had a good start to the season, as I’ve touched on before. I feel that the points tally doesn’t do performances much justice – we’d dominated the game at Tottenham for 70 minutes in the opening game of the season, against a team who had reached the Champions League final only a few months before. But from our own undoings we weren’t able to see the game out.
If I’m being perfectly honest with you, as long as we stay up, I really couldn’t care where we finish. If it’s not the top six it doesn’t matter, right? We could finish 7th or 17th, as long as we put in good performances and don’t compromise our style of play. That’s all that matters for me.
Douglas Luiz’s switch to Villa Park surprised many City fans, especially considering the issues surrounding his work permit when joining the blues. What did you make of the transfer at the time?
I’ve got to admit I was very excited when Luiz was announced, especially after hearing Pep express his frustrations in not being able to keep hold of him (due to his work permit issues).
Although he’s unproven in England and the Premier League, for a small fee of £15m. If you look at Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United, who we were linked with in the summer (for a reported £30m may I add), it’s clear to see we’ve gotten ourselves a bargain.
It works for both parties too really, I’m not at all naive and think that Douglas will spend all of his career at B6. City clearly see he is a talent and will inevitably buy him back in two years time for £30m, and you know what – I’m okay with that. If he turns out to be as good as we all think he can be, of course he’ll be heading back up north!
How has Douglas Luiz started life under Dean Smith?
Even though I’ve just waxed lyrical about how good he is, if I’m being honest he’s struggled to begin with. As I mentioned earlier it’s just getting use to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. I think the players maybe struggled to trust him after a he let the ball run straight onto Harry Wilson (who then scored from outside the box), but he certainly made up for that with the absolute screamer he scored later in the game.
He’s then gone and scored another screamer, nearly identical to the first at Carrow Road in an emphatic 5-1 win against Norwich. It’s clear to see Douglas’ potential, he’s going to be a top, top player – but at the moment Marvelous Nakamba (Marvelous by name and nature) has been a complete revelation, and has rightfully claimed the role of the “6”.
Manchester City have suffered yet another pair on injuries ahead of this game, with Rodri and Zinchenko adding to Sane and Laporte. How do you expect these injuries to impact this weekend’s game?
I can’t lie, I was jumping for joy when I saw Rodri injured against Atalanta – just another to add to the list of players you have out injured. This has almost certainly forced Pep to play Otamendi which is something I’m quietly happy about – especially after seeing how Norwich capitalised on Otamendi being, well… Otamendi. I think he’ll relish the physical match-up against Wesley, but with an emphasis on wingers, I think it could play into our hands.
How do you see this game panning out and how do you want Dean Smith to approach the encounter?
If I’m honest, despite your injury problems, I really do expect you to win. We’ve seen what you are capable of when you’re firing on all cylinders (8-0 vs Watford), but I’ve also seen how you’ve been pressured and undone by a Norwich team which we breezed through and scored five against.
For me, I think Smith will want Wesley to be causing Otamendi and Stones (or whoever is at CB) all sorts of problems physically, and will look to draw them out from the back, so the likes of El Ghazi, Grealish and McGinn can exploit that space in behind (that Otamendi generally leaves). I want to see us make a strong account of ourselves again, and continue to prove that we aren’t “doing a Fulham”.
Aston Villa predicted starting XI and predicted score?
I can almost guarantee that we will name an unchanged XI, as follows: Heaton, Guilbert, Engles, Mings, Targett, Nakamba, Mcginn, Hourihane, El Ghazi, Grealish, Wesley.
In terms of score, my head says 2-2, I think we’ve got enough to cause you guys some problems and you guys are clearly a class above – but my heart is saying we nick it 2-1.
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