Preview: City v Villa

Three games, seven points needed, possibly more, it's squeaky-bum time and rather than being able to enjoy these sort of end-of-season tussles we craved for so long, i can safely say i'm absolutely bricking it. City are "in crisis" again, every man and his dog wants out, Villa are in great form, anything could happen. Drink through it and hope for the best remains my motto.

Marton Fulop, whose arrival seems to have caused a bout of amnesia for Martin O'Neill, is likely to make his debut, no pressure. Wayne Bridge hobbled off with a dead leg at Arsenal but should recover, but if not then Javi Garrido may come in, with Sylvinho still struggling with a calf injury. Failing that, Pablo Zabaleta, Nedum Onuoha or Micah Richards could switch flanks.

Gareth Barry is said to have a hamstring injury and could miss the vital game against the club he played over four-hundred times for. Should that be the case we wouldn't be spoilt for options - either Patrick Vieira, most likely, or Stephen Ireland. Ade is still suffering from a thigh strain but it didn't seem to hinder him too much during the second half at the Emirates.

Villa have their complete first eleven available, with only Fabien Delph and Curtis Davies out long-term. Delph won't be back until Christmas after rupturing his knee ligaments. Davies hasn't started a league game since scoring at Anfield in August. A half of League Cup action at Brighton in January all he's managed after surgery on a troublesome shoulder.

Though the game against Spurs has been declared the big showpiece, this fixture is just as important, and for both clubs. Realistically, Villa need six points from six, and even then they only have an outside chance given their goal difference, but their fans seem humble enough about that. We may not absolutely need maximum points, so long as we get three midweek that should, theoretically, mean a win at West Ham would see us home, but we have to guard against the possibility of Tottenham knocking in a cricket score either at home against Bolton or on the final day.

As it goes, Villa are a club we tend to get the better of. Sunderland aside, i think i'm right in saying the side we've taken most points from in the Premier League, and they've beaten us only five times in all competitions in that period. Their only success at Eastlands was a 0-2 win during 2006/7, during which we only managed five victories at home and escaped relegation by less than a handful of points.

This current Villa side, however, is easily the strongest we'll have faced over recent seasons, and O'Neill has done a great job of improving them year after year. They're a true side whereas we often rely on moments of magic from a small band of real game-changers. From a goalkeeper showing no signs of slowing down, to a defence that remains one of the strongest in the division, wingers capable of causing problems from either flank, and a striking partnership who link up to good effect, and that's not even mentioning thier best player!

It's hard to really pick holes in Villa's lot, and it says something about their strength that players such as Stan Petrov and Stephen Warnock, whose performances may go unnoticed by non-Villains, will be up there behind James Milner for their Player of the Year. Carlos Cuellar is a defender i enjoyed watching during his time at Rangers, he was mountainous there in the centre of defence, even against better opposition in Europe. He took a while to get going at Villa Park, and has made the right-back slot his own after Luke Young's good form last season, but i've seen him caught out several times this year and we could get a bit of joy if Craig Bellamy's on his game.

Most Blues would admit that the centre of midfield has been our main concern thus far, despite Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry doing well in parts. Martin O'Neill's decision to replace Barry with Milner has proved a masterstroke, and if we allow their midfield as much time on the ball as we did during our last home game, the late defeat against them lot, then the England man won't need a second invitation to stamp his mark on the afternoon.

In an ideal world we'd just go all guns blazing tomorrow, and if it doesn't work out than so be it. Sadly, we know we won't see it. We'll be cautious, occasionally force play and hope to grab a goal, which could again backfire. Mancini's record is admirable, but had our balls been a bit bigger we could quite easily be sat here having picked up three more points than we managed from two admittedly tough fixtures.

Possible teams:
City: Fulop, Onuoha, Zabaleta, Toure, Kompany, de Jong, A.Johnson, Barry, Tevez, Adebayor, Bellamy

Villa: Friedel, Cuellar, Warnock, Dunne, Collins, Petrov, Downing, Milner, Agbonlahor, Carew, A.Young

Prediction: City 1 Villa 1

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