Aston Villa-Manchester City Preview

·3 min read

Dean Smith is confident Aston Villa will play with the same confidence they have all season against Manchester City despite a coronavirus-enforced lay-off.

Villa are playing on Wednesday for the first time in the Premier League since New Year's Day due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the first-team squad, with their only fixture in the intervening period an FA Cup defeat to Liverpool in which they were represented by an academy side.

Smith's men are eager to get going again, however, with games to make up on the rest of the division as they push for European qualification.

"I believe in the players and the mentality they have at the moment that they'll be ready for this game," Smith said.

"All clubs have been hit in some way. Manchester City have had a few players who've had it - I think Sergio Aguero will miss the game as he's in isolation - so all clubs are having to adapt and we're no different.

"The players have an awful lot of belief from what they've done already and in what they can do in this league this season. We're looking forward to the game."

Opponents City can take top spot in the Premier League if they win their game in hand, yet Pep Guardiola is not getting carried away.

After beating Crystal Palace 4-0 on Sunday, Guardiola was swiftly moving on to the Villa match.

"After Crystal Palace, it's Aston Villa," he said. "We fought to be there, like many clubs, and now we must fight a lot to still be there.

"It's a weird season, everyone can beat everyone, so it's difficult every game but I'm happy."

Guardiola added to Sky Sports: "I don't think about the position in the table. What will happen in the future is rest well and prepare for Aston Villa."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Manchester City - Joao Cancelo

Right-back Cancelo has settled in England this season and established himself as one of City's key men, playing the role slightly differently as he joins the midfield when they have the ball. He cannot afford to switch off defensively against Jack Grealish, although he was granted some rest against Palace, starting from the bench.

Aston Villa - Jack Grealish

Villa might have been kept off the pitch of late, but there are still only two players - City's Kevin De Bruyne and Tottenham's Harry Kane - who have contributed more Premier League assists than Grealish's seven this term. Having also netted five, he has been directly involved in 12 goals in 15 games, the most by a Villa player in their first 15 matches of a top-flight season since Dalian Atkinson in 1992-93 (nine goals, three assists).

KEY OPTA FACTS

- City have won 14 of their past 15 Premier League home games against Villa (L1), including each of the most recent 10 in a row by an aggregate score of 33-4.

- Guardiola's men have won their past five Premier League games, shipping just one goal in the process. It is the longest winning sequence by a team so far in the competition this season.

- Villa have won five of their eight Premier League away games this season (D1 L2), as many as they had in their previous 49 on the road in the competition (D8 L36).

- City have conceded 13 goals in 17 Premier League games this season, an average of 0.8 per game. Only in their two title-winning seasons under Guardiola (0.6 in 2018-19, 0.7 in 2017-18) have they had a better ratio in the competition.

- City have conceded the fewest Premier League home goals this season (seven), while Villa have shipped the fewest on the road so far this term (five).