Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa is tackled by Gareth Barry of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium. Villa and City meed again on February 12, 2012. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Manchester City are favoured to beat Aston Villa in Birmingham. Surprise!
Manchester City are, at least temporarily, staring at second place in the Barclays Premier League standings. Manchester United's home win against Liverpool has kept up the pressure on the title favourites, but City can rectify the situation when they travel to Villa Park where they'll face Aston Villa away. The reverse fixture has already been played, with Roberto Mancini's side cruising to a 4-1 win at the Etihad Arena, but Villa are much improved since then and could prove tricky opposition at home, especially considering their visitors' abysmal away form.
City are still missing Ivorians Kolo and Yaya Toure at the Africa Cup of Nations, while ace striker Mario Balotelli is serving the final game of his four-match ban for kicking Scott Parker in the head last month. Samir Nasri may miss out with a groin injury as well. Villa will be hopeful to have a trio of key players fit and ready to go, with Gabriel Agbonlahor, Marc Albrighton and James Collins each potentially returning to the team this week, encouraging news from Alex McLeish's standpoint.
Comparing the two sides, even without the influential Yaya Toure, leaves you with the distinct impression that Villa are going to get hammered. Their defence is uncharacteristically wobbly, they have no obvious solution to David Silva, and their midfield isn't good enough to seriously contest possession. There's no reason to think that City can't batter their opponents here.
That said, they haven't done very well on their travels recently, with just one win in their last six on the road, and it's not inconceivable that Villa nick a point to thwart Mancini and company's title dreams. The last time these two sides met on this ground, Darren Bent earned Aston Villa a 1-0 win. If the hosts can repeat that, they'll make the title race quite a bit more interesting. Don't bet much on that happening.
Aston Villa vs. Manchester City
Game Date/Time: Sunday, February 12, 11:00 a.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. local
Venue: Villa Park, Birmingham, England
TV: FSC (USA), Sky Sports 1 (UK)