Aston Villa's hellish mid-November run didn't get off to a great start results-wise, but it would be difficult to argue that there wasn't a lot to like about their performance against Manchester United. Were the universe a fair and forgiving place, Villa would have a chance to build on some of that momentum against one of the league's fellow struggling sides. Instead, they'll travel to the Etihad to take on Manchester City, defending champions and the Premier League's only remaining unbeaten side. It is, to use the technical term, a complete and total bummer.
Plenty of Aston Villa fans will likely point out that this team went into the Etihad not all that long ago and walked out with a victory, and to a large extent they'd be right to do so. It did happen, after all, so it's clearly not impossible for Aston Villa to win away against City. But the reason that win was so memorable is because it was so incredibly unlikely. And while City fielded a strong lineup, it also featured players like Abdul Razak, Matija Nastasić, Costel Pantilimon and Jérémy Hélan. There's also the fact that, had the game not been part of a cup competition, it would have ended in a 2-2 draw.
Realistically, Aston Villa would likely take a 2-2 draw from this game six days a week and twice on Sundays. Away at the Etihad is not a game from which anyone expects Aston Villa to take points. City is unbeaten in their last 35 league home games, winning 9 of the last 10 and 5 in a row against Villa at the Etihad. City have had their struggles in cup competitions this season (thanks for helping to put Siem de Jong well out of Villa's price range, by the way,) but in the league they've not made many fatal mistakes. There are criticisms to be made of Roberto Mancini and his team, but it's difficult to argue with an unbeaten record.
There's some good news for Villa in the form of Eric Lichaj and Nathan Baker being available for selection once again, meaning that a defense that was frighteningly understaffed against United should be much closer to full strength this time around. With Joe Bennett still unavailable after re-injuring his knee against Sunderland, the return of both will be most welcome. Villa are still without both Darren Bent and Charles N'Zogbia, but that's not even really newsworthy at this point, is it?
There's little reason to expect Villa to approach this game much differently than they did last week's, and that's an approach with which I am in complete agreement. City is an absolute bear to break down, surrendering less than a goal per game at home, and though their attack is not nearly as high-powered as the available talent might suggest it ought to be, they don't have too many problems scoring. Much the same as last week, the best chance this team has to take something back to Birmingham with them - be it points or added confidence - is to go out and get after the opposition.
That probably won't be enough, because Manchester City is a behemoth. A disappointing, Baby Huey-esque behemoth sometimes, but a behemoth nonetheless. But that commitment to attacking football is important for this young and still developing team, and along with that approach comes the possibility (as slim as it may be) for a massive upset. This team is getting better week-in and week-out, and eventually they're going to shock someone. I don't think they're quite there just yet, but another performance like the past two weeks and they'll be pretty darn close.