Aston Villa's autumn grinder continues today with a visit from Manchester City, the highest scoring team in the young Premier League season. With a mid-week thumping at the hands of Tottenham largely erasing the positive feelings gained from last weekend's win over Norwich City, Villa could really do with a result in this game. But they're going to need the best performance of the season so far-without Christian Benteke and Ashley Westwood-and most likely a bit of help from the visitors as well in order to pull it off.
Aston Villa showed earlier in the season that they are capable, on their day, of hanging with the league's elite. But they also showed how easily they can be ripped apart by superior opposition against Spurs, and without their most potent attacking weapon it's going to be difficult to provide threat credible enough to keep City from committing fully forward. Somewhat paradoxically for a team so dangerous on the counter, Villa isn't especially adept at bunkering in and absorbing pressure; at their best, Villa use high pressure of their own to keep their opponents in the midfield, willingly ceding possession with the aims of preventing their opponents from exposing the defense and harassing them into turning the ball over in positions most well suited to beginning the break. But against a team with a midfield as polished as City's, it's difficult to see that approach working.
Much like Tuesday, there aren't any especially easy answers for Paul Lambert. Villa's really faced with several bad options; their standard approach, the batten-down-and-ride-out-the-storm approach, or the "brave" attempt to go out and play attacking football. Pretty much anything Lambert decides to do is going to have a pretty significant downside, because the talent gap is so extreme; picking the least bad option, executing said option well and hoping City has an off day is probably the only real hope of a win for Villa.
None of this is to say that anything is hopeless, or that Villa's rebuilding process isn't proceeding well. It's just the reality at the moment. It's entirely possible that Libor Kozak has a breakout performance, or that Villa ride out a gutsy, low-scoring draw. It's also possible that Villa play well and still come away with nothing. But ultimately, it's not what happens in these games that's going to matter come the end of the season. It's what Villa does against the clubs in their own orbit that will define the year, and anything good that happens against the league's elite is mostly just gravy.