Match: Manchester City v Aston Villa, City of Manchester Stadium, 1500 BST
Catch it: Fox Soccer Channel 10am EST, 7am PST
Quick City Facts:
- Current position: 6th with 63 points
- Recent form: D-L-W
- Home Record: 11W, 4D, 2L
Quick Villa Facts:
- Current position: 5th with 64 points, equal to Spurs but behind on goal difference
- Recent form: W-W-W
- Away Record: 9W, 5D, 4L
The battle for fourth and that always-tantalizing Champions League spot continues when Manchester City host Aston Villa tomorrow. October's meeting ended in a one-all draw in which Richard Dunne scored the opener against his former club (and classily refused to celebrate, unlike some City players who shall remain nameless). The summer transfer window saw Gareth Barry head to City and Richard Dunne to Villa, completing an odd switch of captains which I am betting doesn't happen very often. However, we certainly got the better of the deal, with Dunne being recognized as one of the best in the league with his PFA award, while Barry often lingers in the shadows at City, scoring only 3 goals in all appearances. After Barry left, Villa moved James Milner from a wider role to into central midfield, where he has flourished with 12 goals. Milner says that moving to midfield has helped him influence the game more, and with a spot on the PFA Team of the Year, the award of Young Player of the Year, and an almost-certain spot on the plane to South Africa, Aston Villa are certainly not weeping over the sale of Barry.
But on to tomorrow. If Villa lose, we're out of fourth. We could finish with 67, but City would have a certain 66 points. A draw with Spurs midweek would give them 67, giving them the edge on goal difference. A loss to Spurs midweek would give Spurs 67, again granting them the edge on goal difference. So yes, this game is slightly important.
Villa have one of the best away records in the league, sitting only below Manchester United. But City certainly have the edge at home, having only lost twice at CoM stadium. As noted before, the last meeting ended in a draw. Is there any way to call this meeting of two teams so close in skill and record? I guess if there were, I could skip this ulcer-inducing match and either drink away my sorrows or raise a glass in jubilation.
What the game might hinge upon is City's keeper. After Shay Given was injured in last week's game against Arsenal, Villa thought they'd be facing Gunnar Nielsen, City's backup keeper who managed to keep a clean sheet for 20+ minutes against Arsenal. Considering Arsenal took about two shots during this time, however, I'm sure the Villans were ready to give Nielsen a true test. But City appealed to the Premier League and were somehow given the right to sign Marton Fulop from Sunderland, which to me seems questionable under FIFA rules:
Outside of the transfer windows, any club may still sign players on an emergency basis (such as if they had no goalkeepers available) with the permission of their competition's governing body, ie the Premier League.
Considering City have a huge amount of money at their disposal, I find it hard to believe they couldn't have found themselves another keeper to have on reserve. Seems a bit of rule-bending to me, but seeing as Furlop last saw action in the Sunderland game in which Chelsea scored seven times, perhaps we should quit our whining.
The pessimist in me prevents me from saying that our streak of excellent form just might continue...but with everything to play for, we just might see that crazy away win materialize.