Aston Villa haven't won since opening day. Strangely enough, there seems to be almost as much optimism around the club now as there was then, despite Villa sitting in the basement of the Premier League. Rémi Garde has replaced Tim Sherwood, and a fresh start may be just what the club needed.
The true difficulty of the task at hand for Garde may become apparent as early as Sunday, with table-toppers Manchester City paying a visit to Villa Park. He inherits a team that's tallied a grand total of four points through 11 league matches. But there is hope, as a shift away from Sherwood's Stone Age tactical decisions can only be positive.
Jordan Ayew looks to prove his doubters wrong every time he takes to the pitch, and has put in some impressive performances as of late. Goals against both Swansea and Tottenham in the league, and winning a penalty against Southampton in the cup are measurable feats he's achieved. What doesn't show up on a traditional stat sheet is his curling strike from 25 yards out that almost put Villa back on level terms with Spurs on Monday. He's starting to get more comfortable playing in England, particularly when deployed as a central attacker.
While some steel is definitely needed to combat players like Yaya Touré in midfield, there's also a place in this side for creativity. Therefore, both Carles Gil and Carlos Sánchez should see the field against City. The wingers will have to help the fullbacks, as Kevin de Bruyne will be looking to release Raheem Sterling and either Samir Nasri or Jesús Navas into wide danger areas.
Idrissa Gana Gueye is a sensible option in midfield, and has the forward-thinking mentality that makes him a great partner for Sánchez. Gana can have more freedom to get forward in possession, and Sánchez can worry about protecting the back four...
Which should consist of Alan Hutton, Micah Richards, Jores Okore and Jordan Amavi. Hutton is an underrated attacker and routinely finds himself in acres of space when venturing down the right wing. It doesn't look like Ciaran Clark is back to 100 percent yet, which is why Okore could get the nod alongside the captain Richards. Hopefully Amavi has learned whatever lesson Sherwood was trying to teach him in the time he was replaced by Kieran Richardson at left back. Please don't make us watch Richardson anymore, Rémi.
Most of all, this match should give us something to base the rest of the season off of. This is definitely one of those matches you had "0 points" penciled in for when predicting how the campaign would go, so essentially there is nothing to lose. Play positive football, avoid errors and there will be things you can take away going forward, even if it ends in defeat. Remember, City are top of the league and bonafide title contenders.
But let's not forget the chance that Garde starts his tenure with a victory. The winless streak has to be halted soon if there's any chance to avoid relegation, so why not now? Could actually using the best players available create a solid XI that catches the Citizens off guard (sorry) and leads to a much-needed three points?
Manchester City (4-2-3-1):
Joe Hart, Bacary Sagna, Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala, Aleksander Kolarov, Yaya Touré, Fabian Delph, Samir Nasri, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling; Sergio Agüero.
Aston Villa (4-4-1-1):
Brad Guzan; Alan Hutton, Micah Richards, Jores Okore, Jordan Amavi; Scott Sinclair, Carlos Sánchez, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Jack Grealish; Carles Gil; Jordan Ayew.
Who does Garde absolutely need to start? Are there any players you don't want to see anywhere near the pitch? Let us know in the comments!