When Aston Villa host Manchester City on Sunday, it's certainly not going to be a typical football match. For one, it'll be the first official game of the Remi Garde era, as the Frenchman begins the uphill battle to safety. While Villa fans will be searching for signs of improvement within their own club, they'll no doubt also have one eye on the opposing team sheet for the presence of a certain midfielder who may be making an appearance. To get the inside scoop on a potential Delph sighting and the rest of City's season, we chatted with Richard, a writer for Typical City.
Rumor has it that Fabian Delph could return to the City squad, after missing the season so far through injury, and he won't be welcomed back with open arms. The way this whole saga has gone, it's no surprise that his league debut for City coincides with a trip to Villa Park. So here's the question: Do you think Pellegrini will risk playing Delph, either in the starting 11 or as a sub, in what promises to be an extremely hostile environment?
Richard: I hate to be pedantic here, but Delph has actually already played in the league for us, albeit it was a late substitute appearance at Everton. [Note: My mistake. Extra points to Richard for fact-checking me.] I can't see Pellegrini opting to start with Delph, purely because our midfield has been in great form and he's working his way back from injury. I don't think the hostile environment will play a part in the manager's thinking and so, if the game calls for it, I think he could well come on as a substitute.
I imagine if he could have his time again, Delph would handle his move differently. For what it's worth, I personally believe that when he made his commitment to stay at Villa, he genuinely meant it. Whatever happened in the following week, whether it was just time to think on the move or other factors, he's obviously had to go back on quite a grand statement. The fact that he signed for us on the same terms he originally rejected puts to bed any suggestion that he is a mercenary, but it certainly looked clumsy and I can understand why your lot would be a bit annoyed about that side of things. From a purely professional point of view though, what choice did he really have?
City have basically been cruising in the Prem, despite a few hiccups here and there. However, they had some trouble against Norwich City last weekend, needing a late penalty from Yaya Toure to secure the 3 points. With a big game against Sevilla in the Champions League mid-week (which they ended up winning 3-1), is there even the slightest inkling that they might not take Villa seriously? (Grasping for straws, I know)
Richard: I don't think so. I think, if anything, the nature of the win over Norwich is a reminder that no team can be taken lightly. The confidence they will have taken from the performance and result in Seville should mean City have an almighty spring in their step as well. This is not to say that Villa don't have a chance, but City will definitely be affording them all due respect and I don't see complacency being a problem for us.
Any added pressure on Joe Hart's spot between the sticks? Or was his recent error simply a bad mistake that can be written off?
Richard: Absolutely none. Ever since Pellegrini dropped him for a few games back in the 2013/14 season after a series of errors, Hart has actually been in fantastic form. His concentration has been spot on for a long time and he's been reliable whether he's been required once in a game or 10 times. His mistake last week was a bad one but it happens to every ‘keeper. Given that he's been so assured for such a long time, he is massively in credit; one mistake that didn't end up being costly can be forgiven and, as you say, written off. In fact, he redeemed himself superbly with a match-winning save in stoppage time of the same game. Until proven otherwise, we can assume this was a careless one-off.
Fill us in a little bit on the recent stories of a UEFA sanction amidst City fans booing the Champions League anthem a few weeks ago. I mean, I guess I'll ask why fans were showing their displeasure during the anthem, but it doesn't really matter. I want to know how doing so led to actual, real life disciplinary measures from UEFA. Don't they have more pressing concerns?
Richard: Blimey, how long have you got? City fans have a problem with UEFA for many reasons. It started when the club were fined €30,000 for entering the pitch around minute late for a Europa League game. Just a month earlier, Porto had been fined €20,000 for the racist abuse of Mario Balotelli. UEFA had made it official tardiness was, in their eyes, a bigger offense than racism. There was also the Moscow farce. Last season, CSKA Moscow were forced to play their home tie against us behind closed doors due to repeated crowd offenses, including regular racist chanting. As a result, our fans that had already booked flights, accommodation and bought visas were unable to attend - nor were they reimbursed. So we were, in effect, punished for the behaviour of CSKA fans. To add insult to injury, CSKA had 650 supporters get into the stadium on press passes and the like and faced no further punishment for this breach.
Along with the cack handed nonsense that is Financial Fair Play, City fans just don't really like UEFA. This has resulted in a large section of the fans booing the anthem at Champions League matches. Some may think that is petty or whatever, but the key point is that is simple freedom of expression. A UEFA delegate attended the home game against Sevilla and reported City for it, and UEFA's disciplinary body is obligated to investigate any reports. I am therefore (stupidly) optimistic that is just one cretin being a jobsworth and that City will not face any punishment when the case is heard. After all, this has been happening at our UEFA games for a year now and it's not been a problem until this one delegate attended the Etihad.
So that's the short version. If you'd like to know a little more, I wrote about it here on the day the charge was announced.
Now that you've seen City in action for a few months, just how successful can they be? What's more important to you, winning the Premier League or winning the Champions League?
Richard: If it's a straight choice, I have to say the Premier League, no question. The Champions League is incredibly prestigious and we know as well as anybody that making your mark on the competition is difficult. To me though, you can win the Champions League without being the best team in Europe (Chelsea and Liverpool spring to mind). It's a great achievement and I hope we win it one day, but the Premier League is a greater test of your qualities over a season. You can't win it without displaying a wide variety of facets to your game and if you end if you finish in top spot, it's proof you were the best team in England over a season - no team has ever finished in a position they didn't deserve after 38 games. It is the bread-and-butter, so to speak, and I value it way above the Champions League.
I know you could choose from a number of players, but who's been City's most impressive player this season? De Bruyne? Sterling?
Richard: Kevin De Bruyne has been sensational. He's an absolute joy to watch and he looks like a bargain at £54m. His first touch might be the best I've ever seen live and his vision and passing ability is outrageous. He's not a bad finisher either. Fernandinho deserves an honourable mention here - he's that type of player that rarely gets due credit from people outside of the club but he's pretty much the perfect midfielder. Bacary Sagna has also been impressive, just for how much he has improved. His first year wasn't great but he's flying now and it will be very difficult for Zabaleta to win his place back when he returns from injury.
If you could have any player from Villa's current squad, who would it be? Be honest, would any of them even make it in the City squad?
Richard: I don't like saying this but I don't think any of your boys would get in our squad at the moment. However, I'd have Jack Grealish, just for potential alone. I thought he was brilliant at the Etihad last year and if he progresses as he should, he could be fantastic. He really does need to sort his socks out though.
Lastly, do Villa have even the slightest glimmer of hope in this match? Please? Anything?
Richard: Of course! You know that over-used cliché about there being no easy games in the Premier League? Well, it's a cliché because it's true. Everybody will expect City to win, and rightly so - the form of both teams makes that a natural assumption. But you have a new boss, your players will be desperate to make an impression on him and that new manager bounce is a proven thing; it exists. We know we can't afford to take anybody lightly. Shocks happen, just hopefully not on Sunday!
Thanks for that little pick me up at the end there, Richard. I needed that. Be sure to give him and others at Typical City a visit for some pre match reading from the opposition!