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Manchester City vs. AVFC: Can Villa pull away at the Etihad?

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Aston Villa will be looking to further distance themselves from the drop when they visit the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.

I love this picture so much of Andi scoring the winner in Villa’s 3-2 win over City last season.
I love this picture so much of Andi scoring the winner in Villa’s 3-2 win over City last season.
Stu Forster/Getty Images

This is typically one of those matches your write off as a loss, show up thinking, "Maybe something will happen!," and end up angry when Aston Villa lose 3-1.

The mood around Villa Park right now, though? Entirely different.

Villa are at a spot where they expect to win every game they play, and that’s hugely important in a relegation battle. We saw it Sunday with the fighting spirit at Wembley and saw it two weekends ago at White Hart Lane in the win over Spurs.

The issue? Manchester City are still really, really good. If they show up and play well, it’s unlikely Villa can get more than a point.

But City haven’t been playing well that recently, as they’re losers of three of their last five. Last time out, they beat West Ham United 2-0 but, really, who isn’t beating West Ham right now?

(Note: The answer to that question will surely be "Aston Villa" in two weeks because, let’s be honest, that’s how this club works.)

They got embarrassed by cross-city rivals Manchester United two weeks ago and beat by Crystal Palace the week before.

There’s drama surrounding the club with the potential departures of Yaya Toure and Manuel Pellegrini, so it might be a really good time for Villa to visit.

By the same token though, City know they need to start getting results to secure Champions League qualification; 11 points will do it.

Ultimately, Pellegrini will put out a starting XI tomorrow where every City player is better than his Villa counterpart. It’s always going to be tough when you’re up against that. If Villa are to win, it will be because Tim Sherwood out-tactics yet another manager of a top side.

That’s "Tactics Tim."

Sergio Agüero is, of course, the danger man. He’s no slouch like Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling were at the weekend, and Villa will need a committed defensive performance to keep the Argentine striker at bay.

Villa have a top striker of their own at the other end though, as well all know what Christian Benteke is capable of. Him, Fabian Delph, and Jack Grealish created a great trio attacking down the left last time out, and I’d love to see Fabian keep getting forward.

(Side note: Why is inhaling laughing gas a big thing? Is that stuff actually bad for you? I don’t get this media circus.)

Gabby Agbonlahor being fit would be super nice — I’d rather him in the XI than Charles N’Zogbia — and it would be even nicer if no more center-halves decided to get injured this year.

Like, Villa have two fit ones. That’s not ideal, is it?

Fundamentally, we all feel really good about Villa right now. They just beat Spurs and Liverpool in back-to-back matches (both deservedly, too!) and we’re probably just three or four more points from securing safety.

I’ve seen a lot of people talk about this as a five-team relegation battle, moving on to the assumption we’ll find ourselves safe.

And while that’s probably the case, all of that coming together makes me extremely nervous about a game we shouldn’t be getting anything from.

It seems like we hit this storm every year with one of the big sides. We’re playing well, they’re not, yet Villa still manage to fall in glorious fashion, sparking a run from our opponents. They can’t be complacent with what they’ve accomplished.

Factor in some of the fixtures below us — Burnley and Leicester play while QPR host "free three points" West Ham — and Villa could be right back in the scrap in 24 hours when we kick off.

But perhaps more than just the points result, I want to keep this feel-good environment going around Villa Park, and getting a result would desperately help that.

If Villa get a draw tomorrow, I’ll be thrilled. In an ideal world, the Claret and Blues take four points from these next two matches, and can play out the final month with one — and eventually both — eye firmly planted on the FA Cup Final in five weeks’ time.

For now though? It’ll be a tough ask for Villa to get the points.

But Sherwood may very well have the troops up for it.