After unceremoniously navigating past Wycombe Wanderers, Aston Villa are tasked with taking on defending Premier League champions Manchester City in the FA Cup fifth round proper.
Villa Park will play host to the clash against the Citizens on Saturday, and Rémi Garde's side will be looking to make it six games without a loss. It's been a busy Cup week for Manuel Pellegrini's team, with the Sky Blues beating Everton 3-1 to reach the League Cup Final on Wednesday.
For Villa to progress, the midfield will have to maintain its high level of play. Idrissa Gana is finally coming into his own, and Ashley Westwood really performed well against West Bromwich Albion last weekend. Pair a functional midfield unit with a competent, organised defence, and Villa have a recipe for keeping their opponents off the scoresheet.
It may seem like a good opportunity to rotate the squad, but keeping this momentum going is important. Even if the season is dead and Villa are buried as far as Premier League survival goes, it's a chance to start a cup run and give the fans something to cheer for during a tough time.
Defensively, Jores Okore and Joleon Lescott should keep their places. Micah Richards played well at right back against the Baggies, but Leandro Bacuna has also been solid lately. This could be an opportunity to go with five at the back, even though City don't regularly use two strikers, as Pellegrini likes to play a 4-2-3-1 formation. Having pacy defenders capable of keeping up with City's tricky wingers will be key.
Since it's a cup match, we can expect to see Brad Guzan back between the sticks for Villa. Hopefully a good performance from him could help exorcise the demons of last season's blunder that led to an easy tap in for Sergio Agüero, in addition to this year's miseries.
The reason I mentioned playing five at the back is due to the lack of striking options. Play more defenders, and there's less room on the pitch for attackers. Simple. Libor Kozák clearly isn't fully fit, and Rudy Gestede picked up an injury as a substitute last time out.
Jordan Ayew definitely starts, and his skill set could work perfectly against City's less-than-ideal likely centre back pairing of Nicolás Otamendi and Elaquim Mangala. These two are decent players, but it's been a disfunctional unit at times for City despite only conceding 23 times in the league. It just should be a far smaller number.
Villa will be on the back foot for most of the match, so it's important to have as big an influence as possible in midfield, and to try to play out from the back. Rather than launching long balls, keeping possession could swing the match in the favour of Garde's men.
It likely will come down to a 50-50 challenge, or a referee's decision. Despite this team playing at a level leaps and bounds ahead of what we saw under Tim Sherwood in the fall, the fact remains that they're not very good. Manchester City shouldn't have any problem at all dispatching them. But it's the FA Cup. Anything can happen.
Machester City (4-2-3-1): Willy Caballero; Bacary Sagna, Nicolás Otamendi, Elaquim Mangala, Aleksandar Kolorov; Fabian Delph, Fernando; Jesús Navas, Yaya Touré, Samir Nasri; Sergio Agüero.
Aston Villa (5-<4>-1): Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Micah Richards, Jores Okore, Ciaran Clark, Aly Cissokho; Ashley Westwood, Jordan Veretout, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Carles Gil; Jordan Ayew.