As expected, Manchester City are once again challenging for the Premier League title and are still on track to potentially complete a treble this season. With that in mind, what are the expectations for City within the fan base this season following last season’s accomplishments?
Amos Murphy: Following up on last season’s achievements was always going to be a near-impossible task for the players and Pep Guardiola. How do you match a third-straight Premier League title, an FA Cup win against Manchester United and the club’s first-ever Champions League triumph?
Being said, City are a club who have made winning big trophies a hobby in recent years, with the standards and expectations as high as ever this time around. It’s one thing getting to the top, but it’s another maintaining your position there and that’s what City are trying to do this season. That sentiment is shared among the supporter base too.
Although City have the best goal differential in the league, Pep Guardiola’s side have conceded more goals (16) than the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Newcastle United - are there any concerns from a defensive point of view?
AM: It was the defence that won City the treble last season, Guardiola said so himself. And while defensive errors have cost City at times this season, all 11 players on the pitch are responsible for contributing to stability at the back. That hasn’t been the case this season, with City’s handbrake-off approach having caused plenty of problems, particularly in transitions, leading to some head-scratching moments. A frontline of Jeremy Doku, Phil Foden, Julian Alvarez and Erling Haaland is great fun when it’s working, but don’t expect it to impose any kind of control on the game.
Erling Haaland will always get a majority of the plaudits when it comes to his goalscoring capabilities, but Julian Alvarez is certainly a player that can be just as dangerous as the Norwegian on his day. What have you made of the Argentine’s time thus far at City and what do you think his ceiling is?
AM: Julian Alvarez is great. He’s been one of City’s best players this season, doing so while playing out of position. Plugging the gap left behind by Kevin De Bruyne’s absence hasn’t been easy, but Alvarez has - at times - been sensational. He’s a real talent, who doesn’t just get the most out of his own game, but also helps increase the level of the players around him. He’s a real talent.
Aside from a 1-1 back in September of 2022, Aston Villa have lost 9 of their last 10 matches against Manchester City. What sort of match are you expecting to see at Villa Park on Wednesday?
AM: While the bookies might not see it this way, I actually have Aston Villa as slight favourites heading into this clash. Crazy, I know! But the mood isn’t a positive one for City right now, with recent matches highlighting the fragilities in the side. The same cannot be said about Aston Villa, who are flying high under Unai Emery and should really be fancying their chances at Villa Park on Wednesday evening. I’m expecting an open, frantic and slightly chaotic affair, which will probably suit both side’s attacks, but no so much their backlines.
With Rodri and Jack Grealish each receiving a yellow card during Sunday’s match against Tottenham Hotspur, both players will be unavailable to feature on Wednesday. Keeping that in mind, which eleven players do you expect Guardiola to select?
AM: Maybe Pep Guardiola himself? Things are a little bit desperate at City right now with injuries and players only just returning to full fitness. Throw in a couple of suspensions and City’s small squad is being tested to the limit. Jack Grealish’s absence is a worry, but the Rodri suspension is the one that will cause City the most problems. Expect a combination of players to come into the fold, with the likes of Rico Lewis and Mateo Kovacic options for Guardiola to pick from. Elsewhere, Nathan Ake should start from the off, John Stones might be back in action and Phil Foden will likely retain his spot in the forward line.
Feels incredibly surreal to be mentioning this, but Unai Emery’s side have a chance to go above City in the table with a win on Wednesday, but of course, that’s easier said than done when it comes to any Pep Guardiola side - what is your score prediction?
AM: Aston Villa have been fantastic this season and they’re deserving of all the praise thrown their way. The transformation under Emery has been astonishing and he’s proven himself as one of the Premier League and Europe’s top managers. Bar Guardiola and possibly Jurgen Klopp, he’s right up there as the best in the division. But there’s no test quite like the reigning champions and the treble-winners. A victory for Aston Villa in this clash and Champions League dreams may start to become a reality.