Manchester City might have a game in hand, but a 15-point deficit to Manchester United with less than a third of the season remaining would suggest the Premier League title is heading back to Old Trafford this season, although Citizens boss Roberto Mancini will urge his players not to rule out the possibility of catching their neighbours ahead of this evening’s trip to Villa Park to play Aston Villa.
Villans manager Paul Lambert will have his troops similarly motivated, albeit for an entirely different reason: Villa occupy the final relegation place on goal difference and were comfortably seen off 5-0 at the Etihad when the two teams met earlier in what has been a disastrous first season in charge for the former Norwich boss.
The omens look much better for Mancini than Lambert. Villa don’t have a very good recent record against City having lost five of the last six meetings between the two clubs and conceded four or more goals in three of their last five encounters with the reigning champions.
Mancini’s men therefore head into the game as the overwhelming 11/25 favourites to record back-to-back league wins, with the draw at 16/5, while just a sixth victory of the season for Villa has been priced at 25/4 in bwin’s 3Way football betting market.
Having gone down 3-1 in a shock defeat at Southampton three weeks ago, City have since secured successive victories: the first a comprehensive 4-0 win against Leeds United in the FA Cup; the second a confidence-boosting 2-0 success at home to Chelsea last Sunday courtesy of strikes from Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez.
Mancini will be relieved to have influential midfielder Toure back in the squad after his Africa Cup of Nations venture. The Ivory Coast international has been among the goals having found the net in his last two games and he’s a tempting 7/1 to score first, while he can be backed at 2/1 to score at anytime.
One of the main reasons for Villa’s predicament is their lack of goals, with only bottom club QPR having scored fewer this term than the Midlands club.
Villa have notched just 26 goals in 27 league matches this season, which makes for worrying reading considering they are welcoming the league’s meanest defence.
While Mancini’s City side haven’t been quite as free-scoring as they were last term – although they are still averaging just under two goals a game – they’ve remained defensively strong, conceding 24 goals in the league this campaign and recording 12 clean sheets.
Given City’s solidity and the Villans – Christian Benteke aside – being so ineffective in attack, backing the Blues to win to nil at 27/20 looks worth a play.
Meanwhile, nine of City’s games this season have seen the club go into the break in a leading position before going on to secure all three points, and they’ve found the net first in 16 of their matches so far this term, so it’s certainly worth considering Mancini’s men to be winning at half-time and going on to secure maximum points at 21/20.
With relegation looking a very real possibility for Villa, they’ll certainly be going for the win in this encounter and City will need to be on top of their game.
But with Toure back pulling the strings in the middle of the park, they should return to the north-west with maximum points.