For the second week in a row, Manchester City will play in front of the ESPN cameras on Monday night. Mark Hughes and his men will have the luxury of relaxing like the rest of us on Sunday afternoon and perhaps some of the squad will take the opportunity to watch Chelsea and Liverpool do battle. They will be well aware of the fact that regardless of the outcome, they will have the chance to capitalise and potentially leapfrog one of their rivals in the hunt for a Champions League place. However Hughes may instead think it wise to impose a blanket ban on watching this game, for fear that his players take their eye off the task in hand – attempting to come away from a very tricky trip to Villa Park with three points in the bag.
Hughes is long enough in the tooth to know that his side must retain 100% focus in every match they play this season. Although there has been much hype following City’s eventful matches against Arsenal and Manchester United last month, the manager will be keen to consign it all to the history books and start October in the same fashion as they ended last month. The three points earned against West Ham were done so in an impressive manner and a similar performance will be required on Monday. While many people this season will judge City purely on their performances against the ‘Big Four’, games such as Monday’s are arguably more important.
If you analyse the results of their city neighbours last season it is plain to see why. United amassed only five points from a possible 18 on offer against the other top four sides and yet still managed to retain their crown. While the big games grab the big headlines, the consistent results are the foundations for a genuine title push. Taking a step back, a realistic aim for City this season is to break the stranglehold of the top four and qualify for the Champions League. Aston Villa are one of three others with a similar goal in mind, along with the likes of Spurs and Everton in this category. Martin O’Neill’s men made a decent attempt at this last season before fading towards the end and will be aiming to go a stage further this time around. City’s spending spree and excellent start to the season has totally overshadowed these other clubs efforts but you simply cannot just forget about them altogether.
The Sky Blues’ first objective this season should be to firmly establish themselves as the premier force outside of last season’s top four and this in itself will be no easy feat. If they are still going strong in March then, with the squad that Hughes has at his disposal, there is no reason why they cannot build on this and who knows, maybe even challenge for the title. But it should be one step at a time for City and next up is Monday’s game with Villa.
Some good news off the pitch for City is the outcome of Emmanuel Adebayor’s hearing in front of the FA regarding his improper conduct charge. It is reported that footage of Gary Neville celebrating a goal from the Manchester derby the following weekend may have been shown as part of a plea to avoid a further suspension for the Togo internationalist and it obviously did the trick as the former Arsenal man will receive a hefty fine but only a suspended ban.
Although available, Adebayor may have to make do with a place on the bench following some excellent performances from Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez in recent weeks, although Hughes may prefer to bring him straight back in to provide more of an aerial threat to Villa’s central defensive pairing. Stephen Ireland will be pushing for a recall after being given extra time to recover from a mystery illness but it would be slightly harsh if Martin Petrov were he to be demoted to the bench after he capped an excellent first start of the season with a goal and an assist against the Hammers. A similar decision will have to made regarding the right-back slot after Pablo Zabaleta put in an assured display when chosen ahead of regular right-back, Micah Richards on Monday.
However, these are the type of difficult decisions that managers like having to make and if Hughes can mastermind a victory on Monday then City will have taken another massive step in the right direction.
Manchester City Club Focus
E.A. sports both sides of his game against Arsenal – September 15
City travel across town £100m-worth of talent lighter – September 18
Error-strewn defence to blame for derby-day heartbreak – September 22
Perfect opportunity to consolidate – September 25
The Real Deal – September 29
One step at a time – October 2