New Aston Villa manager Remi Garde could hardly have been given a tougher first game at the helm, with Premier League leaders Manchester City providing the opposition in front of a capacity crowd on Sunday afternoon.
Appointing somebody with no experience of having managed in England does appear to be a major risk by the West Midlands side, especially given the predicament they are in, but Garde does have some pedigree in his native France, winning two domestic honours while in charge of Lyon. This represents an altogether different test, and he would have seen the scale of the task which lies in front of him when watching from the stands in Monday’s 3-1 defeat to Tottenham.
Under the stewardship of Kevin MacDonald, the team did themselves no favours in North London, conceding a very soft early goal and rarely threatening until deep into the second half when a spell of slightly increased pressure led to Jordan Ayew scoring with the help of a deflection. The hope that goal brought was extinguished in added time, and the 3-1 loss means they have lost nine out their last 10 Premier League games and have just four points, a position from which few teams have escaped demotion.
If Manchester City play at anything like the level they reached in Tuesday’s Champions League victory away to Sevilla, they should have few problems overcoming the bottom club. They were full of quality throughout in Spain as they booked their place in the knockout stages of that competition with two games still to spare, with manager Manuel Pellegrini’s surprising decision to omit the in-form Kevin de Bruyne from his starting line-up vindicated emphatically.
Raheem Sterling had already managed a hat-trick against Bournemouth earlier in the season, but his display during the week was his best for any team in any competition for some time. He ran the show throughout as part of a very confident looking front three, while behind him the midfield trio of Fernando, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure all had too much for their outclassed opponents. This one should be reasonably comfortable for City, but they will be wary having only just seen off Norwich City in their last league match.
Gabriel Agbonlahor was forced off at half-time at Tottenham, so he will be assessed by Aston Villa. Micah Richards is back from suspension, and there may be a recall for Idrissa Gueye.
Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta are still out for Man City, who are boosted by the return of Gael Clichy and Fabian Delph.
Played for both – Gareth Barry: One of the Premier League’s leading appearance makers, Barry began his long association with Aston Villa in 1998 when he made his debut as a 17-year-old, eventually becoming captain and remaining at the club for 11 years before his desire to win trophies led to a move to Man City. He achieved what he wanted, winning the Premier League in 2012 after claiming the FA Cup a year earlier.