Club Focus – Aston Villa – Eastlands clash a must-win in race for fourth

With almost a week passed since Villa’s last Premier League game, the players should be rested and ready for their tough away fixture against Manchester City this Saturday. A win for Villa would certainly put them in serious contention for the Champions League place.

Martin O’Neill identified the fixture as a must win for his Villans, suggesting that his side have what it takes to overcome the Citizens at Eastlands: “We will go to Manchester City with loads of confidence after taking 13 points from 15. We know we have to win and the only way we have been able to do that is going at teams. Our away record is terrific. People will say that is because we have pace in the side and are capable of beating teams on the break and I would not disagree with that.” Although Manchester City have been able to sign Marton Fulop – Sunderland’s third choice goalkeeper – on an emergency loan deal, the Villans will need to take their chances against the goalkeeper who is lacking in match sharpness. Additionally, with Emmanuel Adebayor and Gareth Barry doubts for Roberto Mancini, the Midlanders could go to Eastlands against a weakened City side and O’Neill’s men will need to capitalise on this.

Former City player, Richard Dunne, believes that the pressure will be on the home side this Saturday, “It’s big for City. They’re in front of their home crowd. They have to be in the Champions League, so the pressure’s probably on them. They’re expected to go out and win.” He then added, “Whereas us, we’ve come from nowhere over the last couple of weeks and we’ve given ourselves a chance. We’re going in on a high we’ve kept a couple of clean sheets and we’ve won our last three so we’re looking forward to it.” Not only would a win maintain Villa’s impressive form, it would prove that they have what it takes to beat the best teams in the league, emphasising their strength for a top four finish.

James Milner, like his teammate Dunne, was voted in the PFA Team of the Year. After an impressive season at Villa, the England international is on Manchester City’s must-have list this summer. Stiliyan Petrov believes that the Villa manager and chairman need to convince Milner that remaining at Villa would be the best option: “If the club wants to go forward we need to keep our best players like any big team – Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool” the Villa captain said. “They’ve tried to hold on to their best players and I hope our chairman and manager will do their best to keep our good players as well. It is very important we keep James. We have got a lot of talent at this club, which has cost a lot of money. We need to make sure they are happy and stay here.” The Villa skipper later added that the Villans must “match his ambition”, and a victory against Manchester City would give Villa an advantage over the Citizens and could even mean that the Villans finish above their top rivals come the end of the season. However, if Milner is chosen by Fabio Capello for the England squad in the summer, perhaps teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal may attempt to snatch the Villa starlet.

In terms of the World Cup , O’Neill is apprehensive about his England hopefuls. For Emile Heskey, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Stephen Warnock, they only have two more games to impress the England Head Coach. O’Neill said: Capello has seen enough now to make up his mind. He will have seen enough from Milner to know that he will be an asset. I wouldn’t know what his recent view of Young is, but I think he has been terrific. We’ve got Gabby and Emile. Emile probably has a head start in that he has done things in the Capello reign that will stand him in good stead. And Stephen Warnock has had a great season for us, done exceptionally well.” It is difficult to estimate which other Villa players will be chosen for the World Cup and time will well when Capello announces his final 23-man squad.

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