Aston Villa face Manchester City as both teams aim for the Big Four

Aston Villa v Manchester City, Premier League, October 5, 2009

Aston Villa 9/5; Draw 11/5; Manchester City 6/4

Monday night football returns to the Premier League this week, as two of the great pretenders to crash the Big Four party face-off. For much of last season it was Aston Villa who were pushing hard to crack the division elite, and the Midlanders will be keen to show that they have not been superseded this term by big-spending Manchester City.

Villa’s start to the season has been patchy. After an opening day defeat to Wigan which took the Villains by surprise, Martin O’Neill’s charges appeared to have turned a corner straining together a run of four consecutive wins. But the wheels fell off again last weekend, Villa falling to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Blackburn. But despite those two defeats against teams they would expect to beat, Villa find themselves just three points behind City and can leapfrog the billionaires with a two-goal victory.

If they are to do so, then Villa will have to win with a team nursing their fair share of injuries. Steve Sidwell remains touch-and-go after suffering a  hamstring strain that caused him to miss the defeat at Rovers last time out. Luke Young is unlikely to start his season until after the international break as he builds up his fitness, while Curtis Davies and Stewart Downing remain long term absentees.

Nigel Reo-Coker, whose falling out with his manager was splashed all across the papers in recent weeks, will again find himself out of the picture as his days at Villa Park draw to a close.

Forced to juggle his troops, O’Neill has tended to switch from his preferred 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 formation for the big games. Should the Irishman employ such tactics against the Citizens, John Carew could well find himself dropping to the bench while young England stars James Milner (7/2 to score) and Ashley Young (10/1 to score last) are commissioned with providing supporting roles for lone forward Gabriel Agbonlahor (6/1 to score first). Such tactics worked a treat against Liverpool and in the Midlands derby.

Further back, Villa’s newly formed backline of Cuellar, Dunne, Collins, Warnock should get another run-out, with former City skipper Richard Dunne to face his old team-mates for the first time since his £6million switch to Villa in August. (Villa are 15/8 to keep a clean sheet.)

Dunne is not the only player facing their former employer. Gareth Barry returns to Villa Park for the first time since his £12 million move to City, who have won five of their opening six games, though this is their first away game since they lost 4-3 at Old Trafford.

The big news however is the return of Emmanuel Adebayor (15/2 to score a brace) after serving his three match suspension. The Togolese forward is sure to start against Villa, while Carlos Tevez, fresh from a two goal match-winning performance against West Ham, and fellow forward Craig Bellamy, in the form of his life, will both be vying for the other striking role. Roque Santa Cruz is also available after his recent period on the sidelines. (5/2 for Bellamy or Tevez to score first.)

Stephen Ireland is a doubt for City having missed Monday’s 3-1 win over the Hammers with a virus, while Robinho remains on the sidelines and will definitely not appear in the match.

101predicts: Aston Villa 2 – Manchester City 3 (28/1)

Aston Villa 9/5; Draw 11/5; Manchester City 6/4

Full match odds here.