An inside view on Saturday's opponents
Ahead of Saturday's clash at Villa Park, Bluemoon caught up with Damian Dugdale from the The Villa Blog to get the lowdown on the opposition...
What are your expectations for this season?
Realistic expectations for this season have to be to finish in the top half. Is that right for a club of our stature is another question, but after the past two seasons, the new players brought in and the addition of Roy Keane to the back-room staff, it's the minimum.
Are you happy with the manager?
Overall, yes. On a day to day basis and with some of the things he says, no. But I truly believe he wants Aston Villa to succeed and that he has a vision and that he's working towards it. I'm not sure that can be said of some of the managers in the Premier League, as in I'm not sure many see themselves managing the club they are in in five years time. I think Lambert sees himself at Villa in five and ten years and that counts for a lot. And this season, so far anyway, we've tried to play football the right way.
Who are your key players?
If looking at it in the sense of who is going to make a difference or play an important role, I'd say our spine; Guzan, Vlaar, Delph and Beneteke. But others play an important role too and this season the football has started off well, so it's not just about the spine, it's about the players that make up the entire team. We look more like a team this season than we have under the previous two seasons under Lambert.
Were you happy with the business conducted during the transfer window?
In short yes. We brought in the experience needed, as in older heads, but also some Premier League experience with younger players. We lacked Premier League experience and the likes of Cleverley and Cissokho provide that with youth and vitality and the likes of Senderos and Richardson provide it with some maturity.
Are there any rising stars in the squad that we might not have heard of?
Before the season started you might not have heard of Jack Grealish, but after coming on and making a couple of substitute appearances this season, the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United are rumoured to be interested. He's 19 years old, plays as an attacking midfield or winger and has legs the size of tree trunks. He's one of several players over the years that have blossomed in our academy and gone on and done okay out on loan, but is now making the step up to first team football, but there is something about Grealish that makes you believe he's going to make it and make it big.
Your Achilles heel?
The final third at the moment. We do well keeping hold of the ball between our defenders and our midfielders can drop deep to pick up the ball but in terms of movement and ability in the final third, we don't seem to have much. There is talk that Benteke might be back for this match (although I think we could be rushing him if it happens) and he will provide an outlet, but I also worry that it means we start hitting long to him and revert back to the type of football that might win you the odd game but isn't going to win you much else.
If you could have any City player in your team who would you choose?
Is this a serious question? Okay, if it is and I only had to pick one, I'd pick Yaya Toure. But that would never happen. Could we get James Milner or Frank 'The Bank' Lampard .. maybe. In the real world, Milner. The man is a machine and he'd play for us week in week out, just like he used to. And he'll be loved by a group of men in a way he never though possible.
What is your perception of City as a club?
On the face of it, you're perceived as a club with an extremely rich owner who will do what he has to do to win things, but as the rules of the game don't stop him from doing this and all he is doing is bending them, I'm all for it. I'd like the rules of the game to change so it can't happen, but as that will likely never happen, I'm all for it happening to us too.
But I also like what you're doing away from the game. Your website, when it came out a while ago was awesome, all the video content you create is great and what you're doing in the community and in developing the local area is hugely impressive. You get the impression that it's about actually doing something positive rather than doing something for PR, which is what our club tends to do. Something small and milk it, while your club do big things and let the actions speak for themselves.
Likely starting XI for the game, and score prediction?
We'll probably start with Guzan, Hutton, Senderos, Baker and Cissokho with Cleverley, Delph and Westood in midfield. Up front it will probably be Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor. Although as mentioned above, I think Benteke might be getting rushed in, so if he doesn't start it will be Richardson (maybe even Richardson for Westwood, if Benteke does start).
I can't predict a defeat, it goes against everything that is holy about football. It'll be a draw and you'll be grateful for the point!