Preview: Aston Villa v Manchester City (K.O: 17:30 GMT)

What a difference a week can make for a clubs state of mind.  At the turn of the year many would be forgiven for wondering if Houllier had much of a future at Villa Park, let alone that Randy Lerner would back him to the tune of £24 million for Darren Bent. Hard luck Steve Bruce.  Indeed, so much has been happening in a window where fans are used to the opposite that there was little time to even digest the capture of the long admired Jean Makoun from Lyon.  Perhaps we finally have a manager who is willing to spend the money on the best he can get, rather than trying to get as many players for the money that’s available.

Manchester City come to Villa Park tonight with undoubtedly their strongest squad in their erratic involvement with the Premier League.  Their spending has been widely publicised, and whilst not all of their acquisitions appear entirely prudent, they have a squad oozing with goals and options.  Man City’s most recent purchase Dzeko comes with the backing of Steve MaClaren from Wolfsburg and will be looking to impress and justify a reported £27 million fee himself.  Having had the benefit of being a close follower of the Bundesliga and from living in Germany, I can assure you that Dzeko stands out – but that the week in week out competition of domestic football in Germany is not comparable to the Premiership right now.  But I would not discount the threat for one minute, he certainly knows where the net is.

And Villa fans are all too familiar with the likes of Tevez.  We must counter his play however we can, it might not be pretty, it need not be, but Tevez is utterly devastating going forward.  And it is worth noting that the Argentinian is one of only two strikers with a better goalscoring ratio than Bent – the other being Didier Drogba.  A major concern as an Aston Villa fan going into this game is that we haven’t got a settled back line.  Dunne is woefully short of form this season, Collins dives in, Cuellar plays a different position or is benched and Walker is a promising rookie.  The first half of the season was a catalogue of poor defending.  We cannot afford to gift teams like Manchester City opportunities if we are to progress.

And we have the return of old-boys Barry and Milner.  Whilst there is no guarantee that they’ll play I believe that they will be key, Barry less so,to any success that City enjoy.  Barry is calm and assured on the ball and will bring others into the match – his shortcoming is a criminal lack of pace – something that we have in abundance.  Milner represents a special talent.  A tireless work ethic, and for quite a squat player he has excellent drive.  As an Aston Villa player he was always the one to create something out of nothing, very much of the Gerrard or Lampard type, and naturally must be stopped.

Villa go into this game needing points.  The league table doesn’t lie and it would benefit us greatly to take something from this fixture.  It would provide as much a mental lift as anything else and would give great momentum going into a vital midweek fixture against Wigan.  Tonight Villa need to keep their cool, continue the improved passing and not be afraid to try to unlock Man City.  For all of the plaudits City receive about their attacking play, I am yet to be convinced about their back four.  This is a team that conceded three against Wolves recently.  What better an opportunity for our new striker to take advantage of?

The fans will play a role tonight – expectant – hopeful – but we must remain with the team.  There has been much grumbling on the terraces and at times rightly so, but for all of the questionable tactics and also the current league position, Houllier cannot be accused of not identifying our weaknesses and attempting to rectify them.  But tonight will be difficult, we are not going to waltz to the the top of the table on the basis of these signings – because make no mistake – this is a transition season for Aston Villa.

In terms of a prediction I would like to think we could keep the ship steady and at least manage a battling draw.  But you never know what a potent goalscorer can bring you, don’t they say that they turn your draws into victories..?  We can but hope.