The Premier League title will be at stake as Manchester City lock horns with Aston Villa on Sunday.

Despite enjoying a glittering career, Steven Gerrard had very few opportunities to help his beloved Liverpool win the Premier League titles throughout his professional spell at Anfield. But this Sunday, he will have the opportunity to do so, this time as Aston Villa manager, as his team takes on Manchester City at Etihad Stadium.

In the context of final day permutations and combinations, this is going to be a dead rubber affair for Aston Villa. The Villans are well away from the relegation scrap and at the same time, have no real hopes of finishing inside the first half of the league table.

But if Gerrard’s men manage to hold Manchester City to a point, it would enable Liverpool to complete what would be the biggest title heist in the history of the Premier League.

Heading into this final matchday, the two sides are currently separated by one point, with Man City only having a slender advantage. But a draw against Aston Villa means they could lose out on the league title if Liverpool win on their final day encounter against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

With a tally of 89 points, Liverpool would have won most of the league titles over the past two decades, but the fact that they are currently trailing by a point is a testament to the quality Manchester City possess and the consistency they have shown under Pep Guardiola.

But after a 2-2 draw with West Ham, the Catalan mastermind will expect nothing less than a victory as the hosts look to successfully defend their title for the second time in three years. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their all-important match-up at the Etihad this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Manchester City

Manchester City were heading into this game without Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ruben Dias. But it appears both Stones and Walker have made quick recoveries and could be fast-tracked into the starting eleven against Aston Villa on Sunday.

Given the importance of the game, Walker and Stones should get the nod in defence alongside Joao Cancelo and Aymeric Laporte. Guardiola will hope the return of these two individuals could go a long way in solidifying the base of the Man City backline that looked quite vulnerable against West Ham, with the ageing Fernandinho looking off the pace.

Things get interesting in midfield, where Guardiola has to make a decision between Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan, considering both Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne are guaranteed starters.

Judging by form, Silva should get the nod ahead in the starting eleven. But the Portuguese international can be utilised in an attacking position, which, in turn, could see Gundogan operating in central midfield. But we suspect Silva to be used in midfield as Man City need the extra creative firepower in order to breach the Villa backline.

If the prospect of De Bruyne and Silva in midfield was not enough, the Aston Villa defenders will have to deal with the in-form Gabriel Jesus in the final third. The Brazilian, in what could be his last game for the club, will be aiming to cap off his career at Etihad by helping his team win the league title.

Gabriel can expect support from Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling out wide, although it will not be surprising to see Jack Grealish getting the nod up against his former side.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Cancelo; Silva, Rodri, De Bruyne; Sterling, Jesus, Foden

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa are missing a few players of their own including Kortney Hause, Ezri Konsa and Leon Bailey. Steven Gerrard, though, has hinted he is going to make some rotation from the team that drew against Burnley in the last game, meaning we can expect a host of star players to be called into action.

Among them is Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian international will act as the creator-in-chief for Aston Villa, operating just behind the two central strikers in Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings, whose return to the starting eleven could improve Villans’ potency in front of goal.

In midfield, Marvelous Nakamba is hoping for a start. He should occupy the number six role, as he hopes to offer defensive support for the two supporting midfielders in Douglas Luiz and John McGinn.

Jacob Ramsey is a potential alternative to Luiz. But with Aston Villa likely to prioritise defending, we could see the more experienced and defence-minded Brazilian get the nod, although Ramsey can certainly make an appearance later in the second half.

Speaking of defence, Calum Chambers will continue to deputise for the injured Konsa, forming the heart of the four-man backline alongside Tyrone Mings. Attacking full-backs Matty Cash and Lucas Digne will have their task cut out against the Manchester City wide players, who like to remain out wide and offer width to the proceedings.

Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): Martinez; Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne; McGinn, Nakamba, Luiz; Coutinho; Ings, Watkins

Key Stats

  • Manchester City have won nine of their last ten Premier League games against Aston Villa (D1), including the last six in a row. Their last defeat to the Villans came at Villa Park in September 2013 (2-3).
  • Aston Villa have lost 15 of their last 16 away league games against Manchester City, losing each of the last 11 in a row since a 2-0 win in April 2007. This run of 11 is the Villans’ longest away losing streak against an opponent in their league history.
  • Aston Villa have won just one of their 21 Premier League away games against the league leaders (D3 L17), beating Leeds United 2-1 in January 2000. The Villans are winless in their last 16 such games (D2 L14), losing the last seven by an aggregate score of 21-1.
  • Manchester City have only lost their final league game in one of the last 13 campaigns (W10 D2), going down 3-2 at home to Norwich in 2012/13.
  • Aston Villa beat Chelsea 2-1 on MD38 last season – they’ve not won their final league game in consecutive campaigns since 1996/97 and 1997/98, with the second victory back then coming against that season’s champions (1-0 vs Arsenal).

Player to Watch

Kevin de Bruyne

There have been a lot of discussions surrounding the merits of handing Kevin De Bruyne the Premier League Player of the Season Award by the FA. But people often seem to forget how the Belgian international has performed in crunch games for Manchester City throughout the course of the season, despite “only” racking up 15 goals and seven assists this term.

De Bruyne will be asked to step up to the plate once again when Manchester City take on Aston Villa on Sunday. His creative essence coupled with his ability to make something out of nothing could go a long way in helping the Cityzens get over the line and seal their fourth league title in five years.

Another player worth keeping an eye on is Coutinho. Gerrard has made extra efforts to sign the Brazilian permanently and performing in this crunch final encounter could be an ideal way to cap off a promising season while dropping an immense favour on his former team Liverpool.

Prediction

Manchester City 4-0 Aston Villa

Nerves will be jangling when Manchester City players take the field on Sunday. But despite the magnitude of this contest, the hosts have the experience and the quality they need to outperform Villa, especially in front of the home crowd.

In fact, it is Aston Villa who may struggle under pressure and find it difficult to contain the mighty Man City attack that could stretch them apart using their wide attackers. The key for the Villans will be to keep De Bruyne at bay, but with the in-form Jesus, Silva and Sterling also causing problems, we expect the visitors to succumb to a defeat.

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