Manchester City v Aston Villa: De Bruyne to clinch the crown

Manchester City must beat Aston Villa to make sure of securing the Premier League title, and Kevin Hatchard believes they'll win an entertaining game...

City looking to save their season

Football at the top level can be demanding, thrilling and cruel, and few know that better than Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. The Catalan coach is on the cusp of leading his club to a fourth Premier League crown in five seasons, but like Bayern in Germany and PSG in France, the league title has become a crown City are expected to wear at the end of each and every season.

That's not to denigrate City's achievement (their style of football and level of consistency is truly remarkable), but Guardiola and his players are victims of their own success. The trophy they truly crave is the Champions League, but again like PSG, the almost unbearable pressure of that quest seems to take its toll time and time again.

At one stage, City were a massive 14 points clear of Liverpool in the title race, and now that advantage has been trimmed to a single point. If City were to slip up (a draw or a defeat, coupled with a Liverpool win over Wolves, will see the Reds take the title), it would make Premier League history, as no club in the PL era has ever been overhauled from such a strong position.

And yet City tend to flourish in these situations. In 2019, they fell behind on the final day against Brighton, but were only down for a minute as they came back to win 4-1 and stay a point ahead of Liverpool. It's ten years since the most famous title-race climax of the Premier League era, as Sergio Aguero's winner against QPR indelibly stamped him (and Sky commentator Martin Tyler) on the football consciousness forever more.

City haven't lost in the Premier League since mid-February, and since that 3-2 defeat to Spurs they have won eight and drawn three of their 11 top-flight games. At home, the champions have won 11 of their last 13 league matches.

There are still personnel issues in defence. Ruben Dias is out, while Kyle Walker and John Stones are surprisingly back in training, but may not be fully fit. Nathan Ake is struggling with an ankle issue.

Can Gerrard be Liverpool's saviour again?

Having rescued Liverpool time and time again as a player, Steven Gerrard can now help his beloved Reds as a manager.

His Aston Villa side has little to play for, but they way they battled against Burnley in a 1-1 draw in midweek suggests they aren't on the beach just yet. Gerrard is the kind of intense competitor that wouldn't allow that anyway, but his emotional connection with Liverpool adds a little extra ahead of this game.

Of course, it's not all about Gerrard doing his boyhood club a favour. Villa know a win could take them up a few places in the league if other results go their way, and that has financial implications.

It has felt for some time that the West Midlands club has been in a holding pattern - Gerrard is assessing his players, and putting building blocks in place for next term. A permanent deal for Philippe Coutinho feels like a statement, but perhaps the new long-term deal signed by excellent youngster Jacob Ramsey will prove to be more important in the long run.

Villa lack consistency. From Boxing Day onwards they had a run of one win in seven, then won three straight games, then lost four consecutive matches, but their only defeat in the last six top-flight outings has been a tough 2-1 loss to Liverpool. Their last 12 away games reinforces that notion of instability, with six wins, five defeats and a draw.

Leon Bailey, Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause are all expected to miss the match with injury. Having played on Thursday, Gerrard will presumably look to freshen up his side, with former Liverpool duo Coutinho and Danny Ings in line for recalls.

City will get what they need

Although they faltered in the Champions League against Real Madrid, City just don't feel the pressure in quite the same way domestically, and I just can't see them slipping up here. Villa are a good side with plenty of motivation, but they lost home and away against Liverpool and were beaten 2-1 at Villa Park by City. They have lost home and away against Chelsea and have lost to both Tottenham and Arsenal in North London.

City are borderline unbackable in the Match Odds market at 1.19, but you can boost that price to 2.7 on the Sportsbook by backing City to win and both teams to score. Guardiola's side have conceded at least once in ten of their last 20 games, while Villa have scored in 29 of their 37 PL games this term.

King Kevin will make his mark

Kevin De Bruyne has had another sensational season for City in the league, with 15 goals and seven assists. He put on a virtuoso display in the 5-1 win at Wolves, scoring four goals, and he has found the net in seven of his last 14 competitive appearances.

You can back De Bruyne to score on the Exchange at 2.46.

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