Mark Hughes feels his City side are in much better shape than the last time he was in the dug-out at Villa Park.
That occasion was the opening league game of the 2008/09 Barclays Premier League campaign, which ended with Martin O’Neill’s side on top to the tune of a 4-2 win.
City’s goals that day came from Elano and Vedran Corluka, both of whom have subsequently left for pastures new, and indeed the City squad for tonight will be almost totally unrecognisable from the one that Hughes had to choose from on that day.
Looking back to August 17th 2008, he said: “It was a bit of an eye-opener in terms of how we were able to cope with the problems Villa can cause. They have added to their squad, so have we but I feel we are stronger compared to the last time we were at Villa Park.
“We’ve come a long way since then, but it will still be a big test. Villa at home will ask questions, you have to stand up to the challenge and have the answers. It won’t be easy, but we go there in great heart.”
The 2009 summer transfer window saw a bit of traffic between the City of Manchester Stadium and Villa Park, with Gareth Barry and Stuart Taylor making the journey north while Richard Dunne headed in the opposite direction. Both clubs also have aspirations to shake up the established order at the top of the league table, as Hughes acknowledged:
“We’re two clubs with similar aspirations, Aston Villa have spent a significant amount of money themselves and they have made their intentions well known. Both clubs feel they have the capacity to challenge at the top end in the future, and that has to be healthy for the Premier League.
“It’s another challenge, it gets said many times but it is never easy whoever you go up against in the Premier League. They are a good side, they will put you under pressure by getting the ball into the box a lot, and there should be a great atmosphere.
“We are a team they need to beat if they have the sort of season they hope to have, so it’s a big challenge but one we are relishing. We are playing with confidence and we want to stay in the same vein we have been able to produce so far. We have been to difficult places and got positive results, and we hope that does not change at Villa.
“There will be personalities and stories running alongside the game itself, but for us the story we want afterwards is that we’ve won the game and that we have continued to look strong.”
One of those stories is that the Blues will line up against their former skipper, who moved to the Midlands after nearly a decade of wonderful service to City, something his former boss happily recognises.
“We wished him well,” Hughes added, “we gave him the opportunity to further his career and I’m sure he’s grateful for that. That won’t stop him trying to beat City because he’s a professional and that’s what he will want to do. I don’t think there will be a point to prove to anyone from Richard’s perspective. He was a very good player for City over a long and at times difficult, and that will always be remembered.”