Troubled Aston Villa appear destined for heavy defeat at Manchester City
A fourth consecutive defeat seems certain for Aston Villa as the club prepares itself to bow out of the Premier League disgracefully.
Saturday's opposition are Manchester City and, historically, Villa have always suffered when visiting the Etihad Stadium.
One-sided defeats have been customary in recent seasons. The club has lost its last eight fixtures at City and several of those have been by large margins -- 4-0 in December 2010 and May 2014; 4-1 in October 2011 and 5-0 in November 2012.
Villa made a fight of it last April, coming from 2-0 down to draw level thanks to a rare Carlos Sanchez goal -- the only one of his career at the club -- and another from Tom Cleverley before Fernandinho grabbed a late winner. That game is best remembered for the appalling error from goalkeeper Brad Guzan, whose hopeless miskick gifted Sergio Aguero the opener after a matter of minutes and seriously affected his form and confidence. The American lost his first-team place because of it, missing out on an FA Cup Final appearance as a result.
Guzan has been unconvincing this season but regained his starting spot for Tuesday's 3-1 home defeat to Everton. His recall owed more to Remi Garde's desire for change than any significant return to the form, with the Villa manager desperately running out of ideas to halt a string of defeats. Neither Guzan's inclusion, nor the use of a three-man central defence, made any difference to the team's ability to compete competently.
Villa are highly unlikely to improve enough to deny City. The scoreline really depends entirely on how well Manuel Pellegrini's team play. Garde's best hope is that City are somehow affected by a combination of factors -- a continued post-Capital One Cup hangover; half a mind on the looming second leg of their Champions League tie. Perhaps a dip in confidence after the midweek mauling by Liverpool?
That's clutching at straws. While the league title remains in reach still, City will view this one as a must-win, and they'll no doubt come out strongly. It could be all over as a contest by half-time.
Too negative? Yes, but that's the reality of Villa's situation. This team and club currently have few redeeming features. Barely a few days pass without some form of damning media coverage: The Telegraph has featured stories of chief executive Tom Fox running risk of losing his job, among others, and also of the squad being "split in two" as players question Garde's management.
The focus on Villa's demise is so intense, so gleeful, that you might be forgiven for forgetting two other clubs will also be relegated this season. It's relentless.
Garde insisted during his prematch news conference that his squad was a united one, but that surely cannot be completely accurate. These players have not gelled since the season began under previous coach Tim Sherwood, and there are obvious problems. How else to explain the fact that Bournemouth, with a squad almost exclusively new to the Premier League this season, have collected double the number of points that Villa have managed in 2015-16?
Villa's players, clearly, have not been "pulling together."
Sheer team spirit and a stubborn attitude to be beaten easily can go a long way in football, even in the top flight. There will be some pretty ordinary teams in terms of ability who will finish comfortably clear of the relegation zone. Villa are lacking in just about every department, which is why this team will finish bottom of the league, and why it will be brushed aside by City without much difficulty at all.
Kevin Hughes covered Premier League football at Match magazine and was later deputy editor of Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @KevHughesie.