Manchester City Vs Aston Villa, Tue 28 Dec 2010

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Roberto Mancini accepts Manchester City's meeting with Aston Villa holds special significance for Gareth Barry - but he wants it to be memorable for a different reason.

After 10 years' service at Villa Park, Barry quit for City at the start of last season, believing the Blues had more chance of breaking the top-four cartel than the midlands outfit.

The 29-year-old has been proved correct too.

As Villa languish in the wrong half of the table under Gerard Houllier, City are motoring along in second spot, a position they consolidated thanks to an impressive win at Newcastle that Barry set in motion with his first-minute opener.

It is justification for Barry's transfer, which would be further enhanced if City can record a triumph over his former club that would take them top of the table, even if that may only for a couple of hours.

"It will be a special game for Gareth," said Mancini. "I haven't spoken to him about it but probably it will be different because he played for Aston Villa for a long time. That is the nature of football."

For Mancini, the more important factor is that his team should not falter, as they did in a similar situation against Everton last week.

If they do, it would almost certainly end their title challenge, given City will have played three extra game than United at the final whistle.

Indeed, given his side have lost twice at home and dropped unexpected points to Blackburn and Birmingham at Eastlands, Mancini accepts it is probably the area that could do with most improvement.

"We must do better at home," he said. "Last week we were disappointed because if we had beaten Everton, we would have been top on Christmas Day for the first time in 81 years.

"For that reason it was important to restart with a victory. But the season is very long and we must improve again."

Kolo Toure will return from a one-match ban.

Joleon Lescott performed creditably in Toure's absence at Newcastle but it would be a huge surprise if the Ivorian was not handed an instant recall.

Villa winger Marc Albrighton has called on his team-mates to pull together after admitting the club are in "a bit of a mess."

Villa slumped to a fourth defeat in five Barclays Premier League matches with a 2-1 loss against a Tottenham side that played for more than an hour with 10 men.

These are troubled times for Villa and Houllier and it does not get any easier over the next few days with trips to Manchester City and Chelsea awaiting.

With Villa 15th and just four points above the relegation zone, there lurks a very real prospect they could be in the bottom three come their next home game with Sunderland in eight days' time.

Asked if Villa were embroiled in a relegation battle, Albrighton pulled no punches as he said: "We have to look at it and think 'yeah, it is'. The table doesn't lie.

"Against a lot of teams we've played well and created chances, but we've not tucked them away, and we've leaked goals at the back we probably shouldn't have.

"That's why we are down there. If you don't win games then you are going to be down there, and we have to do something about that.

"It's going to be tough to get out of it, but there's nobody who can put that right other than the players.

"We just have to stick together as a group and hopefully we'll pull something out of the bag.

"We've got ourselves in a bit of a mess and we just need to pull together to get ourselves out of it."

Despite his age and inexperience, Albrighton knows he has to look within himself to help Villa, rather than rely on the older heads around him to pull him through such a situation.

"We know we've quality in the dressing room," added Albrighton. "The older players have to play a part, but then there's nobody out there who doesn't deserve to be playing, so everybody on that pitch needs to pull their weight.

"We can't pass responsibility. Every one of us has to take on that responsibility.

"Against Manchester City we just have to pull our socks up and get stuck in again.

"We're going there with not a lot to lose. People are going to be expecting us to get done over, but from our point of view, we are going there to win a football game."

Houllier has doubts over Emile Heskey (ankle), Ashley Young (knee) and Luke Young (groin).

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Manchester City
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Aston Villa

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