Aston Villa have an incredibly tough game next week.
They face reigning champions Manchester City—a team who look bent but not broken, determined and fearless in the face of their early season slip-ups.
What can the Villans do to pull off an almighty upset to rock the relegation battle once more? Paul Lambert has a lot to consider.
Yaya Toure is back to form.
He carries the side when fit and remains one of the world's best players, so his presence at the African Cup of Nations 2013 for Ivory Coast seriously hurt Manchester City.
His first game back wasn't great, but after a little rest and shedding of jet lag, he's back to his beast-like outings once more.
He was a key factor in breaking down Chelsea's stubborn defensive outlook on Sunday and will look to make mincemeat of Aston Villa's significantly weaker midfield.
Should Paul Lambert man-mark him, should he stick two on him or should he use a fluid marking system in which the nearest man picks him up?
Could he use a suffoco in Andi Weimann?
Formations, formations, formations.
Paul Lambert is a known tinkerer, and he's used all sorts of shapes and systems for both Norwich City and Aston Villa in the English Premier League.
He's tried 4-4-1-1, 4-4-2, a midfield diamond, 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 so far, so who knows what he'll pull out of the bag for Manchester City.
A holding midfield pivot is usually a wise choice against a top-tier team, but are Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood physically able to cope with the pace and power of David Silva or Yaya Toure?
Fabian Delph will become a phenomenal footballer.
He was poached from Leeds United at an early age for a large sum and only significant injuries have held him back so far. He's finally worked his way into Lambert's team and his vertical presence and drive is an important factor in Aston Villa moving up the field.
But his defensive abilities aren't up to scratch. He picks up a lot of yellow cards—so many, in fact, that Villa fans hold a Delph booking sweepstakes on Twitter for each game and bet on the timing of the card—and his tracking needs work.
Delph's lapse in concentration cost Villa Santi Cazorla's winning goal at the Emirates as he let his man make a late run into the box Frank Lampard style. That's a huge concern.
If Ashley Westwood isn't physical enough to contain Yaya Toure and and Fabian Delph is prone to concentration errors, is January recruit Yacouba Sylla the answer?
The former Clermont Foot defensive midfielder is a big presence in midfield and has the athleticism to keep up. Whether he's technically able or even used to dealing with such a fast-paced game is unknown, as Lambert has very much eased him into games over the past month.
Fans are eager to see what he can offer, and a 4-3-3 with Sylla at the base could be a system of interest.
Or should we forget formations plans and tactical obscenities altogether? How about Aston Villa just go for it?
When Villa traveled to Old Trafford last season, Villa were widely expected to be crushed. They were (4-0), but the disappointing part was that then-manager Alex McLeish sent out a defensive 4-5-1 formation.
Questions arose whether that was really necessary, as they were never going to hold Manchester United even with 11 players on the goal line, so why not treat it as a free pass and give it a go?
Lambert could do the same. Match Manchester City's attacking outlook with his own. They're expected to lose, so what's the worse that can happen? They already lost 8-0 this season. The worst is done.
Here's a small sample of Villa fans' thinking:
@stighefootball ManCity play narrow. Width coming from fbs.Need to play wide & catch them on the counter.3 in the middle Sylla needs to play— Dave Richardson (@doc3d) February 26, 2013
And of course, your local friendly Manchester City fan had his say:
@stighefootball Rest Benteke.
— Dan Morehead (@Danny11M) February 26, 2013
@stighefootball If you want to give Vlaar a bit more time to recover, I'd be fine with that.— Dan Morehead (@Danny11M) February 26, 2013