Manchester City are determined to prevent lightning from striking twice when they line up against Darren Bent and his new club Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday.
Bent, who moved to Villa in a shock £24m transfer from Sunderland this week, has already tasted victory over City this season, scoring an injury-time penalty in a 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light in August. The 26-year-old striker has been saddled with the responsibility of scoring the goals that will preserve Aston Villa's Premier League survival after a poor start to the season that has left the club hovering above the drop zone.
Bent will line up against a City side that has not kept a clean sheet since a dour 0-0 draw against Arsenal earlier this month. Since then City have leaked seven goals in three matches, including three against struggling Wolves at Eastlands last weekend. The bad news for Bent is that Villa have the second worst defensive record in the league, and were routed 4-0 by City as recently as December.
Nevertheless, City manager Roberto Mancini has warned his side against complacency as they look for three points that will see them maintain the pressure on leaders Manchester United, who face Birmingham at Old Trafford. "He is a fantastic striker," Mancini said of Bent. "He has scored a lot of goals in England. For us it will be hard."
Mancini however will be encouraged by signs that his team, often criticised for the sterility of their attacking play, are showing signs that they are developing into a potent blend. "I think we're starting to click," said City's England winger Adam Johnson, outstanding in a 4-2 FA Cup win over Leicester on Tuesday. "Sometimes our final passes have let us down, but some of the football is different class and it all seems to be clicking for us. We're getting better each game. Every game we win is a step closer to winning a trophy."
United also with Birmingham challenge
Manchester United, level on points with City but with two games in hand, will keep their noses in front provided they beat Villa's city rivals Birmingham. United's healthy position at the top of the table is made even all the more remarkable for the fact they remain unbeaten past the season's halfway mark.
While it is hard to argue that Sir Alex Ferguson's current side deserve to be bracketed alongside the greatest teams of his reign, defender Rio Ferdinand has hit out at suggestions there is a dearth of quality in the squad. "I don't see a problem with the depth of our squad. When everyone's fit, we've got the best squad in the league," Ferdinand said this week.
"In our midfield we've got (Michael) Carrick, (Darren) Fletcher, (Paul) Scholes, Anderson, (Ryan) Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Nani, (Antonio) Valencia, (Owen) Hargreaves. That's an abundance of talent there, and people say: 'You haven't got depth in the squad.' Try and pick a foursome out of that - it's difficult."
Arsenal meanwhile will attempt to build on a stylish midweek dismissal of Leeds in the FA Cup as they take on struggling Wigan at the Emirates. The Gunners are the only English club still in the running for four trophies - League, UEFA Champions League and FA Cup and League Cup - and fullback Kieran Gibbs is convinced Arsene Wenger's side can end their five-year trophy drought.
"If you look at the players who have been here for five years, they will say they think about the run without trophies," Gibbs said. "But there are a lot of players who haven't been here for that long. They have come in and shown that they want to win. I think that with that quality, we can end the drought. We have got the squad depth to go for everything - I just hope that the squad can stay injury-free."
Tottenham face a potentially awkward away trip to Newcastle where they will be looking for the win that puts them into the top four at the expense of champions Chelsea. Chelsea meanwhile must wait until Monday before taking on in-form Bolton at Stamford Bridge.