Gareth Barry welcomes Aston Villa with friendly but harmful intent

Gareth Barry welcomes Aston Villa with friendly but harmful intentGareth Barry hopes to help his Manchester City team-mates consolidate their title challenge at Aston Villa's expense when the England midfielder's former club visit Eastlands tomorrow.

"I am looking forward to the game immensely," said Barry, who scored in City's 3-1 Boxing Day win at Newcastle United which lifted Roberto Mancini's side to second place. "I played a lot of games for Villa and still have a lot of friends there. I still love that club."

Even so, he hopes to help undo Gérard Houllier's team tomorrow afternoon when City will aim to reprise their excellent away form on home soil. "The difference at home is that teams are coming and setting up really deep and that makes it a lot harder to break them down," said Barry. "Our best performances have probably been away from home where the onus is on teams to attack us and there is more space for us to play through and maybe counter-attack."

If City can correct that sometimes iffy Eastlands form there is no reason why they cannot sustain a title bid. "If the League carries on as it has done in the first half of the season, with all the teams dropping points, I don't see why we can't be right up there at the end," said Barry.

"We know we need to just keep improving but I think our team has got better from the first six games. We have improved and improved. And if that continues, we can be right up there. But the likes of United and Chelsea have more experience as units capable of winning titles. We need to learn that quickly.

"That's the difference between our squad and the others but, if we can win the first title early, then it is going to be brilliant for City."

Prize‑collecting teams tend to boast two excellent goalkeepers and Mancini has reiterated his desire to resist offers for Joe Hart's understudy, Shay Given, during January. "I hope Shay can stay with us," said City's manager.

Much as he wants to win tomorrow, Mancini extended his support to the currently under pressure Houllier. "Gérard is a good man and a good manager," said the Italian, who confirmed he will refresh his team against Villa. "It's very difficult to play two games in three days. I will have to make changes. It's impossible not to."

Powered by article was written by Louise Taylor, for The Guardian on Monday 27th December 2010 22.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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