Aston Villa finally return to Premier League action on Tuesday night when they host Manchester City at Villa Park.
Dean Smith’s side were badly affected in recent weeks by an outbreak, seeing matches postponed and having to field a mix of U23s and U18s players for their FA Cup third round clash against Liverpool.
But the Villa boss confirmed that his side were ready to make their return, and there was further good news when pictures emerged of Ross Barkley out on the training pitch ahead of the game.
The 27-year-old has missed the last seven Premier League games for Villa with a hamstring injury he picked up against Brighton back in late November, and if he has passed all the fitness checks, then Smith must surely be tempted to start him from the off against City.
Described as an “exceptional” talent, Premier League legend Alan Shearer made it clear just how much he rates Villa’s signing of the England international, saying: “Ross seems to have found a system that suits him and a manager who wants to play him. This is exactly what he needs.
“He now needs to find the consistency that has been lacking in his game because this is a crucial stage of his career. Ross has been spoken about in glowing terms since he was very young but he is 27 now and needs to deliver on that potential. At his best he is match-winner and Villa is a great platform for him.”
It might be a risk for Barkley to come into a game of this magnitude off the back of a muscle injury, but his return would allow for Jack Grealish to move over to the left-hand side and give Smith the option of going with with the in-form Anwar El Ghazi on the right – he’s bagged five goals in his last six matches.
Barkley’s comeback would give the rest of the Villa squad a massive lift before they take to the pitch, and also leave Pep Guardiola scratching his head about how to deal with him.