BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ZIMBABWE international Marvelous Nakamba will face his sternest test since his breakthrough move to the Premier League when Aston Villa travel to the Etihad Stadium to play against English champions Manchester City this afternoon in arguably their toughest match of the season so far.
Nakamba, who joined the Premier League side from Belgian outfit Club Brugge for a reported £11 million fee, has been receiving rave reviews after starting and impressing in each of the club’s last five Premier League matches since making his English Premiership debut against West Ham United last month.
The former Bantu Rovers prodigy has turned himself into a darling of the Villa fans, who have been impressed with his great awareness and combative style of play, which has provided the team’s attackers the freedom to venture forward knowing they are covered.
Since Nakamba broke into the first 11, his more attacking teammates such as John McGinn, Conor Hourihane and Jack Grealish have been flourishing leaving the Zimbabwean to do most of the dirty work in front of the defence.
According to whoscored.com, Nakamba has recorded an average of 6,2 tackles per 90 minutes, earning himself an average rating of 7,09 out of 10 in his five Premier League appearances.
Nakamba is expected to play a similar defensive role when Aston Villa play against a strong Manchester City which will be looking to reduce the six-point gap between them and Liverpool, who play tomorrow.
The Guardian newspaper’s football writer Daniel Harris identified Nakamba as a key player for Aston Villa in his preview for today’s encounter.
“There’s a lot to like about Dean Smith’s Aston Villa, in particular their midfield axis of Marvelous Nakamba, Jack Grealish and John McGinn. Nakamba’s calm intelligence provides the perfect balance to his more energetic partners, who play with the perfect combination of entitlement and desire, McGinn a tenacious tempo-setter and Grealish an intuitive improviser.
Against City, they will be extended like never before, but will know that if they can compete, there are goals to be taken from a vulnerable home defence. Of course, the likelihood is that City will be too good for them, but do not be surprised if Villa give them a run for their money,” Harris wrote.
The Birmingham Mail’s Aston Villa correspondent, Ashley Preece also speculated that Nakamba could be given the role of man-marking City’s midfield magician Kevin de Bruyne, who is set to feature for the Citizens against Villa.
Nakamba will also have his hands full as he attempts to keep the likes of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero in check.
In the lead up to the City match, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has been waxing lyrical about Nakamba following his impressive start to life in the English Premier League.
Smith, who is set to name Nakamba in his starting line-up, said he has been impressed by how the Zimbabwean star conducted himself on and off the pitch since his move.
“He is a wonderful player. He is got such an enthusiasm that, when you meet him, straight away you are endeared to him,” Smith beamed.
“He wanted to come and play in the Premier League and believes he is good enough and we believed that. He is the sort of player that we felt could improve us as a team. The dressing room has helped him settle in, he has got Bjorn Engels and Wesley who he has played with at Brugge.”
The Villa boss admitted his side faces a daunting task against Pep Guardiola’s side, but said his players have the belief they can do well.
“It’s a tough place to go, we know that, but we have great belief in ourselves. My final message when we go over the white line will be ‘listen they are not superhuman, they are human just like yourselves, if you run harder than them and you are mentally stronger than them, you have got a good chance’.”
Smith added: “It’s 11 versus 11. The mental side of going into games like this is so important – ‘don’t fear them, respect them by all means because they are top players.”