Aston Villa v Birmingham City

Published on: 23 November 2018

Summer signing Tammy Abraham is Aston Villa's top scorer with five goals, while Birmingham City's leading marksman Lukas Jutkiewicz has netted nine timesFollow live text coverage from 11:30 GMT on Sunday

Aston Villa and Birmingham City meet in the first Second City derby of the season - and it is also a first for both bosses, Dean Smith and Garry Monk.

The pair, who spent a month as team-mates at Sheffield Wednesday 16 years ago, have met before as managers.

And, although Monk has a great record with all his old clubs against Villa, he makes Sunday's hosts the favourites.

"They've got a huge amount of quality in that squad. All the pressure is on them," the Blues manager told BBC WM.

"I know Dean really, really well. We were teammates. He's obviously a Villa fan from birth and he's inherited a really expensively-assembled squad.

"They're a team that should be in the top two spaces in the league. They have to win. They're expecting promotion. That's the remit.

"They're favourites, with every single bookmaker. We know it's all against us, on their own patch. They're expected to win at a canter.

"But it's another chance for us to fight against those odds and try and prove them wrong. These are the type of games, when you look back on your career, that you remember being part of."

Winning an 'obsession' - Smith

Villa were third, 17 places higher than Blues - and 26 points better off - when Steve Bruce's Villa beat Steve Cotterill's Blues the last time the two sides met at Villa Park in February.

On Sunday, they start locked together in mid-table (11th v 12th going into Saturday's fixtures), level on points and separated only by goal difference.

For Villa's head coach Smith, it is still a case of treating the derby like he believes his side should treat every game.

"I'm not obsessed with beating Birmingham City," he told BBC WM. "I'm obsessed with winning every game we go into.

"That should be our obsession as a club. We have to make sure the players we pick are not only ready to play Birmingham City but then Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough next week as well.

"Sticking to a game plan and being better than the opposition is key on Sunday. As is patience. You don't win a game in the first 10 minutes.

"We've got good players and they're starting to perform. We're getting to a consistent level that, whenever anyone drops below it, they know about it from the other lads.

"John McGinn has been the most consistent player all season, we're starting to see the green shoots from Jack Grealish. And Jonathan Kodjia is going to come away with a matchball soon, with the chances we're getting. And Albert Adomah too. He scored 15 goals last season, has played well again this season and is due a goal."

How they might line up

Aston Villa captain James Chester is fit despite picking up a knee injury in Wales' home defeat by Denmark.

Fellow Welsh international Neil Taylor has returned to training and should be fit for Sunday, but Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason is still struggling with a groin problem.

Villa skipper James Chester missed Wales' trip to Albania after picking up a knee injury against Denmark in Cardiff

Villa boss Smith will give midfielder John McGinn "an extra 24 hours" before making a decision on his calf strain.

Birmingham's Congo international winger Jaques Maghoma has resumed training, having not played since injuring his ankle in Blues' 2-1 win over Reading four weeks ago.

Jota (hip) is a doubt after limping off early on in Blues' 3-3 home draw with Hull City before the international break, but long-term injury victims David Davis (ankle) and Isaac Vassell (knee) are definitely out.

Match facts

    Aston Villa are unbeaten in their last 12 league meetings with Birmingham City. Their last defeat was in March 2005 in the Premier League, when Steve Bruce's Blues won 2-0.

    Blues have scored just five goals in those 12 games - having failed to score in seven of them. Villa have found the net in each of their last 20 Championship games at Villa Park, last failing to do so in a 0-0 draw against Millwall in December 2017.

    Blues have won just three of their 13 away games under Garry Monk in the Championship, all three by a one-goal margin. Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane has been directly involved in seven goals in the Championship this term (two goals and five assists - the most of any player at the club). Blues striker Che Adams has scored seven goals in his last nine Championship games, as many in his previous 43.

How the managers match up

Although it's a first Second City derby for both bosses, Dean Smith has the edge over Garry Monk having been to many past battles as a fan

    Villa boss Dean Smith is unbeaten in his last four meetings with Birmingham City, as boss of his previous club Brentford. His Bees side did the double over Blues last season, winning 2-0 at St Andrew's, then 5-0 at Griffin Park - two matches before the end of Steve Cotterill's time in charge. Blues boss Garry Monk has never lost a game to Aston Villa as manager in eight previous meetings. With Swansea City, his side won all four games. With Leeds United, he won one, and drew one. And at Middlesbrough last season, Boro drew and then won (in the League Cup) at Villa Park inside the space of four days. Smith has a win ratio of one every 2.83 games in his 410-game managerial career with Walsall, Brentford and Villa. Monk has a win ratio of one every 2.47 games in his 185-game managerial carer with Swansea, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Birmingham. Smith made 674 appearances with five different clubs in his professional career, including five alongside Monk as centre-half partners for Sheffield Wednesday, in the spring of 2003, when Monk spent three months with the Owls on loan from Southampton.

They've played for both gaffers

Birmingham City centre-back Harlee Dean, full-back Maxime Colin and midfield playmaker Jota all played for Dean Smith at Brentford before Harry Redknapp brought them to St Andrew's in the August 2017 transfer window.

But impressing the man they work for with Blues is now all that matters - and Dean has been bowled over by the effect that Monk has had since the team's struggles under Gianfranco Zola, Redknapp and Cotterill.

"The city is completely different because of him," Dean told BBC WM. "He's worked with the same squad that three previous managers have worked with. We're a completely different team.

"He has got the best out of what we are. He's recognised what we're good at and not good at.

"He's the best manager I've worked under in my career. Every day is enjoyable. Everything he does is just right. You want to do well for him, yourself and the club."

Harlee Dean made his derby debut when Blues lost 2-0 at Villa Park back in February

Dean is under no illusions about the task facing Blues as they bid to put right a sorry derby record in recent seasons.

Apart from beating Villa 2-1 in the quarter-final en route to winning the League Cup at Wembley in 2011, Blues have not done so in 12 attempts since Bruce's side did the double for the second time in three seasons in 2004-05.

"We all know how important it is," he said. "You can feel it. It's a long time since we won there and it's time to put things right.

"It's another three points. It's not a cup final. But we're going to give our all like we do every game.

"We're a completely different animal to last time we met. We have to be aggressive, on the front foot, and do what we've been doing.

"When I was a Brentford we only had derbies with Fulham and QPR and they're not the most hostile. But this is a cut above. The home game where I was on the bench last season, I was sitting there thinking 'this is something special'."