Four wins on the bounce across all competitions looked set to turn Villa’s fortunes around, but defeat to Everton last time out could threaten to derail their campaign once more - especially if it is followed by a comprehensive thrashing at the hands of Manchester City.
Gareth Taylor’s Citizens, by contrast, have been in the form of their lives. They recovered well from a slender defeat to Brighton, thrashing Robert Vilhamn’s Tottenham by a whopping seven uncontested goals before going on to embarrass Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Gareth Taylor has ‘done an unbelievable job'
'Look, I think Man City and Gareth Taylor in particular don’t get enough credit. He’s done an unbelievable job - they had a big turnover of players last summer and I think what he’s done has been brilliant,’ she told reporters.
'Like I said, he deserves an awful lot of credit for an unbelievable team and I think they play with a lot of freedom, they play with a lot of quality. Listen, it’s going to be a tough game - they’re a side you don’t want to face on the back of their last two fixtures, let’s put it that way.'
'I think they’ll be well in [the title race], I really do. I think they’ll be title contenders, the way they brushed Tottenham aside and Manchester United at Old Trafford - you don’t do that lightly unless you’ve got all the qualities to compete at the top end and I think at the end of the season they’ll be up there.'
There are ‘a lot of emotions’ within camp
Asked about how her players have responded to the international break that saw Team GB’s hopes of Olympic qualification shattered, Ward insisted that ’there’s different scenarios and a lot of emotions’.
'Naturally, I’ve picked up with Rach [Daly] this morning and she’s gutted. She’s a passionate person that takes a lot of pride in playing for her country and of course it’s going to hurt.'
'But it’s not just Rach, I think if you forget the Olympics, we’ve had an awful lot of players away with their countries. You always have to manage when you come back in different emotions. This is probably the biggest one because some people have obviously come out of their Nations [League] group, some are on the back of Olympic qualification, so there’s different scenarios and a lot of emotions that we’ve got to manage today for sure.'
The Villa boss was unable to update reporters on injuries, given the tight turnaround between players returning from international duty and Saturday’s match.
'The honest answer is I don’t know yet. They arrived back this morning, obviously got a couple coming from the other side of the world that won’t arrive back until later this evening. It really, really will depend on how people have come back. As you saw, a couple of people went off for their countries so we’ll assess that today.'
But Ward insisted that she has been afforded enough time to prepare adequately for the Manchester City clash, explaining that 'I think you have to plan effectively before they get back in, so it’s as clear and clean as possible this morning and tomorrow - but every single manager is in the same boat, well at least those that are playing on Saturday.'
'Obviously myself and Gareth will be in the same boat. You can’t make excuses, it’s as simple as you have to prepare the players and we’re used to it in the women’s game.'