MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Jan 21, 2011 (AFP) - Roberto Mancini has warned his Manchester City side that Darren Bent’s big-money arrival at Aston Villa could galvanise the Premier League strugglers into action.
Manchester City head to Villa Park with Gerard Houllier under the microscope after a poor run that has seen the Midlands slide into a relegation battle.
Houllier has been given the vote of confidence and that was illustrated in the boardroom when he was handed 24 million pounds to bring England striker Bent from Sunderland earlier this week.
Bent, who scored the winner against Mancini’s side for his former club at the start of the season, will be hoping lightning can strike twice when he is handed his home debut.
And Manchester City manager Mancini sounded a warning as his side look to maintain the pressure on their rivals at the top of the league.
"He is a fantastic striker," he said. "He has scored a lot of goals in England. For us it will be hard. With Darren Bent, Villa will improve a lot.
"We can see that Bent is a good player. He has scored one goal every two games. That’s good.
"If you want to buy a new striker in January you have to pay a lot of money. Bent was important to Sunderland but if you make a big offer then it's normal that teams will sell."
It's been a tale of woe for Aston Villa supporters this season.
Their plans for the new campaign were thrown into disarray when Martin O’Neill resigned and Houllier didn’t arrive until the end of last September.
Mancini believes the upheaval has played a part in Villa’s troubled season but backed former Liverpool manager Houiller to transform their fortunes.
"They have changed their manager," he explained. "When you do that it's difficult. But Gerard Houllier has the experience to bring this team up.
"He is a good manager. He has a lot of experience. Villa should be higher up the table.
"They are like Liverpool. Just at this moment it’s very difficult for them."
One player sidelined for City is Mario Balotelli. The Italian striker has flown out to America for treatment on his long-standing knee injury.
Balotelli did cause a stir as his parting-shot saw him launch an attack against some of the biggest names in the game.
Jose Mourinho, Wayne Rooney and rivals Manchester United were all targeted, while he also revealed plans to leave Eastlands at the end of next season.
His latest outburst has prompted Mancini to jump to his controversial striker’s defence.
"I haven't read the interview so I don't know what he has said," said Mancini. "But he likes to joke sometimes and these things are jokes."
Bent has no qualms about the pressure being the club’s record signing will bring in a move that caused such acrimony between Sunderland and his new club.
The England striker has been verbally abused on his Twitter account and Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has expressed his disappointment with the behaviour of Houllier.
But he has no concerns about the intense spotlight which will fall on England’s most expensive player in cumulative fees.
"When I was at Spurs I was asked the same question and I said that it didn't bother me but in fairness I was quite young and I think it did wear me down a little bit," said Bent.
"I've had a few good seasons after that. I'm delighted that Villa have been prepared to pay it for me. I thought about the fee at the time when I signed, but as soon as I started training that passed.
"I want to score goals and I have done that in the Premier League. Villa have so many good players who will create chances for me."
Bent has happy memories of playing against Manchester City as he looks to replicate his match-winning contribution for his new side.
"I managed to squeeze a penalty past Joe Hart for the winner," he recalled.
"It was a good game, but we were on the back foot for a long time. But I'm in a new team and I'm eager to impress so hopefully we always create chances so I'll get off to a good start."
Villa are boosted by Ashley Young’s return from suspension, but Emile Heskey sits out the final game of a three-match ban. Luke Young (knee) could return to the squad.