By Richard Wakefield
More Than a Match
The Second City derby will arrive at St. Andrews for the first time in six years, which was also the last time Villa and the Blues squared off in a league fixture. Time hasn’t been kind to either team since the 1-1 draw, with both teams being relegated to the Championship.
Last year’s League Cup clash left with Villa picking up the victory courtesy of a Rudy Gestede header, but significant changes to both teams squads and Villa’s management team (several times), mean that game will have little bearing on what happens at St Andrews.
Putting the heated rivalry aside, Steve Bruce returns to his former club who have only lost once at home all season and are sitting level on points with the last play-off spot. Villa and Birmingham’s squads haven’t been as evenly matched for a long time, which makes picking up three points at St. Andrews Steve Bruce’s toughest task yet.
Here’s three ways of making sure it happens…
3. Rinse and Repeat
Steve Bruce continued his good start to managing Villa by picking up a close 1-0 win at home to Fulham. Villa became the first team to beat Fulham at home in the Championship this season and that can be thanked to the high press that Steve Bruce deployed. Pressurising David Button led to Kodjia reaping the rewards as Villa hit back-to-back league wins for the first time since Tim Sherwood was in charge.
Birmingham’s style of play isn’t similar to Fulham at all, as Birmingham statistically prefer to take the long ball route when in possession to avoid any of the mistakes that could happen when trying to pass it out of defence.
However, with both sets of fans being up for this game, cheering their teams on to win every possible tackle, there will be an expectancy from the Villa fans for the players to get stuck in and make sure Birmingham don’t get too comfortable.
If Villa’s frontmen allow Birmingham too much time on the ball at the back, this could lead to more measured delivery of the Blues’ longer ball game, which may life difficult for Villa’s centre-backs.
Pressing the Birmingham defenders as much as possible to force them into mistakes and unsettle them, could be a key part in preventing a large part of Birmingham’s creative build up play, as well as handing opportunities to Villa’s frontline.