Villa vs Blues
In an ideal world this would be the last time Aston Villa entertain the Blues at Villa Park in a league game for quite a while, or at least until the Blues get their act together and get promoted to the Premier League.
In this ideal world, Villa will beat Small Heath, end the day in second place in the Championship table and stay there until the end of the season (bar a Wolves collapse).
But Villa never tend to do things the easy way…
A Better Derby?
This latest encounter has the potential to be the best of the recent Second City derbies played out in Villa’s recent two seasons in the Championship. The last one at Villa Park, despite the 1-0 win, was one of the worst football matches MOMS has witnessed (there was a few of them last season). The two games at St Andrew’s were decent enough matches but lacked any real quality and drama.
Both teams go into Sunday’s clash in decent form. Villa topped the current form table (based on the last six games) going into this weekend, with the Blues a very decent fourth.
Villa are 100% in 2018 over five games and on a run of six wins.
Meanwhile, Birmingham City have practically become a different team away from home in recent months. They were winless this season during 2017 on their travels, but in 2018, they have won two of their three games, and are unbeaten in their last four away games.
Contrast their eight point haul from their last four away games to earning just two points in their first 11 away games of the season.
Villa’s preparation this week hasn’t been ideal from a managerial point-of-view, with Steve Bruce away dealing with the passing of his father and serious illness to his mother. How much of a distraction that has been remains to be seen, but more of a concern has been the recent cautious approach to games, especially Villa’s previous match against Burton at Villa Park.
Bottom of the table Burton finished the game with 53% possession and had a lot more of the ball then they should have had, when you consider the team’s respective league positions and the talent gap between the two team’s squads.
If Villa allow the Blues the same kind of foothold as they allowed Burton, then I expect Small Heath to get a positive result and end Villa’s 100% record.
The threat of six-foot-four Sam Gallagher is a concern considering James Chester is sub-six-foot. While John Terry is six-foot-two, Gallagher has 15 years on the Villa captain. It’s surely an equation that Villa’s managerial team will ponder.
I mentioned in the podcast one option that Bruce may consider is playing Mile Jedinak at DM. Yes, Birkir Bjarnason deserves to start, but obviously the aim would be to combat any aerial assault by the Blues using Gallagher as a target man.
Bjarnason is a six footer, but Jedinak has a couple of inches on him and is decent in the air. Recently, Jedinak has been brought on with 10 minutes to go to nullify the opposite chasing the game and lumping long balls up.
However, in the final analysis, and something that was perhaps forgotten a little against Burton, Villa are the home team and should be dictating the agenda.
For this reason, I would stick with the Icelander, as he serves a quicker transition from defence to attack and also supports the play going forward more too.
After all, the focus should be on attacking the Blues and posing them the problems to deal with.
That said, one man who caused Villa issues in the reverse fixture was the ex-Brentford midfielder Jota. Funnily enough, until recently, he’s been in a bit of an exile from the Blues starting XI and their was whispers he wanted out of St Andrews.
Interestingly, he was also a bit of an outcast in the run-up to the reverse fixture. When it comes to playing Villa though, he’s suddenly seems to get back in favour and plays well. The Spaniard scored a brace in the Blues last league game away at Sheffield Wednesday in their 3-1 win, after being mainly on the bench in the weeks before.
In the previous encounter, Jota, who missed one of the best chances to win the match, dictated the tempo and threat of the Blues going forward, normally playing down the left and cutting inside ala Adomah and Snodgrass do for Villa on their respective flanks.
While Alan Hutton had his work cut out containing the effervescent Jota last time, at least Jota was cutting inside onto Hutton’s favoured side.
Bonus Villa vs Blues Preview Episode
If Villa remained unchanged from recent weeks, then the team will only have three changes from the game earlier in the reason. Kodjia, Onomah and Whelan, all started last time round.
The introduction of a revamped Jack Grealish this time should be the main difference from the team that drew 0-0 at St. Andrews. He’s certainly a different player that turned up in the corresponding fixture last season, when he was subbed on the 59 minute mark by Gabby Agbonlahor, who came on to score the winner, his first goal in 14 months.
Villa had five different players starting that game at Villa Park from the current first XI – Bacuna, Lansbury, Taylor, Jedinak and Baker.
While three of those players are in the current matchday squad, there’s no argument that Villa are stronger and a more cohesive unit this time round.
Terry and Snodgrass are the big plusses, while Hourihane was only on the bench that time.
MOMS certainly expects a better game in the 2018 version and hopefully, Villa can avoid one of the potential banana skins in the remaining fixtures ahead, as they aim for promotion.