By Richard Wakefield
Aston Villa return this Saturday to Villa Park after a long awaited away win. With the Villa fans having to wait 437 days to finally see their team record a win on the road, a sense of optimism and new found belief is starting to creep in.
However, Steve Bruce will not have an easy task ahead of them as they welcome Fulham who find themselves in mid-table due to their poor home form. Unluckily for Villa, Fulham are undefeated away from home all season.
With both teams eager to pick up three points to announce themselves as late arrivals to the promotion push party, this tight affair could be a real catalyst to begin the Bruce revolution in earnest.
Here’s three ways of making sure it happens…
3 Accident Prone
With Ritchie De Laet out and Micah Richards also injured, the emergence of Leandro Bacuna moving into a more advanced midfield role, means there is only one man who could possibly fill the right-back berth – Alan Hutton.
The former Scottish international has his name shouted from the Holte End on regular occasion despite the fans’ acknowledgment of his obvious limitations. Being arguably one of the worse players in last season’s relegation, Hutton is more likely to imitate De La Cruz rather than Gary Neville.
With Fulham boasting some quick and technically proficient players like Sone Aluko and Chelsea loanee Lucas Piazon, Hutton could be a target for Fulham boss Slaviša Jokanović, especially when 38% of Fulham’s attacks this season are conducted down the left flank.
Bruce needs to address this weakness and have one of a midfield three to keep an eye on things, or licence Albert Adomah with the task of tracking back more to aid Hutton.
If this is address, it could neutralise Fulham’s threat considerably.
2 Early Bird Catches the Win
Fulham had a great start to the season being undefeated going into the September fixtures. However, only being able to keep one clean sheet since August has caused them to slowly fall down the table. In that time, an away win at Barnsley last week is their only victory since the summer, which indicates Fulham have a serious weakness at the back.
Although not many teams have shut out Jokanovic’s men, in Fulham’s last three matches, they have conceded within the first 20 minutes of the match. With early goals against QPR, Norwich and Barnsley, Fulham are struggling to start matches strongly and Steve Bruce should capitalise on this.
With the energy of players like Kodjia, Adomah and Ayew being hard to deal with, if Villa come out the traps with all guns blazing, they could aim for an early knock out.
Going into the break a couple of goals up would be the stuff of dreams compared to the rest of the season so far, but Villa have the players to do damage with Fulham’s defensive short-comings.
If this team wants to threaten the promotion places, it’s time to start getting more ruthless.
1 Can’t Touch This
With such high intensity at the start of the game, this could lead Villa to tire too quickly. So if Villa don’t reap the rewards of a couple of goals, Fulham may punish Villa’s wastefulness as they capitalise on the tired legs.
However, a safer approach to the game could be the height advantage Villa possess. With Rudy Gestede standing at 6″3 and Jonathan Kodjia at 6″2, both of these strikers are taller than the Fulham centre-backs of Ream (6″0) and Sigurdsson (6″0).
Getting the ball forward quicker to these two (if chosen) and maybe being more direct especially in the early stages (as in the previous point), could cause Fulham’s centre-backs real issues.
Central to this will be an increased willingness for runners to feed off secondary balls and lay offs. This is something that has let Villa down this season, but hopefully Bruce can install more of a team ethic amongst players to work together.
It’s time for Villa to gel as an attacking force and play to their strengths. Gestede, if used wisely, could be the key to unlock the talents of Kodjia, Ayew or Adomah.
The question is though, where will the ex-Fulham man Ross McCormack fit into the plan? There is a tendency for players to score against their former clubs in their first game against them. It’s a tradition that could warrant McCormack to start.
Follow Richard Wakefield on Twitter at @_RichardAVFC