Aston Villa is finally back! The Premier League decided to punish Villa fans--as though we haven't already endured enough in just the first few weeks of the season--by forcing us to wait until Monday to see our club back on the field. It's been fifteen long days since we've seen our Villans, and even though we've seen individuals in action in the Euros and in U21s, we've almost forgotten what it's like to see our XI out there.
And so the Villa head to Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City in the Monday matchup, with the Potters looking to find their first points of the season. Villa, meanwhile,will be third in the table if they find a win--and we all know that table standings matter in the fourth week of the season!
As mentioned above, Stoke have failed to find even a point thus far this season, allowing two goals in each of their matches but at least avoiding losing 7-0 to Chelsea. But Britannia remains a difficult place to get a win, and let us not forget that the last time Villa traveled to a tough park we were smushed 6-0.
In fact, Villa have only beaten Stoke once in the last six meetings, last year when we won 1-0 at Villa Park. A factor that just might fall in the Villan's favor is the fact that Thomas Sorensen had an elbow infection that caused him to miss Denmark's qualifier on Tuesday, and he might still be recovering. On the other hand, the Potters could be giving debuts to Eidur Gudjohnsen, Marc Wilson and Jermaine Pennant, all signed on deadline day.
The Villa, as no doubt you have heard, will be without our new signing, our manager Gérard Houllier. Apparently he hasn't wiggled his way out of the French Football Federation's grasp quite yet. We also seem to have an issue with keeping strikers healthy. John Carew limped off the field during the Norway qualifier, leaving him a doubt for the match.
What we can hope, then, is that Gabriel Agbonlahor is at full fitness and can play 90, or at least the majority of 90. I've been longing to see a match with him up front and Ashley Young playing in the withdrawn forward role he's seemed to be reveling in of late. The alternative is just a bit too unpleasant to contemplate.
We're also waiting on match fitness for Stephen Ireland. Steve Sidwell is healthy again, so if Ireland doesn't play, we could see Sidwell, but I am desperately hoping that it's Nigel Reo-Coker and Stiliyan Petrov hanging out in the back of the midfield. Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton on the wings. Cross fingers that it's a well-rested Albrighton. As for the back, I hope Kevin MacDonald is still using Luke Young at right back and keeping Carlos Cuellar on reserve (or even putting him in for James Collins after the slip-ups he's shown recently).
I expect a 1-1 draw and will be perfectly happy with a point from this match. What about you?