Aston Villa meet Blackburn Rovers in the third round of the League Cup on Wednesday. As they were ostensibly in European play this season, Villa enter the tournament in this round, while Blackburn beat Norwich City 3-1 in their previous tie. Once again, deja vu sets its heavy hand upon the Villa, drawing us with Blackburn when we were forced to endure them five times last season, including an FA Cup third round 3-1 victory, and a two-legged tie in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup that saw Villa winning 7-4 on aggregate.
But history doesn't always repeat itself, and Villa need to not go into tomorrow's match feeling as though their status as last years' runners up will bring them any sort of assurance of a win.
Blackburn are the same Blackburn we saw last year, despite Big Sam's belief that he should be coaching big name clubs in Spain or Italy. Sorry, dude, but I don't think the likes of Real Madrid are really seeking your physical approach to football, looking to design a squad that simply hoofs the ball up the field and hopes that there will be a player ready on the other end of the trajectory. And Rovers, if you knock Brad (either version) on his back and take that opportunity to put the ball in the net, Villa will seek their revenge.
The big story of this match is, of course, Villa's regime change. This will be the first match with Gérard Houllier at the helm, which I suppose means it's finally time to add his name to my spell-check. With Houllier having won the cup twice with Liverpool, it seems unlikely that he'll dismiss this competition out of hand, but will his attention be on this tournament, or on trying to turn around Villa's league form? Can he do both?
Aston Villa go into this match nearly healthy, with just Richard Dunne's knee a concern. Should Dunne be left out of the starting XI--and I think he should be--Carlos Cuellar will likely step in, although Cuellar needs to keep his head in the match and not commit as many rash tackles as he did in his 45 minutes of play on Saturday.
It's my thought that Houllier has something to prove. Villa fans saw Wembley twice last season and came back to Birmingham with no silverware to show for it. Supporters, and the team, will want to prove themselves again. I'm betting on a near-full strength lineup tomorrow, with perhaps Brad Guzan in goal. Blackburn, for their part, probably believe that the Carling Cup is the only shot at silverware they've got, and they certainly won't put out a weakened starting XI.
What do you think? What do you want from Aston Villa tomorrow?