Certain segments of the Villa-loving public will likely look at this game and this game alone as the justification for the less-than-stellar lineup fielded by Gerard Houllier. There's some validity to that approach, I suppose; it's tough to imagine the squad selection would have been the same if Villa didn't have three games within the space of one week. But it's a fairly massive oversimplification to see things in that light as well. Not to turn this post into a debate about the merits of Houllier's decision, but the motivation was just as much about protecting key players from injury or suspension as it was the preservation of fitness. And given the mess Villa's defense find themselves in with Richard Dunne's shoulder injury, you'd have to admit that there's at least a bit of logic in that approach.
And Villa's defense is really, truly, completely a mess right now. Dunne, Carlos Cuellar and James Collins are all injured and unavailable leaving Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker as the only healthy options in central defense. Assuming Fabian Delph and Kyle Walker start, Villa's back line will have an average age of 20.25. The only scenario in which that doesn't happen is if Luke Young, who is allegedly fit and available for the match, bumps Delph and starts at LB. I for one am hoping this isn't the case; Young is a decent RB and a capable LB, but in my eyes Delph has the potential to develop into a very good LB and I'd prefer the experiment not be ended prematurely. Kevin Davies has been spending most of his time on the right wing and he's certainly a difficult assignment, but no more so than anything Delph had to deal with at the Eastlands. I wouldn't necessarily be surprised to see Young get the nod, but I'd be disappointed because the way this year has gone, being excited for Fabian Delph playing LB is about all I've got left to find interesting.
The attack, luckily, is in better shape. Bent, Albrighton, Downing and Ashley Young are all well rested and should provide a decent but less-than-elite Bolton back line some difficulty. And given the state of Villa's defense, they're likely going to have no other choice but to do so if they hope to take three points. A strategy similar to what we saw against Blackburn seems in order; push and push until the dam breaks once and turn it up a notch when the opposition is forced to go on the attack. in some ways that will be easier, as Bolton will most certainly be looking to take three points from this game as well whereas Blackburn's primary motivation was to keep Villa to 0. A win for Bolton in this game would be a huge boost, as they trail Liverpool by only two points for the final European place and you don't win games by parking the bus from the start. And while that makes them easier to break down, it also makes it harder to keep them out.
Bolton have some very good attacking talent and they utilize it in a way that's truthfully quite entertaining. They haven't quite shed their reputation of being boring, hoofball merchants and while that was once a reflection of reality it's simply no longer accurate to classify them in that way. Bolton have actually turned into one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch this season, and the new style of play has gotten them some very good results.
I've really been looking forward to this game for quite some time, both because it offers the opportunity for Villa to snag a bit of payback for the two points Bolton nabbed at Villa Park earlier this season and because it should actually be quite entertaining. I'm as excited for Bolton this week as I was dreading Blackburn last week. Hopefully I don't end up being just as wrong about the watchability of the game.