As we inch ever nearer to the season's half-way point, one thing about Aston Villa is clear; they are completely unpredictable. They've put in masterful performances against some of the league's best teams and fallen flat against stragglers. They've had games where they played some pretty nice football and came away with nothing, and just this week they managed to win a game in which they completed fewer than half their passes. They're just a weird team that's pretty clearly still finding their identity, and though they can be a whole lot of fun on their day it's often impossible to know who is going to show up.
Fulham, in contrast, has been much more predictable, and that's not an especially good thing for the Cottagers. October 21st was the team's last win in any competition and they carry a seven-match losing streak into Sunday's clash with Villa. Fulham looked much better in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Spurs, their first game since Rene Meulensteen replaced Martin Jol at the helm, but the new manager isn't going to be able to turn things around overnight. With nearly double Fulham's point total, Villa should be viewed as favorites to take the win at the Cottage, especially given their success away from home this season.
Of course, favorite isn't really a role that's suited Villa so far this season; some of their most drab and indifferent showings came in games which they were expected to win. In that sense, this game has a whiff of a trap about it. As great as Wednesday's win over Southampton was, it's the kind of game that can take a lot out of a team and this isn't exactly a team that was in especially robust health to begin with. If Christian Benteke can look like the player he did in his brief time on the pitch at St. Mary's it will be a pretty serious boost for Villa, but until the big man has demonstrated that he's at full fitness for a decent stretch the attack is going to be almost completely unpredictable(and not in a good way.) With Ron Vlaar being forced off early in the second half due to injury, things are equally nervy in the back for Villa.
This is a game Villa should win, by all rights, as Fulham have just been a mess this season. But in so many ways, things seem to be conspiring against them doing so. Is that a reflex of this team being snake-bitten and just generally disappointing so often in the recent past? Almost certainly. But a good way to help eliminate that reflex would be to start actually winning games like this consistently.