Aston Villa face Rapid Vienna tonight at Gerhard Hanappi Stadium in Vienna. We've been here before. I don't know the odds on a club drawing last year's challengers in this year's Europa League qualifying round, but it seems they'd be pretty slim. Is fate handing Villa a chance at redemption?
In happy news, Rapid's star striker, Nikica Jelavić, who so rudely scored on us--within the minute--the last time we visited Vienna, won't feature tonight as he has told his club that he no longer wants to play for them. Curtis Davies is likely breathing a sigh of relief, as it was his error that allowed Jelavić to score last year.
Davies looks likely to be in the starting XI tonight, according to Mat Kendrick. With five starters unable to feature--Richard Dunne is suspended after he saw red last year with Manchester City, and Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Collins, Carlos Cuellar and John Carew are all injured--Kevin MacDonald has received a bit of ribbing for fielding what people believe to be a weakened side. But he's only resting Ashley Young (who wouldn't, after his limping on Saturday?), Stiliyan Petrov (c'mon, dude's old) and Luke Young (resting? Not really). MacDonald is making fine choices with what he has available.
So what side can Villa supporters expect tonight? Nigel Reo-Coker will take the armband, and it seems Barry Bannan will partner him in midfield, which worries me a bit after his uninspiring performance against West Ham. Then again, the kid only saw a few minutes of playing time, and we should probably give him the benefit of the doubt. It seems Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton will be playing wide, which I don't think anyone would call those wings 'weak'. We're likely putting Brad Friedel in goal, and having Habib Beye (ugh), Ciaran Clark, Curtis Davies and Stephen Warnock start in the back. Not the absolute best defensive system we've got going there, but if we press forward and actually get those away goals, having Vienna slip one through won't hurt too much.
What's going forward, then? Hold your tongues...it's Emile Heskey. Well, with Carew and Gabby out, what did you expect? A partnership of Andreas Weimann and Nathan Delfouneso? No, Villa will start one of the kids, but not both. If Heskey can do his job holding up the ball and distributing it to either his striking partner or one of the wingers, we should be able to score an away goal.
Last year, Aston Villa weren't able to score in Vienna, while Rapid picked up a goal at Villa Park. Although the aggregate score ended up 2-2, Rapid won by virtue of their away goals. In other words, come on Villa score a goal.
Edit: ARGH starting XI: Guzan; Lichaj, Beye, Davies, Warnock; Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Hogg, Downing. Bannan, Heskey.