Finally, the season is here! We’re fewer than 24 hours away from kickoff on the South Coast, and Tim Sherwood’s first full season in charge of Aston Villa is about to get underway with a visit to the reigning Championship champions, AFC Bournemouth.
Like I did at the tail end of last season, I’ll be taking us through match previews, though I’m changing up my format a bit. I’ll still probably go into full stream-of-consciousness mode at some points, but we’ll try and keep this more structured.
What to know about Villa
We’ll start off with what I know best, and that’s the Claret and Blues. It’s been a hectic and interesting offseason for the side that finished 17th last year, and at the very least, survival should be achievable this season. Christian Benteke, Ron Vlaar, Tom Cleverley, Shay Given and Fabian Delph, who all started the FA Cup Final, are out of the setup, but have been replaced by a slew of new signings looking to make their impact on the club.
With injuries to Jores Okore and Jack Grealish, and Charles N’Zogbia and Kieran Richardson being out of favour, Villa will at most start two players who got the nod against Arsenal just over two months ago: Ashley Westwood and Alan Hutton. Carles Gil also figures to miss due to a knock, and Carlos Sánchez hasn’t been around the side long enough to merit significant consideration to displace Westwood.
Between the new signings and Libor Kozak’s return from injury, the Villa side that trots out at Dean Court tomorrow will look radically different from the one that Paul Lambert assembled last season.
Preseason saw a fair few standout performances, the least of which was Scott Sinclair’s hat trick against Nottingham Forest in the final tune-up. Sinclair may not have been Sherwood’s first choice in the squad — he was a Lambert signing — but it’s hard to argue he hasn’t played his way into the fray. Over the course of July, Jordan Amavi showed his talents and will make the most-awaited debut tomorrow, with Idrissa Gueye, Jordan Ayew and Micah Richards all very likely to start.
There should be concerns about how well the new crop of guys will gel together early in the season, but we’ll see how that goes.
What to know about Bournemouth
Now let’s go to something we all know a little less about: our opponent.
The last time these two sides met was in the FA Cup Fourth Round back in January, when Carles Gil scored a super nice goal and we moved on 2-1. That was, for all intents and purposes though, a second-choice Cherries side, so we shouldn’t take too much from that contest.
Eddie Howe is a super cool manager, and I love what he’s done down there. They played attractive, attacking football last year en route to scoring 98 goals in 46 games, and could well be the next darlings of the Premier League.
Callum Wilson, who has been the target of reported interest from Villa on and off, figures to lead the Cherries’ line again last year after netting 20 in the Championship last season. Yann Kermorgant and Matt Richie, who each scored 15 last term, are back as well, while Max Gradel (from Saint-Étienne) and Lee Tomlin (from Middlesbrough) joined this week in an effort to boost the goalscoring options at Dean Court.
Bovada: Bournemouth 1/1, Villa 11/4, Draw 5/2
Paddy Power: Bournemouth 21/20, Villa 13/5, Draw 12/5
SkyBet: Bournemouth 1/1, Villa 14/5, Draw 12/5
I really like what Tim Sherwood’s brought to Aston Villa this year, and think he’s certainly got the better side headed into the opening fixture of the season. While Bournemouth have a few things going for them, I think Villa are great value at nearly 3/1 odds to win this one.
Knowing the two managers involved, it should be an open game that comes down to which team can better take their chances. The Villa defense won’t make it easy, but I think debut goals from Ayew and Amavi are joined by another Sinclair tally to push Villa to victory.
Prediction: AFC Bournemouth 2-3 Aston Villa
Let us know how you see this one playing out in the comments!
It‘s time. Up the Villa!
P.S.: I find it really hard to say negative things about Bournemouth, because they’re just the best story. But I hope they lose tomorrow.