It's a crucial week for Villa. Beat West Brom and Birmingham and last week's debacle at Leicester will be forgotten. Lose, and the pressure starts to build. In anticipation of another feisty reunion between the Baggies and the Villains, we talked with Mark from Albion Till We Die to get an opposition's perspective.
How would you judge the Baggies' start to the season?
ATWD: It's been just about okay results-wise but in terms of performances it's not been the best. Considering we've played Manchester City and Chelsea, five points from five games is acceptable. Having said that, some of the football we have witnessed so far has been pretty awful, really dour stuff, the Southampton game being a particular ‘lowlight' of the season so far. The Berahino saga certainly hasn't helped matters but now that's behind us and he has returned to the squad hopefully things will start picking up.
I'm sure you're tired of talking about it, but just how bad was the Berahino transfer saga? Has he completely burned bridges, or can he get back in favor with the fans by scoring a few goals?
ATWD: To be honest, even before recent events, Berahino has never really been that popular amongst the Albion support. Given that he progressed through our academy to become one of the best strikers seen at the club for many years, he ought to be a huge Hawthorns' hero, but he's not. I think his arrogance rubs a lot of people up the wrong way and obviously the numerous bad headlines he's made over the last couple of years hasn't helped him win many fans either. Despite that, when he made his first appearance following his infamous tweet his reception wasn't too bad, I'd guess the majority of The Hawthorns gave him a good welcome, easily drowning the few boos out.
As for the bids from Spurs I think everyone in the game would rate them as derisory. A £5million initial payment for a young English striker, on the verges of the national team and proven at Premier League level was ridiculous, especially when you consider Raheem Sterling's value, who quite frankly offers little more to a team than what Berahino does. If Berahino wanted to be angry at someone he should have looked in the direction of White Hart Lane and Daniel Levy.
Let's talk a bit about the transfer window. Tony Pulis has made quite a few additions to the squad, with Jonny Evans, James Chester, and Salamon Rondon coming in; while Joleon Lescott has made the move to the Villans and former flop Brown Ideye has joined Olympiakos. What are your thoughts on the moves?
ATWD: It's early days but so far the summer dealings have been pretty mixed.
The pick of the players coming in seems to be former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. He had a superb debut against Southampton, defending well and using the ball well and if he can continue in the same vein we have signed a very good player. I've been disappointed so far in record signing Salomon Rondon although to be fair to him he's received little to no service during the games he's played. I have to say he does remind me of the departed Brown Ideye. As for the others, Rickie Lambert has been disappointing and looks a shadow of the player he was at Southampton, his year at Anfield really has done nothing for him. James Chester we've yet to see in the role he played so well at Hull whilst James McClean works hard but has lacked any real quality.
As for the players going out I think Lescott surprised a few but I don't think it was such a bad decision to sell him as a few have claimed. It's true he had a super first half of last season but after Christmas he wasn't at his best and you get the feeling Pulis never really rated him. He has got a tendency to get caught in possession, something he did on his Villa debut which I believe led to Leicester's first goal? Brown Ideye was an expected departure - with the exception of two or three games when Pulis arrived at the club he never really looked Premier League standard but he always put a shift in and had a good rapport with the fans so left with our good wishes. The one departure I was unhappy with was Youssouf Mulumbu, on paper he seems an ideal Pulis player so the decision to release him came as something of a shock.
To a certain extent, you know what you're getting with a Tony Pulis side - tough to break down, but perhaps lacking in attacking creativity. He's never been relegated, which bodes well for the Baggies, but can he take the club into the top half of the table?
ATWD: I think he can but not with the players he currently has at his disposal. His Stoke and Crystal Palace sides had different ways of playing but the one thing they had in common was pace - we've currently got none. You can see that Pulis wants to defend deep and then attack at pace but with the players we've got we simply can't do it. Until he can sign better attacking players I think lower mid-table is where we will stay.
I don't know if you remember, but the last match between these two clubs was a bit tense. A handful of yellow cards with two red cards mixed in, plus some shenanigans after the whistle. Somehow I doubt this will be a nice relaxing game of football. Take a guess, how many players see red from the referee on Saturday?
ATWD: I think both managers will have their teams fired up for this one so it's sure to be a feisty affair. Albion have got an extremely experienced side so I'm hoping they are sensible enough to stay out of trouble although Claudio Yacob and Callum McManaman are always good bets to see red, especially in a game such as this. I personally think Saturday's ref Martin Atkinson is one of the better ones so hopefully he will control the game better than Anthony Taylor did back in March. I'll say six yellows but no reds.
If you could have one player from this Villa squad for the Baggies, who would you choose?
ATWD: I'm not sure what his recent form has been like or indeed how Villa fans currently feel about him but I've always liked Gabby Agbonlahor. With his pace and direct style of play he is the sort of player we are crying out for at The Hawthorns.
Thanks again to Mark for taking the time to join us! Head over to Albion Till We Die to read as I try to explain my conflicting emotions for Tim Sherwood.