This Sunday, Aston Villa face Birmingham City in what is our opponents' biggest game of the season (although they allegedly haven't sold out their own stadium for it). For Steve Bruce and Aston Villa, it's the chance to win three league games in a row for the first time since April 2010 (incidentally, the third game back then was against Birmingham City too). But whilst Villa have indeed won their last two, there is plenty of room for improvement, and changes to the starting lineup may well be the difference come Sunday afternoon. This is particularly true when it comes to Aston Villa's striking options, so let's take a look at the options.
No, not former Second City Derby hero John Carew, or the Birmingham takeaway chain of the same name, but rather this summer's most expensive signing, the in-form Jonathan Kodjia.
Recent performances suggest that he must start as a striker for Villa, no doubt about it. Against Fulham, Kodjia started out wide on the right and though he looked dangerous, he wasn't involved nearly enough in the first half. Bringing Albert Adomah on was the gamechanger though. Adomah went out right, and when Kodjia moved to the centre, the results were lethal. Adomah picked up on a goalkeeping error and hit a perfect cross for Kodjia to acrobatically score his 4th of the season.
This weekend, these two must start, at the expense of one other striker.
Against Fulham (not pictured), Jordan Ayew was either the best Villa player or the worst Villa player, and I'm not entirely sure which it was. He was creative, wasteful, lively, selfish, amongst other things. Statistically, he put in a great shift, but oh boy was he frustrating to watch. I'm not entirely convinced that he's a good fit for the team. But does that mean he should be dropped from the side altogether?
At some point, Ayew is going to have to produce the goals to justify his place in the side. At this stage, his assist tally is cementing his place, while his two League goals fall short of initial expectations. But with Jack Grealish suspended for the derby, Ayew is the spark player who could be the difference. In a game this important, it is a risk worth taking.
Not the return of the Mac (yet)
If Aston Villa choose to play a 4-5-1, Ross McCormack starts on the bench. But if Steve Bruce is feeling adventurous enough to give a 4-2-3-1 a whirl, McCormack is the man to sit behind the main striker.
The problem for McCormack is that away from home, a 4-5-1 is probably the smart move. And even if Aston Villa need a goal in the late stages, McCormack doesn't have the presence to be effective if Villa need to start playing long balls. But then again, having one of the best strikers in the division on your bench isn't exactly a problem.
STOP STARTING RUDY
Rudy Gestede is seriously not a viable starting option.
Firstly, he doesn't have the legs to go 90, which means that you have to factor in his substitution from the start. One injury on top of that, and you are limited to just one tactical swap per game. It really isn't ideal. Secondly, he is an extremely effective bench option. A big physical presence, put him up against defenders who have already put in a 70 minute shift and watch the magic happen. It worked against Nottingham Forest, so why change a working formula? He started against Fulham, and was utterly ineffective. Don't put square pegs in round holes. Simple.
So where does this leave Gabby?
If this was Hollywood (Los Angeles, not Bromsgrove), Gabby Agbonlahor would take to the field with Villa 1-0 down, and score twice as Villa go on to win 2-1. In the sequel, he would score 20 goals as Villa gain promotion to the Premier League. In the final instalment of the trilogy, he would lead England to a World Cup win against the odds in Russia.
This is not Hollywood, and sentimentality has no place in football.
Gabby has a decent (not great) scoring record in the Second City derby, but that absolutely doesn't warrant an undeserved recall for Sunday's game. It makes sense to take the emotion out of the occasion, so there is little point putting an unfit out of practice player on the field, just because of his birth place.
Aston Villa have four senior strikers that are better than Gabby, and with all four fit, why on earth would it be a good idea to drop one of them for an inferior player? He's even disappointed whilst playing for the U23s recently, getting subbed for Keinan Davis on two separate occasions. I am being entirely serious when I say I'd rather see Rushian Hepburn-Murphy in the 18 than Gabby.
And hey Gabby, if you're reading this, I'll buy you a pint if you come with me to the pub on Sunday. Just don't go near St. Andrews yeah?