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Preview: Villa look to stay hot heading into Second City Derby

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Aston Villa head to crosstown rivals Birmingham City for the first time in years. Can the Claret and Blues win a third straight to keep clawing back into the promotion hunt?

Aston Villa v Birmingham City - Capital One Cup Third Round
Rudy Gestede of Aston Villa (C) celebrates scoring their first goal with Jack Grealish and Jordan Amavi of Aston Villa during the Capital One Cup third round match between Aston Villa and Birmingham City at Villa Park on September 22, 2015 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Let’s do this, friends.

For the first time in what feels like an eternity, Aston Villa and Birmingham City will meet in a league match. Villa are in good form, winners of two straight ahead of their trip to St. Andrew’s, while Blues lost last time out, 2-0 at Burton Albion. But as we all know, this is a derby, so you might as well throw that “form” bit out the window. Let’s take a look at the sides…

What to know about Villa

This is probably the best we’ve felt about our club in… around 18 months. Unlike what we’d become accustomed to, the Claret and Blues have been finding a way to win under Steve Bruce. It’s much nicer than finding any way to lose.

Jonathan Kodjia looks really nice, as does Albert Adomah, and with Leandro Bacuna’s sudden transition into a central midfielder, it’ll be interesting to see whether Bruce rolls with that 4-3-3 again or tries something else. Like he did last time out against Fulham, I suspect Villa will roll with a 4-3-3 to start, moving to a two-man midfield if they need a goal to win or draw late. That means I’d bring in Adomah for Rudy Gestede, who could be a great impact substitute, while leaving the rest of the lineup intact — that’d mean another start for Gary Gardner, a true Villan, and a continuation of the Nathan Baker – James Chester partnership in central defence, which has worked well.

Jack Grealish is still suspended, which is trash, but Gabby Agbonlahor will be travelling with the team this week, and though he likely won’t play, if there’s one thing I trust Gabby with, it’s hating the Blues. It’s great to have this derby back, but by and large, Gabby’s one of the few men at this club who knows what it’s like to score against the scum.

Honestly though, it’s great to have this match back, and great to have a Villa side worth waking up early to watch again.

What to know about Blues

Rivalry aside, Gary Rowett has done a really nice job across town, as he has Birmingham sitting seventh, just outside the promotion picture. Clayton Donaldson and Burnley loanee Lukas Jutkiewicz have been the danger men up top for Blues, each banging in four league goals this year, while their defensive unit has given up 16 goals in 14 matches. If Villa are to win, two goals would be a good target Sunday.

Something interesting to watch, though, may be whether or not Rowett makes wholesale changes to his side after that defeat at Burton, which saw Blues hit seven goals conceded in three matches. Left back Jonathan Grounds is suspended, which is good news for Villa, while Rowett could turn to any one of a 4-4-1-1, 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Either of the first two could allow Villa to have the numbers advantage in midfield.

American fans might recognize defender Jonathan Spector, who’s made 13 starts for Birmingham this year, while ex-Hamburg midfielder Robert Tesche’s slot in the squad will excite Bundesliga nerds like our Jack.

The best odds

Blues win: 2/1
Draw: 12/5
Villa win: 17/10

The prediction

I’m feeling pretty good about Villa right now, which means I should get ready for a disappointment. Regardless, I take it as an omen that the last time Villa won three straight league matches, in the 2009/10 season, the third win was against… Birmingham City.

Kodjia keeps firing strong, Gardner chips in a goal, and it’s enough to see Villa to a 2-0 result on the other side of town.