Editor's note: This was written BEFORE the Luton Town game. Hence the optimism.
Aston Villa's Championship campaign didn't get off the greatest of starts, losing 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday in a competitive affair. Both sides enjoyed spells of dominance and it just so happened that on the day, Wednesday came away with the victory.
A defeat, and one against one of the strongest teams in the division is not bad news. The positives will be built on, and the negatives, well, Aly Cissokho isn't going to be first choice down the left and Villa will probably sign a new right back too. But moving forward, Aston Villa need to settle down in this division and pick up some early points. Coming up next is the perfectly opportunity for the Claret and Blues to do so, as they welcome Rotherham United to Villa Park. But first, check out what happened the last time the two sides met:
The last time we met
Aston Villa and Rotherham have not found themselves in the same division since the 1971/2 season, though the two sides last met in a competitive game just three years ago.
In August 2013, Villa welcomed Rotherham to Villa Park for a Capital One Cup third round clash. Back then, Villa were in the Premier League, and Rotherham in League One. The (then) gulf in class showed, as Villa eased to a 3-0 win.
To be fair to Villa manager Paul Lambert, he didn't underestimate the opposition, fielding a strong lineup. With the exception of Jed Steer in goal, the Villa side was a full strength side. Rotherham too had a strong side out, but fell victim to goals from Andi Weimann, Christian Benteke and a certain serpentine midfielder. It was by all accounts a fairly routine victory, with Villa creating 13 chances, to Rotherham's four.
The defeat was fairly unfortunate for Rotherham, though an early cup exit perhaps gave the Millers the gaps in their schedule which helped them gain Promotion to the Championship, where they have remained to this day. Key to their promotion was Kieran Agard, who scored 21 league goals. Thankfully, Villa won't have to deal with him until they play Bristol City in two weeks' time, as a result of a £750k transfer two summer's ago.
As for Villa; Jores Okore, Joe Bennett, Leandro Bacuna and Ashley Westwood started the game three years ago, and all four could and probably will feature this time around (Jed Steer and Gabby started too, but neither will be in the squad this time around one would think). Sadly, the club have since sold the rest of the squad, including a players who would undoubtedly be starters to this day in Christian Benteke, Andi Weimann and Matt Lowton. Benteke was unavoidable, the other two, frustratingly, were not.
This time around
Rotherham got off to a decent start to their season, albeit against an easier opponent than the Sheffield Wednesday that Villa played. Saying that, Rotherham threw away a two goal lead against ten man Wolves, so it wasn't a terribly impressive result, all things considered. But still, the Millers will fancy their chances I'm sure.
Striker Danny Ward, new signing Will Vaulks and Irish Midfield duo Anthony Forde and Lee Frecklington will be the ones to watch for Rotherham, though Villa should have enough about them to nullify their opposition's offense. Keeper Lee Camp is a Championship journeyman, and hopefully, Villa can keep him busy.
Aston Villa will have had six days to work on what was learnt from the Wednesday game (albeit with the Luton cup game in between), and the week's training will hopefully result in improvements this week. Not that HUGE improvements are needed, but better play from the fullbacks and more team for Ross McCormack to gell with his new teammates, and we could be looking at a completely different Aston Villa this weekend. Who knows, Jordan Amavi could have regained enough fitness to feature too.
This weekend will be interesting to gauge just how Villa will do this season. It's too early to be entirely reflective of the overall campaign, we'll need to wait and see how the transfer window plays out for that, but it will be important nonetheless. These are the games that Villa will need to win if they want to make their way back to the Premier League. At the same time, I don't think you can call it a must win game, only because of the timing of it. But either way, it'll be very interesting to see how Villa bounce back from the opening weekend.