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Preview: Are Villa already in must-win mode as Rotherham visit?

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A key fixture isn’t typically the story on matchday 2, but after a drama-filled week at Aston Villa, a win over Rotherham United is necessary.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly
Lee Camp of Rotherham United during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Rotherham United and Sunderland at the AESSEAL New York Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Rotherham, England.
Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Oh no, this could be bad. Like really, really bad.

After a disappointing, yet partially-optimistic opening-day defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa were roundly humiliated two days ago at Luton Town in the EFL Cup. It was a performance that looked straight out of last season, and one that looked nothing like the side that bossed the match in the second half at Hillsborough just a few days earlier.

To add to the calamity, yesterday, Dr. Tony Xia blocked Joe Bennett’s transfer to Wednesday, and from the outside, it doesn’t seem like things are particularly stable at the club.

A good, calm, composed 90-minute performance Saturday could alleviate all those worries, though.

What to know about Villa

Alright, let’s not screw around here. Micah Richards shouldn’t be playing centre back, Villa have no competent right backs, and there’s a good chance the club don’t have a competent left back either. Fun! Nathan Baker picked up a knock Wednesday night, but after seeing what Okore and Micah Richards gave us at Kenilworth Road, it’s hard to have much faith in the backline if either of them have to start tomorrow.

Make no mistake though, the more time Jordan Ayew and Ross McCormack spend together on the pitch, the better for Villa, because there’s goals in that duo. Ayew scored the opener at Luton midweek to open his account for the season, and I’d tip McCormack to get the job done Saturday if provided the service.

In truth, the most disappointing thing about Wednesday’s loss was that it was such a huge step back after what looked like a nice step forward at the weekend. And now Villa are in a bit of a panic mode. The side looked atrocious at Luton, but more than anything, it completely fell apart after conceding the equalizer around the half-hour mark. From the 1-1 forward, it was all Hatters, which would be concerning enough if they were another Championship side.

If Villa fail to get the job done tomorrow at home, it’s going to cast serious doubts over whether or not this side have the mental strength to win, or even seriously compete for, promotion back to the Premier League. Villa have a fairly pedestrian fixture list coming in the next few matches — Derby County are the only top-end club the Villans face in the next seven — and to me, the key to the season is calming the nerves over that stretch.

Winning at home to poor sides, which Rotherham are, is vital, as is proving that you can get a lead, hold it, add a second, and see the match out.

What to know about Rotherham

They got a bit of a surprise result at the weekend, drawing 2-2 against 10-man Wolves, but it was a match the Millers would’ve preferred three out of after they led 2-0 early. Will Vaulks and Danny Ward were the goalscorers for Rotherham on Saturday, but their relative frailty at the back suggests Villa’s strikers could have the day they need to get the season on track.

But at the end of the day, this is a Rotherham side that’s finished 21st, the last spot above the drop, for two seasons running (though they would’ve gone 20th in 2014-15 if not for a points deduction). They’re treading water at this level, and an inability to defeat sides of that calibre leads to problems. In any Championship year, you’re going to have 10 or so clubs that just aren’t talented enough, and if you don’t take care of those teams, well, you end up surrounded by those teams in the table, with no business being there.

The odds

By and large, the bookies are in pretty solid unison that Villa should win their 2016-17 home debut — which is a little surprising, given this is a club that haven’t won in more than six months.

Aston Villa: As short as 11/17, as long as 10/13
The draw: Anywhere from 5/2 through 14/5
Rotherham United: Shortest at 7/2, best odds at 9/2

The prediction

Perhaps it’s eternal optimism, but I can’t see Villa not coming away with a positive result tomorrow. I trust that “Micah Richards at centre back” won’t be a thing, and hopefully an Aaron Tshibola-led central midfield partnership looks a little better against the Millers. Regardless, the best players on the pitch Saturday are going to be Villa players, and they need to come through.

It won’t be easy, but I’ll take Villa 2-1 in a much-needed three points.