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Preview: Villa head to Derby for key early-season clash

Aston Villa and Derby County are among the promotion favourites this year in the Championship, so any result for the Claret and Blues at Pride Park would be a positive one.

Derby County v Brighton & Hove Albion - Sky Bet Championship
Darren Bent of Derby County after failing to score during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion at the iPro Stadium on August 06, 2016 in Derby, England.
Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images

It’s a little tough to say how we should collectively feel about Aston Villa three Championship matches in. On one hand, Villa have played four fantastic halves of football, been not terrible in one of the other ones, and should have survived the final one. But on the other, two errors have more than likely cost the club three points through three matches.

Regardless, a quick look around the Championship should remind any panicked Villa fans that things aren’t terrible. No side has won all three of its matches, and Villa sit above fellow play-off or promotion favourites Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County and Newcastle United in the table.

Everything said, Saturday’s match is a big one. Villa squandered an opportunity for a huge result at Hillsborough on the opening day, and even a point at Derby would be a good one.

What to know about Aston Villa

One of Villa’s biggest issues Tuesday night against Huddersfield Town was the true lack of options on the bench: neither André Green, nor Gary Gardner offered anything to change Villa’s tactics, and neither did anyone else on the bench. With Adama Traoré stating he wants to leave the club, that looks likely to continue up front, but with Mile Jedinak signed, a true opportunity to change tactics in midfield on 60 minutes will present itself to Roberto Di Matteo.

The biggest story this week, of course, is that Jedinak signing. It’s a fantastic move for Villa, and a guy I’ve wanted the club to sign for years.

This is Villa though, and Jedinak’s status for tomorrow is up in the air, as his work permit reapplication is set to go to the wire. Di Matteo suggested he might get it through in time, so if that happens, it will be a big boost to the Claret and Blues.

Especially if Jedinak’s permit is settled before the deadline, Di Matteo will have an interesting selection dilemma on hand: Would the manager switch system, to a 4-3-3, to strengthen the midfield away from home at a top side? Slotting Jedinak into the XI for, say, Jordan Ayew would allow Villa to play a bit of a 4-3-1-2 system, with Jack Grealish lingering behind Ross McCormack and Rudy Gestede and Jedinak sitting as the defensive midfielder behind Ashley Westwood and Aaron Tshibola. Bringing Ayew on at the hour mark, to change tactics if necessary or simply as a like-for-like switch with Grealish or McCormack, could be in the cards in such a plan.

My preference? I’d like to see a clean sheet the priority, because…

What to know about Derby County

…Derby County have scored one league goal all season. They’re the joint-lowest scorers in the division, and only sit on four points thanks to a 1-0 win away to Preston and a 0-0 draw against Brighton & Hove Albion. The Derby attack simply isn’t getting the goals this early in the season, but their defence is pretty solid.

Expect an unchanged XI from Nigel Pearson (remember that guy?), which means that neither Darren Bent (selection), nor Andi Weimann (injury) are likely to start against their former club. Instead, it’ll be Will Hughes, Tom Ince, Johnny Russell and Chris Martin leading the Rams’ attack.

There’s still a lot of talent there, so while they haven’t yet bagged too many goals, they’ll likely be a threat Saturday.

The odds

The home side are favoured at Pride Park tomorrow, but they aren’t odds-on favourites; Villa should have a good chance at a result.

Derby County: 6/5
The draw: 5/2
Aston Villa: 11/4

The prediction

In my eyes, a lot of the result depends on what Di Matteo opts to do. If he goes 4-4-2 once more, and Villa can get a foothold in the match, it’ll push a more attacking match. If he adjusts and does something else — a 4-3-3, for instance — it could spell a match with fewer chances at both ends.

That said, I see a draw playing out, and I’ll take it with a 1-1 scoreline and Grealish getting the Villa goal.