It hasn't even been a month since the end of Euro 2016, but football's back. Yay! Which also means that Aston Villa are back too. Uhh, yay...I guess.
New season. New owner. New manager. New division. Mostly the same squad. Same performances? Time can only tell, and we'll find out for the first time this Sunday as Villa head north to Hillsborough to face Sheffield Wednesday. How did Villa fare the last time the two sides met? Find out here. It's a new season, and Don't look back in anger is back.
The last time we met
November 28, 2001. First division (now Championship) side Sheffield Wednesday travelled to Villa Park to take on Premier League side Villa in the 4th round of the Worthington League Cup. Guess what? Aston Villa lost!
Now, this game took place 15 years ago, and I only started watching football in 2003, so I have no idea of how the game played out. And even if I was a football fan back then, I probably would have no recollection of a random League Cup game in November. If anyone reading does remember it, do let us know in the comments.
The final score was 1-0 to Wednesday, courtesy of a goal by first half substitute Efan Ekoku. Ekoku appears to have actually been a very good player, having had prolific spells at Norwich City, Wimbledon and Swiss side Grasshopper. He was 34 at the time of scoring against Villa, and has since retired (obviously!) and was last seen working for BBC Sport for the 2013 Confederations Cup.
To be fair to Wednesday, they progressed to the Semi Finals of the cup that season, before losing to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers. As for Villa, they finished in a respectable 8th place in the League. Unsurprisingly, not a single squad member for either side remains at their club today. In fact, the only player from either side to still be playing at a high level is then Aston Villa substitute Gareth Barry, who currently warms the bench at Everton. Weirdly, Wednesday had a player called Ashley Westwood, a lower league journeyman.
This time round: Sheffield Wednesday are probably favourites
Aston Villa go into Sunday's game with every chance of walking away with nothing. That's not being pessimistic, the reality is simple. Sheffield Wednesday are a top six side in this division, and they have a point to prove.
Defeat to Hull in last season's playoff final denied Sheffield Wednesday in a place in the Premier League this term, and I'm sure that they will be even more fired up to finish in the top two this time around, to avoid playoff heartbreak. With that in mind, Carlos Carvalhal's side will be looking to hit the ground running this term. This could spell trouble for Villa, who may find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sheffield Wednesday have two solid strikers in Lucas Joao and Fernando Forestieri. And Steven Fletcher too, I guess. Good strikers, and good providers in Jeremy Helan and Marco Matias means that Villa will have to work super hard if they want to keep a clean sheet. Defend like they defended for much of last season, and Villa leave Hillsborough with nothing.
If Sheffield Wednesday have any weakness, it may well be their discipline. They received five red cards last season (two for Forestieri, and one each for Ross Wallace, Jeremy Helan and Barry Bannan), and 100 yellow cards in total. For comparison, Villa had just 55 yellows, and two reds (Aly Cissokho and Jordan Ayew). If Sam Hutchinson plays for Wednesday, a yellow for him is virtually guaranteed.
It's absolutely not the case that Villa have no chance this Sunday, play like they did in the first half of the Middlesbrough friendly and Villa take at least one point. But Sheffield Wednesday have been in the Championship long enough to know the game. If Villa turn up expecting to walk the league, then their reality check starts this weekend. It is simply a case of managing your expectations. Aston Villa will win games this year. But they will also lose a few. And up first is one of the toughest games of the season.