Pierluigi Gollini might tell you “bemvindo,” Jores Okore would say “velkomst,” Jordan Amavi would likely go for “bienvenue.” Tim Sherwood would talk about the #bantz no matter the occasion, Paul Lambert would choose “[incoherent]” and new owner Tony Xia’s greeting of choice? “欢迎.”
But the language it comes in doesn’t really matter. Welcome, friends.
Tomorrow, we embark on a journey that will take us… somewhere. It always seems to when it comes to Aston Villa, doesn’t it? Whether that journey is an embarrassing 8-0 loss to Chelsea, an embarrassing League Cup semifinal loss to Bradford City, an embarrassing, forgettable FA Cup final loss to Arsenal or an embarrassingly macabre relegation or perhaps a nice thing? Wait, no, it’s all kind of been bad recently.
Regardless of our past failures though, and Paul McGrath knows we’ve had enough of them over the last handful of years, we will rise tomorrow reignited with passion, reignited with the hope that this is the year things get better. That this is the year Villa start to win again.
That this is the year that reinvigorates an ever-proud football club, the year that invigorates the club, of which there is no other: Aston Villa.
Welcome back, football.
In the past couple days, I helped us familiarize ourselves with Sheffield Wednesday as a club, Jack gave us a tactical preview of the clash and James lent his talents to a travel guide for those headed to the Steel City.
Now, for a match preview.
What to know about Aston Villa
You know what’s fun? Feeling happy when I do one of these things!
It’s properly a new era at the club, and Sunday is the first chance we’ll truly get to see how much has changed in the couple months since Dr. Tony Xia took the club over as owner and appointed Roberto Di Matteo as manager. For our sake, hopefully it won’t turn out to be a case of, “Meet the new boss — same as the old boss.”
(It’s not really supposed to be a great one-liner, I’m just super psyched for the start of the season and wanted an excuse to break out that famous scream.)
So what do we need to know from Villa as they’re set to embark on the Championship campaign? Well, for starters, we’ll be monitoring four new signings headed into the season — the aforementioned Gollini, Aaron Tshibola, Tommy Elphick and Ross McCormack — so that sounds as good of a place as any to start.
For two of them, we know they’ll be in the XI; Gollini’s been handed the No. 1 shirt, and Elphick was named club captain yesterday, both signs of sure-fire places in the opening day team. Tshibola should likely be there, especially with Idrissa Gana’s departure and Carlos Sánchez looking on his way out, too. No matter who else starts in midfield, be it Gary Gardner or Ashley Westwood, it’s hard to see Tshibola not making the XI.
The real question mark will be whether or not McCormack makes his debut from the XI or from the bench. If Di Matteo puts him straight into the lineup, it’ll be a statement of intent, one that shows the club are keen to get down to business. But if he makes that debut from the bench, it might be the sensible call. We’ll see what happens there.
The other guy I’ll be watching intently Sunday, and this season, is Jack Grealish. You know Jordan Ayew and McCormack are going to give you a high quality of play in attack, but if he shows the type of talent he did under Tim Sherwood, Grealish may well be one of the three best players in this Villa team. If automatic promotion is to be achieved this year, it’s going to be because Ayew, McCormack, Grealish and Rudy Gestede all bring it, helping Villa actually do that thing where you score goals.
What to know about Wednesday
So, Sheffield Wednesday are a pretty good side. The Owls were losing play-off finalists last year, falling 1-0 to Hull City, and come back among the favourites to reach the play-off again, with most bookies putting Wednesday sixth- or seventh-favourite to go up. In truth, Villa likely won’t find many tougher obstacles to tackle than this one this season, especially given the relative state of flux the squad finds itself in on the opening day.
When I look at Wednesday, I see three key players: Fernando Foresteiri and ex-Villan Barry Bannan, who spearheaded the promotion push a season ago, and new signing Steven Fletcher, who joins after last playing for Marseille.
I’d be surprised if Wednesday weren’t battling it out at the right end of the table again this year, so a result gained in Yorkshire would be a good one. An away draw wouldn’t be anything to scoff at (despite the tone of what I wrote earlier today), and if Villa could nick that win away from home, it’d be a fantastic result.
The bookies aren’t big fans of Villa here. They’ve universally got Wednesday favoured, and have Villa out to odds that look a little like the ones we saw last year in the Premier League.
The shortest odds for each result Sunday…
Sheffield Wednesday: 21/20
The draw: 12/5
Aston Villa: 29/10
I’ve already made my #vpl prediction for the weekend, but I’m going to stick with it here. Villa will look a lot better than they did in the Premier League last year, but there are still likely flaws in this side, none more glaring than weaknesses at the fullback positions — I don’t expect to see Jordan Amavi tomorrow.
With that in mind, Villa play well, but concede a stupid goal to split the spoils, 1-1, at Hillsborough.