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Analyzing the key parts of Villa’s 2017/18 fixture list

Aston Villa’s fixtures for next year are out. What are the key runs that will make or break Villa’s season?

Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion - Sky Bet Championship
Aston Villa hosted promoted Brighton on the final day in 2017. Could Millwall be hosting promoted Villa in 11 months?
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

You’ve brushed up on the season opener, final match and derby dates with Birmingham City. But what about the rest of the Aston Villa fixture list for 2017/18?

Not all fixture lists are created even — for instance, a relatively benign start to last season was a bad thing, as Villa struggled out of the gate, throwing away some of their best chances to get three points. When you see specific teams matters over the course of a season; for instance, it’s a lot easier to successfully navigate three matches in eight days when the opposition is weak, and a lot easier to start from an advantageous position, as Villa saw in the lack of promotion push this year.

So let’s take a quick dive into Villa’s fixture list, looking at the opening, closing, easiest and toughest runs (at least on paper).

The opening five fixtures

In truth, the fixture generator has given Villa a pretty tough go of it during the month of August. Villa open with a home match against Hull City, who should be one of the better sides this season, and then have contests with play-off final losers Reading (A) and Norwich City (H), who should also figure at the right end of the table. Winning those matches, or at least picking up a point in all three, would go a long way toward establishing Villa as an early promotion favourite. Under Roberto Di Matteo, the club struggled to do this last year, losing to Sheffield Wednesday and only managing a home draw with Huddersfield Town.

Seeing Cardiff City and Bristol City also on that run should be a boost, but both matches are away from home — and Villa will have to do more against both sides than they did in the same fixture last season if they’re to get off to the start they need.

The final five fixtures

Make-or-break time could be über dramatic for Aston Villa, as the Claret and Blues could head to Millwall on the final day with something at stake. Imagine the scenes if Villa need a win for promotion and Millwall need one for survival.

Stepping back from that headline clash, though, visits from Leeds United and Derby County could well be six-pointers, matches that are always welcome to see at home. Cardiff City (H) and Ipswich Town (A) are both among the toughest sides to play against in the Championship, so this could be a bit of a tricky run-in for the Claret and Blues.

Easiest run

Aston Villa struggled mightily during January and early February this past term, and they did so with an easy fixture list. Fear not, though, for the Villans will have another chance to go after an easy slate once New Year’s Day hits.

Bristol City will visit on 1 January in what will probably be a standard festive bore, things look pretty solid for a big move — Villa will travel to Nottingham Forest, then have three home matches in four, hosting Barnsley, Burton Albion and Birmingham City, with a visit to Sheffield United in between the Barnsley and Burton fixtures. That’s a six-match run against a group of sides I’d be surprised to see at the right end of the table at the end of the year; Forest, Burton and Blues were the weakest sides to stay up, and the Blades are newly promoted. This is a key chance for Villa to move up the table or, hopefully, solidify a spot at the top of it.

Toughest run

If you think the opening run of 2018 is easy, mid-February will quickly have you changing those tunes. After the home derby match with Blues, Villa have a five-match run where they travel away to three fellow promotion favourites, travelling to Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland; home matches against Preston North End and Queens Park Rangers break up the road fixtures.

This is where Villa will need to do one of two things: defend their position or stay within touching distance. Fulham and Wednesday were certainly the most impressive sides not to go up from this season’s Championship, and no matter the chaos they seem to be in, Sunderland should have a talented side to attack the division next year. An inability to get points here would see a lead go away, or worse, would put a Villa side outside the top six well out of contention.