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Preview: Villa head to promotion dark horse Cardiff

Matchday 2 is upon us, and Cardiff City looked good on the opening day. Could this be a six-pointer in the making?

Aston Villa v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa has a shot saved by Ben Amos of Cardiff City during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Cardiff City at Villa Park on November 26, 2016 in Birmingham, England.

Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

I hate Cardiff City. Not the club itself, and certainly not the supporters — who had to endure one of the biggest dilemmas a fan base has ever been presented with when Vincent Tan changed the club’s crest and colours, but also won promotion to the Premier League — but with Neil Warnock, and the style of football the Bluebirds employ.

Remember last year, when Villa beat Cardiff 3-1 at Villa Park, and Warnock decided an appropriate response was to lay into Jack Grealish in the tunnel after a match where Cardiff decided their primary tactic was to foul the Villa midfielder whenever he was on the ball? And then how they did the same thing a few weeks later in the return fixture in Cardiff?

Seriously, Warnock can go to hell. Forget Birmingham City or anyone else, nothing outside of promotion would make me happier than taking six points off Warnock this season.

What to know about Aston Villa

It’s just the EFL Cup, but the Claret and Blues are coming off a win heading into the showdown in Cardiff — and that’s something worth being optimistic about, anyway. Callum O’Hare likely won’t start, but after a blazing display against Colchester United, he’ll hopefully at least make the bench.

In the league opener, a 1-1 draw with Hull City, Villa looked pretty good on the whole, but gave away one big chance and squandered a few of their own in failing to take the full three points. Gabby Agbonlahor got off the mark, then largely disappeared, as the individual players in the starting XI showed a mixed bag of performances.

We do know one change Steve Bruce must make, with Leandro Bacuna’s departure from the club vacating a spot in the XI; I’d expect Josh Onomah to take Bacuna’s place, after the Spurs loanee put in a solid shift against Colchester on Wednesday.

Aside from that, it will be interesting to see if Bruce makes any other changes to his squad. Agbonlahor was deployed on the left wing, which made his disappearance problematic; it kept Villa from building down the left, allowing Hull City to funnel more resources to shutting down Ahmed Elmohamady on the right side. With André Green out due to a groin injury though, I’m not sure if Bruce has another option. Could he send Birkir Bjarnason out to the left wing to start in Agbonlahor’s spot? Regardless, Villa need balance in their attack to keep Cardiff from being able to double up on Elmo.

Albert Adomah’s return from injury poses an interesting question for Bruce, too — he effectively had an assist against Colchester, but how do you play him and Elmohamady, who looked good? Could Alan Hutton get pushed out, with Elmo slotting in at right back? Do you really improve anything by doing that? Will Adomah simply be relegated to the status of impact sub?

What to know about Cardiff City

For all the hate I throw Warnock’s way, his side put in a good shift in a 1-0 win at Burton Albion on the opening day. While the Bluebirds needed a Kenneth Zohore strike in the 87th minute to secure all three points, those points were well-deserved: Cardiff outshot their hosts 17-3 on the day, peppering the Brewers’ goal while holding firm at the back: Burton had just two moves result in shots; Jackson Irvine fired over from out of the box in the 39th minute, and Cardiff defenders blocked two shots from the edge of the penalty area in the 75th.

If prior history is any indication, Warnock will try to get his team to frustrate Villa’s youngsters, especially Green if he starts. The 3-4-1-2 formation they used at Burton is perfect for staying strong at the back and frustrating opponents, and that’s certainly how they took the three points at home last year against Villa.

At the same time, if Villa’s right side can’t break through Cardiff wing back Joe Bennett, well, we probably don’t deserve to take all three points.

The odds

Cardiff have been tipped by some as a promotion dark horse after their opening-day win, and the bookmakers have a home win as the most likely result Saturday — but all in all, it looks like a pretty even match on paper. The Bluebirds range between 8/5 and 171/100 for the win, Villa are as short as 7/4 and as long as 21/10, while the draw sits between 19/10 and 11/5.

The prediction

I stay optimistic, for some reason. Villa get out to another bright start and carry a 1-0 lead into the break off a Scott Hogan goal, but they’ll be pegged back early in the second half. The Claret and Blues resume the initiative, though, with Albert Adomah bagging a late winner of the bench.