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Preview: Villa welcome Hull to kick off Championship season

Steve Bruce gets to start his first full season at Aston Villa against a familiar foe as Hull City come to Villa Park for the early evening kickoff Saturday.

Hull City v Aston Villa - Premier League
HULL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: Alan Hutton of Aston Villa and David Meyler of Hull City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Aston Villa at the KC Stadium on February 10, 2015 in Hull, England.
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

It’s time to wake up from our summer slumber: Championship football is back! Steve Bruce and Aston Villa open their campaign tomorrow, with the gaffer’s former club, Hull City, set to pay an opening-day visit to Villa Park. Can Villa get a crucial three points to kick off a crucial season? Will the visitors, of which not as much is expected this season, steal a point or three in B6?

Only time will tell.

What to know about Aston Villa

If you haven’t been paying much attention, Villa have gotten a little older this summer; Ahmed Elmohamady, John Terry and Glenn Whelan are all expected in the starting XI on Saturday, and none of them are particularly long-term projects. They can all certainly do a job, though, and it’ll be interesting to see how they get on in their Villa debuts.

The Claret and Blues will be without first-choice players Albert Adomah, Jack Grealish, Mile Jedinak and Jonathan Kodjia on Saturday, which puts Bruce in a bit of a bind. I’d expect the manager to stick with the 4-3-3 he showed at the tail end of preseason, but who will make the XI? Henri Lansbury and Whelan seem to be safe bets for the midfield, but which of Leandro Bacuna, Birkir Bjarnason or Conor Hourihane will start alongside them? André Green and Elmohamady seem to be good bets to start on the wing if Bruce plays 4-3-3, but will it be Gabby Agbonlahor or Scott Hogan getting the nod up top?

We should be able to predict the defence pretty confidently, though: expect Neil Taylor, James Chester, Terry and Alan Hutton to be the starters in front of Sam Johnstone, who’s expected to be fit again.

What to know about Hull City

Centre backs Curtis Davies and Harry Maguire are gone. Defensive midfielder Tom Huddlestone, goalkeeper Eldin Jakupović and fullback Andy Robertson have joined them out the door — not to mention Elmohamady, who’s joined Villa.

To say that Hull City, now managed by former CSKA Moskva and Russia manager Leonid Slutsky, are a club in flux might be a little bit of an understatement, and it’s why the Tigers aren’t commonly cited as a promotion favourite despite being one of three clubs relegated from the Premier League last year. That said, there’s still some good talent available to Slutsky, and any team that can start Abel Hernández, who scored 20 goals in his last Championship campaign, will always pose a threat.

The odds say…

The bookies like Villa to open the season with a result Saturday; the win is anywhere from 10/11 to 11/10 depending on the site, while the draw ranges from 11/5 to 12/5. Hull’s shortest odds are 13/5, moving out to 3/1.

The prediction

Well, if Hull wear their traditional amber and black kits, it’ll be the best kit matchup of the season.

As for the actual football, I’ve got a decent feeling about this. I think Chester and Terry stay as crystal clean at the back as they were during preseason, while Hogan gets off to a good start by bagging the winner. Agbonlahor comes on late to score an insurance goal for the 2-0 Villa win.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments! Villa’s back, friends, and it’s beautiful.