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Preview: EFL Cup gives Bruce a chance to evaluate his squad

Villa are off to Colchester United for the first round of the EFL Cup. Can the Claret and Blues finally take care of a little business in this competition?

Colchester United v Burton Albion - Sky Bet League One
Will Aston Villa return from Essex with a win?
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Folks, I’m here with some news: You should care about tomorrow’s EFL Cup match!

Yeah, I know, I really don’t care about how Aston Villa do in this silly competition either — in fact, I’d probably only be invested in results if (1) Villa drew Blues or maybe West Brom, (2) Villa reached the last 16, or (3) Villa drew another club I hate, like Leicester City or Milton Keynes.

Villa are, however, in a bit of an envious position where EFL clubs are concerned: Steve Bruce could realistically change all 11 of his starters from Saturday’s opening day draw and still have a side that should comfortably beat League Two Colchester United. The EFL Cup will be important for the Claret and Blues not because it represents a significant chance at silverware, but because it’ll allow the gaffer to make changes and give second-choice and young players a chance to shine during what actually is a competitive fixture. If Villa can string together more results, it means more chances to get a grasp on the side Bruce has.

What to know about Aston Villa

Steve Bruce’s Villa side, well, didn’t necessarily look like a Steve Bruce side Saturday at home to Hull City.

Yeah, this is good, actually.

I’m very curious what Bruce will do personnel wise, because he’s got a lot of options if he wants to evaluate different players, especially with more crucial league trips to Cardiff City and Reading on the horizon in the next week. Josh Onomah, who came on late against Hull, is a likely starter, and I’d expect André Green to surely feature in the XI as well. I think there’s a decent chance Scott Hogan gets the nod up top — I’m all for playing him to help him get going on the score sheet — while Cristopher Samba would seem like a smart starter at centre back.

My gut tells me we’ll see one or two youth players (not Green or James Bree) make the XI tomorrow, too, and it’ll be a decent mix of youth and veterans for the Claret and Blues.

I would, however, really like to see Birkir Bjarnason and Conor Hourihane in the starting XI tomorrow, perhaps in a midfield trio with Onomah. Bjarnason showed flashes during preseason (he often just lacked the finish), while Hourihane is genuinely one of the division’s 10 best players. I don’t get why Bruce rates him, and I’d love to see the Republic of Ireland international have a chance to push his way into the XI for Cardiff at Leandro Bacuna’s expense.

What to know about Colchester United

Well, let’s see, they lost on the opening day 3-1 away to Accrington Stanley (obligatory “who are they?” here) and in the process, lost key defender Tom Eastman to injury. It sounds unlikely he’ll feature against Villa. They’re also down captain Luke Prosser, too, so the Colchester defence may well be ripe for the taking.

On the whole though, the U’s are a solid side for the League Two level; they finished eighth last year in their first season back in the division after relegation from League One. 21-year-old midfielder Sammie Szmodics came off the bench to score their only goal in the defeat Saturday.

Fun fact: They lost to Brighton & Hove Albion in the first round of the EFL Cup last year. I think we’d take a similar season to the one the Seagulls just had…

The odds

Villa are heavy favourites here; odds are as short as 1/2 at Matchbook for the Villa win in 90 minutes, with the best odds at 4/7. The draw (or, as it is here, extra time) is between 11/4 and 16/5, while Colchester’s odds range from 5/1 to 6/1.

The prediction

Villa have made a mess of their first EFL Cup fixture the last few years, which makes those odds seem a little off — 2014 saw the 1-0 loss to Leyton Orient, Villa needed extra time to get past Notts County in 2015, while last year’s trip to Luton Town was an unmitigated disaster.

The team Bruce can put out there tomorrow is a lot better than any of those teams, to be fair, and they should be able to do the job comfortably.

I think Scott Hogan plays and gets on the scoresheet, Josh Onomah bags his first goal for the Claret and Blues, and youngster Callum O’Hare seals a 3-0 victory.