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Preview: Steve Bruce enters the last chance saloon as Aston Villa host Middlesbrough

Steve Bruce could be managing for his job in a midweek visit from the Smoggies

Colchester United v Aston Villa - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

No one truly wanted this. Even those who initially thought Steve Bruce wasn’t up to the task of guiding Aston Villa back through promotion would have wished a Roberto Di Matteo-esque beginning to the 2017-2018 campaign.

Yet here we are as we find ourselves 18th in the league, looking lost for form at our once safe haven of Villa Park. Steve Bruce is running out of ways to say that he has no idea what’s happened. The players looked rudderless against a hollowed out Brentford squad that Bruce himself had helped to pilfer in January. The stands constantly implored a team with millions of pounds worth of attacking talent to put any amount of pressure on the Bees even peppering the FT whistle with boos. Our chairman? It’s safe to say that his emoji are shared by many if not all of the aforementioned parties of the squad.

You would hope to be able to look for the team to show a certain amount of stability and poise at a time like this, and Steve Bruce certainly has tried to show that at times, but when we’re a full seasons worth of matches into his tenure and we’re back to where we were this time in 2016, what’s to be done? Bruce has said that he would normally have years to do a turnaround like this, but if we’re seeing the same issues, and bringing in more veteran players, what’s to change in 2018?

It’s simple to say this: If this team is going to be turned around, and if Bruce is the man to do it, it needs to start with three points tomorrow evening. If not, the cracks in the ice start getting louder.

What to know about Aston Villa

All is not lost, but this team is not on the upswing.

It was less than a month ago that there was real excitement after putting up 8 goals over two games against Norwich City and Wigan Athletic. Those players, by and large, are going to be contributing tomorrow and through the rest of the month and will soon be bolstered by two of the most important Villans of 2016-2017.

Mile Jedinak was in the match day lineup on Saturday, though he didn’t make it on the pitch. His contribution could be expected tomorrow playing alongside Glenn Whelan or replacing him entirely.

Bruce is pleading caution, but we are certainly on GODjia-Watch. Jimmy Danger is giving it a go against Southampton in Premier League 2 action and if his participation is encouraging, he could be available for action against Boro.

In less encouraging news, a few of this seasons bloomers have taken injuries. Andre Green, Keinan Davis and Josh Onomah have knocks that are casting doubt on their availability. That could lead to new opportunities for Albert Adomah, who should be seeing the pitch anyway, and all in all, this is why Villa has such a large squad. Of all the excuses that could be made for Villa to drop points, this problem has been anticipated and accounted for.

What to know about Middlesbrough

Boro were relegated from the Prem last season after only putting in 27 goals in a dismal campaign. This season has been a success thus far as they’re on 10 points with a +4 GD. In league play, they’ve taken care of business at Riverside Stadium against Sunderland and Burton and handled Bolton away last Saturday while dropping away matches against Wolves and Nottingham Forest. They’ve also drawn away at home against Preston.

In short, they’ve handled their matches against lower opponents and struggled to get points against mid-table or similarly talented teams especially away from friendlier confines, so we’ll have an indication which one of those Aston Villa is.

Boro has some familiar faces on their squad and is definitely stacked with talent to compete to return back to the Premier League. Transfermarkt has the team valued at nearly £68 million second only to Aston Villa. The Middlesbrough attack is led by Britt Assombalonga who moved to the squad from Nottingham Forest for a record £14 million fee and has largely earned it with four early goals.

Old pal Rudy Gestede has been ruled out with a freak “dead leg” injury and won’t participate in the match, but he is not the only former Villan on the squad, and certainly not the one making magic happen for Boro.

That would be Adama Traore. The former Barcelona youth had never shown the mind or mentality to match his incredible talent, but—wouldn’t you know it?—he’s begun to put it together away from Villa Park. His play this weekend led to a gushing article. Read the whole thing, but I’m highlighting the following nuggets:

'Nothing short of magical'

'He barged the door down with a frightening ease. By the end, Bolton's defence were traumatised.'

'It was his killer instinct that was most impressive.'

'He is a weapon who can blow any side in this division away'

Have fun, John.

With that said, Boro’s expected goals show that they’re outperforming their analytics by about 3.7 goals on aggregate over the season. For example, their 0-3 victory over Bolton broken down by eG showed a much more competitive match at Bolton 0.9 - 1.5 Middlesbrough. This swing of adding a goal and half and holding off an entire goal shows a 2.4 goal swing between the teams. In their match against Preston, which drew 0-0, eG had them losing 1.4-0.3 for another 1.1 goal swing.

It’s two dots on a small sample, but my goal here was to make you forget about that previous gif and soften the blow for the video to come, so, we’ll see if it worked.

Prediction

Make plans for after the match Tuesday evening. Plans you can look forward to with joy. The *expectation* is that Villa needs three points and that will lead to massive disappointment if we end up seeing something like this happening to our captain.

Villa needs to put their foot down and establish their intention that they aren’t just equals to Boro--they’re better. My prediction is that we can turn it around for this one match and pull out a 2-1 victory with hopefully Albert Adomah making an entry into the score sheet, but I’m making plans for 3:45 PM US Central time so I can pretty quickly move on if I am screaming at AVTV at FT yet again.