At 5pm in the UK, we’ll know if Villa can keep the good times rolling. It might go their way, it might not - but seriously - despite the stature of the opposition (and that’s absolutely no offense to Barnsley, who are one of my favourite teams) - this might be the game we’ve all been waiting for.
Why is that? Well, it’s all hypothetical, but consider this. If Aston Villa can take it to Bristol City, then they have absolutely no reason to turn it up to 11 against Barnsley at home - a team they battered by three goals to nil in the previous fixture at Oakwell.
It must be said that Steve Bruce was able to take advantage of a gung-ho Bristol side, who were determined to get back on track by smashing Villa - Barnsley under the wiley Paul Heckingbottom might be a bit more reserved. That being said, they put on a riot of a display last time they came to Villa Park.
What to know about Aston Villa
It must be said that while Aston Villa are playing to their highest level, they are still managing to get results. It’s not as if Steve Bruce is deploying nihilist football at Villa, but they seem to lack a cohesive tactical identity and philosophy in favour of a more ‘pick and mix’ approach. That’s all well and good, because it allows his side to spring traps (with the victory over Bristol proving that), but in the long run it can hamper the team quite a bit. Villa have bossed games since losing to Brentford on Boxing Day, however some of their wins haven’t been 100% convincing.
The big story for Villa takes place in perhaps the most boring part of the side. Defensive midfield is erupting with competition after Birkir Bjarnason made the role seemingly his in an impressive 45 minute spell away to Nottingham Forest. However, it was only half a match and it’s expected that Mile Jedinak will return to that role in this game. Glenn Whelan looks to be on borrowed time at Villa after a number of poor performances mixed-in with heroic displays of midfield might - but he seems absolutely gassed. Another player in that role simply helps everyone and gives Villa some much needed rotation in that area of the park.
Somehow, a win for Villa would punch them right back into the battle for automatic promotion, and wouldn’t just see them in the picture for it - but as one of the in-form favourites for the 2nd place spot after Derby and Bristol endured a stalemate. That only happens if they can avoid another losing streak though, there are points to be made up today.
What to know about Barnsley
Barnsley, for many reasons are a team that ‘does football right’. They barely splash the cash, they promote from within, scout for unwanted prospects (Conor Hourihane is an incredible example of this) and scour the nation for good managerial talent.
However, they just aren’t equipped to deal with the situations that the Championship throws at them. They aren’t incredibly well-funded, but they do make up for that with ideas.
Barnsley have recently enjoyed a takeover involving none other than Billy Beane - one of the minds behind the statistics revolution in Baseball that helped small market teams compete with the big boys. Barnsley are the absolute definition of a small market team (especially in the Yorkshire area which can boast rich football talent). It’ll be exciting to see what Barnsley can do.
They are currently three points out of the relegation zone, and while there are plenty of poorer clubs than the Tykes, they certainly don’t want to risk anything, not with such potential on the horizon.
Villa should smash it today. Should. Barnsley are enduring a tough time on the pitch. Over the past ten games they are rock bottom of the form table. I’ll have to go with a 3-0 victory for the Villa.