There’s a lot to love about Aston Villa right now. A massive November for Dean Smith has seen the team batter Derby, crush Blues and share ten goals with Nottingham Forest. The first match of December saw them decimate the best defence in the Championship with 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough.
Now? Villa make the short trip across to the Black Country and The Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion - a team that are starting to find their own identity - and a team that like Aston Villa, have plenty to rave about.
How about that Villa?
Villa’s positivity has not yet ran dry - the well is richer than ever. Hammering the best defence, bar none, on the weekend has only seen spirits raise around Villa Park - and for good reason.
Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El-Ghazi have lit up the wings, and Tammy Abraham is in free-scoring mode up front. So much so that it seems Chelsea may recall him in January from this current loan spell. Jack Grealish seems to be settling into a run of form, and Villa are getting some good stuff from Conor Hourihane in defensive midfield. This is working, and it’s working right.
The flaws still remain - Villa are too open at the back, and that’s for a number of reasons. Dean Smith’s high-block is one, but Villa’s lack of mobility and/or discipline may scupper their form at some point. Ørjan Nyland came up big with an impressive stop against Middlesbrough, but only after a defensive miscommunication earlier. He needs a solid game for a full 90 minutes - because there’s talk of a replacement come January and the winter transfer window. If he can grow into his role - Villa will benefit during a tough December stretch.
Albert Adomah will miss out once more, and is still joined by Henri Lansbury - but Alan Hutton does return from suspension and Birkir Bjarnason is close to full fitness. Villa’s rotational options have grown - but it looks like Villa will stay unchanged for the challenging visit to the Hawthorns.
Don’t get this twisted - if you believe that promotion candidates shouldn’t lose at home, especially to promotion rivals; then West Brom should be winning this match. The same rules that we’d apply to Villa have to apply for Albion.
But it’s a derby, and Villa seem on an incredible high - and almost seem to be outpacing the Baggies, who have seen their early-season lead over the Villa mellow.
Albion and Villa are two similar sides - free scoring, with a weak backline. There are holes all over the park, but you have to think that the momentum is with AVFC heading into this one, with four wins from their last five games - with the Baggies stumbling to a draw with Brentford just a few nights ago.
Darren Moore seems to be doing a number of good things right now for WBA in the Championship, above all ensuring that they are scoring goals - and plenty of them.
This is a match dripping in narrative. Villa’s captain, James Chester didn’t cut it at WBA. Villa hero, Gareth Barry is within the Baggies squad. Dean Smith didn’t get the Albion job when it was open for applications in the summer. New goalkeeping coach, Neil Cutler, left WBA for Villa a few weeks back. Both sides are gunning for promotion, and either side will have to topple the other to get there.
Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez and Harvey Barnes present themselves as the main threats for Albion, and they are all firing. Villa will have a job on to stop them. West Brom’s main concern will be there defence - Villa have the upper hand, ever so slightly, here. With Sam Johnstone in goal, WBA have only kept the single clean sheet all season.
Villa hold the upper hand in the recent history of the West Midlands derby, but we have to go back to 2014 and that fateful FA Cup quarter-final at Villa Park for Villa’s last win over Albion. The last fixture in Villa’s last season in the Premier League was a stalemate, but Baggies did grab a win over Villa at Villa Park that same season. Still, both teams have come a long way since that day.
Who knows what will happen? Villa and WBA are open sides - so irony could present itself and offer a 0-0. That can’t happen, though - surely? It’s got to be a win for Villa, and it’s going to be dramatic. Call it a 3-2.