Preview: Sheffield Wednesday (v) Aston Villa – New era, new faces & the start of a defining season.

For so many seasons now, at least five, we have been merely anticipating our inevitable relegation or the prospect of clinging to Premier League survival by the skin of our teeth.

It has been a sorry existence, that’s for sure.

We have endured the debacles or McLeish, Lambert, Sherwood, Garde and even Eric Black.  All under the stewardship of professional incompetent Randy Lerner; ably assisted by minions Paul Faulkner and latterly Tom Fox.

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After our abysmal season and subsequent relegation, we were finally sold, to a mystery Chinese buyer.  Dr Tony Xia, apparently self titled, has excited us with his ambition, raised an eyebrow with an unorthodox approach and drawn criticism for ill-judged use of social media.

Whilst our future fortunes will remain a figure of debate for the foreseeable, we can at least bank on a season of difference.  There are a plethora of new and unfamiliar names on the fixture list and amongst opposition squads to make things interesting.

What with a limited squad overhaul, a new “bomb squad” and our lack of familiarity at this level, there are inevitably concerns.  However, the additions of centre half Tommy Elphick and Ross McCormack, who at first glance appear prudent purchases, do bring much needed Championship experience.

It goes without saying that Villa would benefit from getting off to a good start.  It’s not make or break, nor is it a crisis if we don’t win, but it would at the very least set us on the right path.  It would also inject some much needed optimism into a squad still scarred by weekly humiliations last term.

With that said, last seasons opening game saw us grind out a win at newly promoted Bournemouth.  The rest is history best forgotten.

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Our opponents Sheffield Wednesday are a welcome first away trip of the campaign.

A regular on the fixture list until their relegation from the Premier League in 2000, they have struggled in recent years, and sit as a reminder of the impact upon a club that cannot get itself promoted swiftly.

Wednesday represent a tough opening day challenge, an immediate test for our squad under the stewardship of Roberto Di Matteo, facing his first competitive fixture at Hillsborough.

Di Matteo, likely buoyed by the arrival of goalscorer and assist merchant McCormack for £12 million, will no doubt be wary of Villa’s weaknesses after a second half collapse in the final warm up against Middlesbrough.

The hosts will hope to be contenders for promotion again this term after reaching the playoff finals in May and having only lost 2 games at home all of last season.  By contrast, we didn’t manage an away win after our opening game as mentioned above.  

Wednesday have also managed to retain key players, whilst adding to the squad with released Sunderland forward Steven Fletcher (linked to Villa in June).

Villa will be backed by a raucous and loyal away following nearing 5000, soured only by Sheffield Wednesday’s decision to charge supporters £42 for the privilege – a matter which will be rightly protested.

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Predictions:

Optimism has to be the key and great pressure has to fall of Di Matteo to fashion a strong, well contested fixture.  Villa are the unknown quantity in the division, but equally, so are all of our opponents.

If McCormack passes fit he will carry a creative and goal-scoring threat that is otherwise decidedly limited, but he should work well with Grealish & Ayew.  Defensively Villa need to be tighter than has been shown against Middlesbrough last weekend, but plans are in motion to improve as Ciaran Clark’s sale suggests.  Equally, the midfield needs to immediately find a balance not yet evidenced in the close season.

Optimism? 

2-1 to Villa – A terrifying, behind the sofa, close your eyes, hug a stranger in the aisle kind of game.  What could possibly go wrong?  Up The Villa.

Watch :  Sheffield Wednesday v Aston Villa – Sunday 7th August 2016 – Kick off 4:14pm – Stream for free via Sky Go with a subscription.

Possible Villa line up:

  1. Gollini
  2. Hutton
  3. Amavi
  4. Elphick
  5. Baker
  6. Bacuna
  7. Westwood
  8. Tshibola
  9. McCormack
  10. Ayew
  11. Grealish

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