Premier League football is finally back! In less than 24 hours, Aston Villa will be kicking off the Premier League (hopefully in style) once more.
Even though the gap between Premier League football pausing at the beginning of March and now is around the same amount of time as the summer break, with little transfer talk and attention rightly turned to more important matters, it’s felt like forever since we’ve been able to watch our beloved club.
And, although we won’t be able to see them in person, it will be great to watch meaningful football once more.
Our first opponents are Sheffield United, which means that we are certainly in for a tough game. However, with mounting concerns of relegation leading to a £200 million reduction of income, the fears of selling one of our greatest ever homegrown talents and the thought of being in the same division again as Coventry City, it is absolutely a must-win game.
Villa and Sheffield United have met 135 times in the past 127 years, with Villa coming out on top 63 times, the Blades winning 40 times and a draw being played out 32 times. (Stats from 11v11.com)
We have a poor recent record against Sheffield United, having not beaten them in our previous 3 appearances. In the reverse fixture this season, we came out with a 2-0 loss, after a second half brace from John Fleck.
Previously, this has tended to be an entertaining fixture with late goals and huge scorelines. In the Championship last season alone, we saw the Blades demolish Villa in a 4-1 loss for the Claret and Blues, and who can forget the incredible 3-3 draw last season, with a brilliant comeback being completed by an injury-time Andre Green header.
Q. Villa vs Sheffield United is the Premier League’s Project Restart curtain-raiser. Considering recent matches between the two sides, do you believe we will see an entertaining game?
The interest will be high and all eyes will be on The Blades and Villa after the long break. People will want to see how this will all work especially after the mixed reviews of the German return. As far as entertaining, looking at previous games especially the last game at Villa Park under normal circumstances this would be looking like an enthralling game to get things going, but I think a lot of it will be a mystery. Whilst I can not speak for Villa I know The Blades have been keeping fit during the hiatus but no amount of practice compensates for real match time.
Q. Where do you stand on the Premier League returning, amidst the Coronavirus pandemic?
I think the time is right, the Premier League is doing everything possible to finish the season safely and, whilst I’m not willing to get into the growing corona political debate, I think the stars support that it’s time to get going.
Q. Football in Germany, Spain and Italy has returned, minus the fans. What have you made of football being played behind closed doors so far?
It’s not perfect but it’s football. Realistically the only place there has been a noticeable difference is Germany, where crowds are so vociferous. Being similar in that regards, it will take a lot of getting used to but it’s better than no footy.
Q. Chris Wilder has made it very clear that he expects his players to be fit and ready to go again. How have your preparations for the Premier League’s restart gone? Are your team looking in good shape?
Every day on social media large groups of the players have been showing glimpses of their work outs and practices. Whilst there is no substitute for game time, I trust Wilder in the sense that any player not ready won’t be playing.
Q. How big do you think John McGinn’s return to the Villa side will be for us?
Under normal circumstances it would be a huge boost. I think the positive or negative of his returning performance will be magnified due to the lack of football. Fingers crossed he has a poor return on our side of things.
Q. What is your predicted lineup for the game?
Deano; O’Connell, Egan, Basham, Baldock, Stevens; Norwood, Fleck, Lundstram; Sharp, McGoldrick.
Q. Please can we have your score prediction?
It’s a difficult one! Predicting this score-line after the long break is a bit like picking predictions out of a hat, so I’ll go for a measured response of 1-1.
Maybe I’m optimistic or maybe I’m just a bit crazy but I think we can get something from this game. Scratch that, we need to get something from this game.
We have to win this game, in my opinion, and with McGinn back fit, I think we have a very real chance. We just need to make sure that we are more tight defensively, so Dean Smith’s defensive choices will make a huge impact in this game.
As long as we don’t give away anything too softly, then I’m predicting a 2-1 win for Aston Villa.
Staying up is in our hands, so let’s go out there and ensure survival. Come on you Villa boys!
By Daniel Horton