Thursday 26th August 2010
Opponent: Rapid Vienna
Venue: Villa Park
Kick Off: 19:45
Thursday night sees the home leg of Villa’s Europa Cup Qualifying tie against Austrian unit Rapid Vienna. After a decent, if unimpressive result in Vienna left the tie in the balance at 1-1 Villa will be looking to exact revenge on the side that knocked them out of the competition at this very stage last season. A depressing night almost exactly one year ago saw Villa crash out on away goals after only managing a 2-1 home victory in response to Rapid’s 1-0 aggregate advantage. The season could have been so different if Ashley Young had not missed a penalty to send the Villains through and the same player may well be the key to victory this time around. The departure from the competition may well have benefited us in the long term with two much needed domestic cup runs and a Carling Cup robbery by Manchester United and more specifically Phil Dowd but we’re not bitter.
The first leg saw caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald field a very youthful starting XI and it seemed to be working early on in the game. An impressive run and delivery from Marc Albrighton was converted by Barry Bannan for his first senior goal. However after that high point we struggled especially from high balls into the box and looked shaky with an unfamiliar back four. The inevitable reply from the home side came from an inevitable source after a cross from Rapid star man and captain Steffan Hofmann was glanced in by target man Nuhiu.
Hofmann will no doubt be the man to target in this game and stopping his impressive deliveries into the box will be imperative. A much changed side is expected after a dismal display against Newcastle though many first team regulars are expected to return from the first leg. Brad Guzan may still be preferred in goal although it is likely that Friedel will come in and a much stronger back four will be required as a clean sheet would ensure progression to the group stages. Richard Dunne will need to improve after a far from inspiring display against the Toon and last season’s regular partner at the back James Collins may be in line for a return. Carlos Cuellar is also back in contention after recovering from injury and will look to push Luke Young for a starting berth.
In midfield new signing Stephen Ireland is available and wingman Ashley Young is expected to start. Young could be crucial to success as the Vienna back line also looked far from solid in the last game and MacDonald will be looking for him to cause the sort of trouble’s that Marc Albrighton was able to cause early on last time out. The aforementioned Albrighton may be given a rest after starting all of Villa’s opening 3 games so far and captain Stiliyan Petrov should also come in.
Up front the goalscoring return of Gabby Agbonlahor in a 45 minute spell in a friendly this week see’s him back in contention and Carew and Heskey are also fit and available. Pace may be preferred as Vienna’s ageing centre backs were caught out on occasion by Emile Heskey in Vienna. I predict that despite losing 6-0 at the weekend, MacDonald will stick to a familiar set up and as long as we can get at the defence, progression to the next round should not be an issue. A clean sheet would mean that we would not even need to score but an early goal would really help settle the nerves and a much improved defensive display will be required. Two known absentees are Stewart Downing and Stephen Warnock who will be rested after starting all of Villa’s games thus far.
Martin’s predicted starting XI: Brad Guzan; Habib Beye, Richard Dunne, James Collins, Luke Young; Ashley Young, Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker, Stephen Ireland; Gabby Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey
Martin’s predicted result: A comfortable 2-0 win for the Villa
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