So that time of year is nearly upon us again! Or is it? Uncertainty over the opening weekend of Premier League fixtures due to the nonsensical rioting which started in London and has swept the country has thus far overshadowed the upcoming 2011/12 campaign, but the Villa game at Fulham, as it stands, looks to be going ahead!
Tottenham’s clash with Everton has already bean postponed due to the riots in the capital so the future of Villa’s opener is far from certain, though early indications look good and McLeish has claimed that the game will go-ahead assuming there are no major incidents between now and Saturday.
The game will of course be McLeish’s first competitive match in charge since joining from the Blues and early successes will prove vital to winning over the fans, many of whom were so strongly opposed to his appointment.
Fulham have a new manager of their own in Martin Jol and have impressed to a certain degree, sailing through their Europa League qualification thus far. The Londoners have fit again strike duo Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson back and firing, which will be a worry for a dismal Villa defence last term, though new signing Shay Given will be determined to kick-off his Villa career with a clean sheet.
Alex McLeish has claimed that he has a fully fit squad to choose from, barring Carlos Cuellar who remains sidelined with a knee injury, after James Collins returned from a back injury. Villa’s other new recruit, Charles N’Zogbia is all but certain to feature, though McLeish’s attacking set-up is less certain.
In pre-season the Scot toyed with the likes of Emile Heskey and Gabby Agbonlahor out wide, with the former the more likely to start the opener on the opposite flank to N’Zogbia. The new manager seems settled enough on a back four of Young, Dunne, Collins and Warnock, despite their downfalls last season, while captain Petrov and Jean Makoun are likely to act as a shield.
Stephen Ireland’s return to the club has been supported and jeered in fairly equal measure, with the midfielder seemingly lacking a bit of match fitness and likely to make the bench only on Saturday. If that proves to be the case than the young duo of Fabian Delph and Barry Bannan are likely to fight for a berth in a more attacking midfield role behind lone striker Bent in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Bannan has impressed me in pre-season and should get the nod in my opinion but I get the feeling that McLeish has liked what he’s seen in Delph so I’m tipping the former Leeds man to start. Young Players of the Season from last term Marc Albrighton and Ciaran Clark may ell have to settle for a place in the squad for this one after Collins’ return and McLeish’s hint towards a start for Heskey.
Fulham are likely to hand a debut to former Liverpool man John Arne Riise at left-back, with former Villan Steve Sidwell set to start in midfield.
Villa will be hoping to get a lead and hold onto it having gone up in both games last season only to concede equalisers. This fixture last term saw an injury time leveller from Brede Hangeland cancel out a memorable goal from Albrighton following a perfectly judged long ball from Bannan.
So are we all excited? I know I am, and here’s my first pre-match prediction of the new season:
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Given; Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Makoun, Petrov; N’Zogbia, Delph, Heskey; Bent.
Key Man: Jean Makoun
Final Score: 1-1
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