The 26th of May doesn’t seem all that long ago when we were ninety minutes away from returning to the Premier League. However, that wasn’t to be and now it all starts again. The long hard slog in Aston Villa’s quest to regain there Premier League status with a trip to Hull.
Since that disappointing day, we have heard many conflicting reports and the club has undergone a serious rebuilding process with the lowest time being when it was reported we were close to administration and losing all our star players o now being owned by the third richest owners in the country.
Our opening day opponents Hull has undergone some drastic changes as well in the offseason. The majority of these changes have come in the transfer window. The biggest loss to Hull’s squad is the departure of striker Abel Hernandez who left the club for free after the expiry of his contract and joined CSKA Moscow. The Uruguayan international spent most of last season out injured but returned late on to finish the season with an impressive 8 goals in 688 minutes in the league.
Hull will have to replace his prolific goal scoring ability somehow. However, they survived nearly the whole season without the 27-year old last campaign and managed to finish the season in 18th place but were the 4th highest goal scorers in the league with 70. Their goal scoring ability was highlighted in the final weeks of the season where they entertained fans in a thrilling 5-5 draw with Bristol City.
Where Hull let themselves down was in defence. When you consider their high goal return you would expect them to have finished higher up the league, that is until you look at there defensive woes. Hull finished the season conceding a staggering 70 goals giving them the second most porous defence in the league, excluding the three relegated teams.
Hull have attempted to rectify this issue by bringing in reinforcements in that area. The promising young centre-back, Reece Burke, who its believed we were interested in, was bought in to replace the departing captain, Michael Dawson. As well as this, the Tigers have also landed former Villa right-back, Eric Lichaj from Nottingham Forest where he was a fan favourite making 173 appearances. He will add much-needed experience and quality to the Hull backline.
Hull have also strengthened their defence with the singing of Jordy de Wijs from PSV Eindhoven. The former Dutch U21 international spent last year on loan at Excelsior in the Eredivisie where he made a combined 3.2 tackles and interceptions on average per game. To put this into perspective, James Chester made 2.7 last season so the stats would indicate he is a quality defender.
Hull will be looking to there top scorer last season 21-year old Jarrod Bowen to get the large share of the goals after he netted an impressive 14 times last season from attacking midfield. Keeping him quiet and preventing him from getting forward will be a priority for Villa’s midfield and defence.
Hull haven’t had the best preseason with a 4-1 loss to Portuguese outfit Braga which they followed up with a 1-0 loss to League One Rochdale. However, they will be impressed with the 2-2 draw against Newcastle.
Jonathan Kodjia is fit and available to play on Monday night. The striker missed the final pre-season game against Dresden and some feared the worse be he should be fine.
Villa will be very light up top though with Keenan Davis, Scott Hogan and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy all unavailable through injuries they have been carrying since last season.
THE BIG MATCH
This game opened the 2017/18 season for both teams at Villa Park ending in a 1-1 draw after an opening goal from Gabby Agbonlahor. The reverse fixture at the KCOM Stadium also ended in a stalemate however, it ended 0-0. However, Steve Bruce and his men will be hoping for a better result this time around.
It will be interesting to see whether Bruce sticks with the 4-1-4-1 formation which he used for the vast majority of last season or opts to use one of the formations he has trialled during pre-season like a 3-5-2, 4-4-2 or the 4-4-1-1 he used against Dresden.
Unless things change between the time of me writing this and the Hull game, I would opt against playing a three at the back formation due to the lack of centre backs with the first-team experience at the club. As a result of this, I would look to play the 4-1-4-1 that Bruce deployed last season with Birkir Bjarnason playing in holding role due to his mobility over Mile Jedinak and Glenn Whelan to deal with Jarrod Bowen.
Since taking over at Hull, manager Nigel Adkins has favoured a 4-2-3-1. If Jack Grealish is still a Villa player come the opening day, expect him to get a hard time from the two deep-lying midfielders that Adkins will have almost certainly instructed them to try and nullify his attacking threat and flair.