Aston Villa versus Hull City is a fixture most would associate with the top flight of English football. However, this season they meet at Villa Park in the second-tier, both hoping to get back to the promised land.
The Midland side, managed by Steve Bruce, are many people’s favourites for promotion. The Tigers are not as well fancied as Villa, but there is definitely potential for a play-off spot.
Last season had its ups and downs for Villa. Poor form at the start of the season led to the sacking of Tim Sherwood. Steve Bruce’s subsequent arrival helped the club, but enough damage had already been done and they finished mid-table.
Meanwhile, Hull spent last season in the Premier League but were relegated alongside Middlesbrough and Sunderland. The Tiger’s defence shipped 80 goals during the season, 10 more than any other side, and ultimately, even Marco Silva’s magic was not enough to keep them safe.
Both sides have spent the summer looking for new recruits, but none as ground-breaking as John Terry’s move to Aston Villa. The defender has won everything there is to win in English football and made 78 international caps along the way.
Terry has taken the armband at Villa Park and will prove to be a massive influence in his first season outside the top flight for 17 years.
Aston Villa have had a successful preseason which included a trip to Germany. The Villains comfortably beat Kidderminster and Telford before tasting defeat to Shrewsbury and drawing with Walsall.
Over in Germany, Villa won both their matches. Firstly they beat third-tier side MSV Duisburg before their most impressive win against Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin.
The final pre-season game was Graham Taylor’s Tribute match, which ended 0-0 against Watford.
Hull City’s only pre-season defeat game in their first game against Oxford. Since that game the Tigers have gone on to beat Bristol Rovers and Portuguese giants Benfica.
Their final two matches, against Nantes and Ajax, both ended as draws. The 3-3 draw against the Dutch side was held behind closed doors.
One thing Villa have not been lucky with the past six months in injuries. Steve Bruce’s injury list is getting longer and longer. Two of Villa’s key players, Kodija and Grealish, are set to miss the season opener.
Grealish picked up a freak kidney injury against Watford, and Bruce told the Mirror that his pre-season work had been geared around the youngster.
New signing Mile Jedinak is another doubt. The Australian international suffered a groin injury whilst on international duty back in June. However, he has recovered quicker than expected and is in contention to start against Hull.
For the Tigers, Ryan Mason is still out after his life-threatening skull fracture back in January. Thankfully for the midfielder he is still recovering well.
Striker Will Keane will also miss the trip to Villa Park. The former Manchester United youngster picked up a cruciate ligament problem last November, and is not expected to return for a few more months.
As with any opening fixture, it is difficult to say exactly which eleven players each manager will field. Both teams have a whole host of players who may or may not start at Villa Park.
For Villa and Hull, the most competitive position for places is up front. Hogan, McCormack and Agbonlahor will all think they deserve to start for Villa and Kodija’s injury has given each a chance.
The proven strikers for the Tigers are Hernandez and Campbel. However, youngster Jarrod Bowen has been unstoppable in pre-season so may well keep his place.
Score Prediction: Aston Villa 2-0 Hull City
Captained by one of England’s best-ever defenders, Aston Villa will be a fixture every other team will fear, especially at Villa Park. The home fans will create a terrific atmosphere and be the twelfth man their team deserves.
Aston Villa’s strength in depth this season will be crucial from the very first game. Regardless of the eleven who start against Hull, the bench will be full of game-changing players.
Saturday’s visitors simply cannot match Villa’s bench, and the hosts are, therefore, likely to dominate the latter stages of the game.
The Tigers will not back down without a fight and Slutsky will demand 100% from every player. Hernandez, Campbell and others are proven match winners, but Saturday will be as tough a test as any.
It should be an entertaining encounter with a number of exciting match-ups, but Villa will take the spoils.