The was no shortage of drama between these two clubs during the summer, beginning with Roberto’s decision to reject an approach from Villa for the vacant managerial position, and ending with the sale of star man Charles N’Zogbia. While N’Zogbia has endured a slow start — give him time Villa fans, he’s quality — McLeish has quickly shored up Villa’s defense and led them to an unbeaten start to the season. Inconsistency in the atttacking third has deprived them of further points, but one can hardly fault the manager, who has had to rebuild said attack following the departures of key creative pair Ashley Young and Stewart Downing.
Despite this all, and Wigan’s recent run of bad results, there is reason to believe Roberto’s muchachos can come out of this one with something. Latics have not lost at Villa Park in six Premier League meetings. Last season, they took 4 out of 6 points against Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City side and did not concede a goal in either match (though they only managed to score one in two matches). And though unbeaten, McLeish’s Villa side have only managed one win so far, and that was at home to third-from-bottom Blackburn.
Still, Latics must improve. Defensively, the long-term absence of Antolin Alcaraz continues to sting, while Emmerson Boyce’s niggles and Steve Gohouri’s suspension (after missing five matches through injury) have been unfortunately timed. In their absence, Maynor Figueroa has been asked to deputise at centre-back, where he has been directly responsible for one goal, and beaten to headers for two others. A shame, because with an established central pairing in place, one tends to think Everton away and Spurs at home would have yielded points.
In attack, for all his promise, the club needs goals from Victor Moses. He has hit the post or bar three times this season so far. His excellence in creating chances deserves reward. Maybe this will be the week?
Far too often, Latics start matches slowly, only to deliver a much improved second half performance. Last week’s dismal first half and spirited second could not have been in starker contrast. Can they come out of the blocks firing for once? If they go down a goal, away to a defensive Villa side, it’s hard to see them getting back into it. A first half goal could force Villa to throw numbers forward, and Latics do have pace on the break.
Reports suggest Emmerson Boyce will be fit enough to return to the starting lineup. The hope is that he does so in a central role, partnering Gary Caldwell, with Figueroa restored to his natural position out left, and either Ronnie Stam or Adrian Lopez at right back. But Roberto has surprised us more than once with his starting lineups this year, rotating the squad and limiting opportunities for the new attacking signings. While Rodallega’s absence through injury appeared to provide the perfect opportunity to fully blood Shaun Maloney, or Albert Crusat, Roberto stuck with Jordi Gomez, who has shown some positive form when in midfield this season but confirmed once again against Spurs that he is the worst right winger the club has ever had. I tend to think the lineup will once again be conservative against Villa, with either Van Aanholt or Stam, naturally defenders, playing on one of the wings rather than our more attacking options, Crusat and Maloney. But you never know…
Watch out for: Barry Bannan, Aston Villa’s left-footed midfielder. Very promising young player with great technique. Charles N’Zogbia, who will have a point to prove to his new supporters. Darren Bent, who has had a slow start to the season and loves scoring goals against teams like Wigan.
We need: A good defensive performance. Victor Moses to score, or create a goal.
Prediction: with Boyce strengthening the defense and Villa under pressure to win this one, I’ll say honors even at 1-1, Wigan to score first, N’Zogbia to equalize.