Wednesday sees two sides clash who have been quietly yet productively going about their business this season. Mark Hughes brings his Blackburn Rovers team face-to-face with Martin O` Neil`s Aston Villa with both teams sat next to each other in the table.
This isn`t where the similarities end either as both managers draw comparisons. It`s fair to say that they are both highly thought of managers, so much so they are both in contention for the vacant black hole position that is the England job. However, both have distanced themselves from it.
There are also comparisons in the style of play – combative with class. So this surely points to a draw then.
I doubt it. There is great attacking flair on both team sheets with Villa`s pace in attack an ideal weapon for the counter attack game. However, what they have in pace they sometimes lack in experience, a quality Rovers have in abundance.
This has all the makings of a delicious game. I can`t see either goalkeeper keeping a clean sheet – especially not Scott Carson if Rovers try their luck from distance.
Both teams have designs for European football next season and this will go a long way in highlighting who is better equipped. Rovers have faired well against the big four this season and other teams in and around them so will be confident, well all except Morten Gamst Pedersen.
As a final footnote in this enterlude to the preview piece I wanted to reserve a little bit of praise for Martin O` Neil. He has vast sums of money at his disposal courtesy of the Lerner buy-out last season yet despite this he has bought sensibly, i.e. not spent for the sake of spending because after all he did fork out £8million for Nigel Reo Coker.
Rovers boss Mark Hughes: ‘Villa are playing well and have a good threat up front with John Carew, who is a handful, and a lot of pace in and around him. They are nice and solid at the back as well.
‘But our home form has been great this season and it is key to us having a good season. If we can keep getting maximum points at home we will do that and now we have three home games back to back.‘
Aston Villla manager Martin O’Neill on Rovers midfielder Robbie Savage: ‘If he plays, it will be the first time I’ve directly come up against Robbie. He was terrific for Leicester. We paid £400,000 for him and he was a gift, a really good bargain.
‘He’s gone on to have a really great career. When he’s fit, he’s a regular in Premier League sides like Leicester, Birmingham and now Blackburn. That speaks volumes for him.
‘We know it will be tough and Mark Hughes has done a fantastic job at Blackburn. They can mix it when necessary, but can also play. They have a really good blend.‘
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Rovers welcome back David Dunn into the first team after he served his one match suspension for a red card. He will be eagerly looking to force his way into a midfield that has seen its ranks boosted by the returns of Robbie Savage and Steven Reid.
Also likely to feature is Benni McCarthy. He was taken off against Fulham after only five minutes at the weekend with a gash to the leg. However, Hughes may decide not to risk him with a busy schedule coming up over Christmas.
One forward who will return is Roque Santa Cruz. He was rested at the weekend but should start this game. Question marks remain over what formation Hughes will deploy, whether it is the 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1.
Rovers from: Friedel, Brown, Emerton, Nelsen, Samba, Ooijer, Warnock, Berner, Dunn, Bentley, Pedersen, Santa Cruz, McCarthy, Derbyshire, Tugay, Roberts, Reid, Mokoena, Khizanishvili, Treacy.
Player to watch: Santa Cruz
The returning target man has been paramount to Rovers success this season and when he hasn’t been involved it has been noticed. He leads from the front and constantly worries defenders. It’s been a while since his last goal against Reading so he will be keen to end this mini drought.
Aston Villa Team News:
Martin O` Neil is blessed with no new injury concerns so is therefore likely to start with the same team that won at the weekend.
Villa from: Carson, Taylor, Sorensen, Mellberg, Laursen, Knight, Davies, Bouma, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry, Young, Berger, Osbourne, Agbonlahor, Carew, Moore.
Player to watch: Villa’s Pace
The pace of Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and Luke Moore could cause Rovers severe problems on the counter attack. With Carew spear-heading their play, much in the same mould as Santa Cruz it is important not to let him hog the ball.
Match Facts & Stats
Villa have beaten Rovers three times in the last four meetings, including a double last season.
Phil Dowd, who has only issued one red card in his five games to date will take charge of the match.
This game will be about who wins in the middle of the pitch and which striker receives the better service. Rovers must surely be looking to test Carson early on who could still be a little shaky after his England nightmare. However, I would encourage the home support not to boo him or Gareth Barry!
Good deliveries into the box for Santa need to arrive regularly for us to trouble their defence, if this is forthcoming Rovers can win.
It could go either way but I fancy Rovers to sneak it and exact revenge for last season. 2-1 to Blackburn.
The Toon army travel to Ewood on Saturday.