The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Aston Villa
Opening day! Derby day! Come on Villa fans, give us a little smile.
- Freiburg 1-1 Stoke (F)
- Stoke 2-0 Real Betis (F)
- Blackburn 1-1 Stoke (F)
- Burton 0-0 Stoke (F)
- Schalke 2-1 Stoke (F)
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Villa 0-0 Parma (F)
- Walsall 0-1 Villa (F)
- Groningen 4-1 Villa (F)
- Chesterfield 3-1 Villa (F)
- Houston Dynamo 0-1 Villa (F)
Aston Villa supporters aren’t exactly feeling the buzz of anticipation as the new Premier League season prepares to get underway. The last one ended under a cloud of doom, gloom and uncertainty with seven defeats from the final nine matches and owner Randy Lerner declaring his intention to sell up. Three months on and not much has changed, on or off the field.
The American is still to find a buyer, and while boss Paul Lambert has made the high-profile addition of Roy Keane to his backroom staff, the arrivals of Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson, Joe Cole and Aly Cissokho haven’t given the Holte End faithful too many reasons to be cheerful with another season of struggle lieing in wait.
Christian Benteke’s return from Achilles woe, expected in September, can’t come soon enough, and in the meantime it’ll be up to the likes of Darren Bent and Charles N’Zogbia, brought in from the cold and with points to prove, to try and re-energise the Villans.
Nineteen home defeats over the past two seasons have left the fanbase starved of success and entertainment, and last weekend’s stalemate with Serie A side Parma won’t have convinced many sufferers that things are about to change anytime soon.
In contrast, opponents Stoke don’t need too much pepping up for Saturday’s opener.
Mark Hughes’ gradual transformation of the Britannia Stadium side into an aesthetically pleasing outfit yielded seven victories from the final 11 games to secure a top-10 finish; the Welshman banishing memories of his QPR nightmare as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United were all sent packing from the Potteries.
Improving on last term’s ninth place won’t be easy but in Bojan, Hughes has made one of the more intriguing captures of the summer. The former Barcelona starlet has been quick to make an impression with three strikes during pre-season, while Mame Biram Diouf returns to English shores after banging in 26 goals for Hannover.
Stoke did the double over Villa last season, their 4-1 March mauling one of their most convincing displays of the campaign and their first ever Premier League win at Villa Park.
They’ll be further buoyed by the fact they’ve not lost a home match on the opening day since 1999, 2-1 against Oxford. But then again, two of the last five seasons have seen Villa win their first away game of the campaign 3-1 at the Emirates and 3-1 at Anfield…
Benteke and fellow forward Libor Kozak aren’t expected back for at least a month, while Joe Cole is a doubt. The good news for Villa is the return of defender Jores Okore from anterior cruciate ligament damage.
Stoke have a clean bill of health to start the season, the lucky buggers. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Player to watch: Bojan (Stoke)
The 23-year-old once broke Raul’s record for the number of goals in a debut season and took Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s No.9 shirt at Camp Nou, but Bojan’s career has stalled since making a €12 million move to Roma in 2011. Just seven Serie A goals for the Stadio Olimpico side preceded a loan switch to Milan, and the youngster spent last season enduring a similarly unproductive spell with Ajax in the Eredivise.
But three goals in as many friendlies suggest the man from Linyola may have found a team and system that suits his style in Stoke, with fellow summer signing Steve Sidwell excited about what Bojan can bring to the Premier League, telling talkSPORT: “Bojan has looked very impressive and very sharp. But it’s what you expect when you look at the teams he has played for, especially his education at Barcelona. He’s a great prospect for us, he’s an exciting player and I’m looking forward to seeing him in action.”
While manager Hughes cooed: “You find good players are very quickly able to adapt to any environment they are in. I think that's what happened with Bojan. He's showing the undoubted ability that everyone knows he's got, so we're really looking forward to him having an exceptional season because he has that ability.”
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 1-4 Stoke (PL, Mar 14)
- Stoke 2-1 Villa (PL, Dec 13)
- Stoke 1-3 Villa (PL, Apr 13)
- Villa 0-0 Stoke (PL, Dec 12)
- Villa 1-1 Stoke (PL, Apr 12)
Hughes is confident Stoke can build on their encouraging end to 2013/14, and believes the signings of Bojan and Diouf will help his side’s versatility up top.
"I like my teams to be flexible in terms of their understanding of the tactics we're using," he said after watching his men beat Real Betis.
"If I change things halfway through a game I expect them to be able to understand very quickly because they're intelligent footballers."
Paul Lambert’s preparations for Saturday have been partly disrupted by transfer talk surrounding skipper Ron Vlaar; the Villa boss hitting back at comments from Southampton counterpart Ronald Koeman by saying: “I am disappointed in people talking about him who should know better than to talk about other people’s players. I think out of respect you don’t do it, you don’t get involved.”
Facts and figures
- Peter Crouch scored a goal and assisted a goal in both of Stoke’s victories over Aston Villa last season.
- Only Aston Villa (491) committed more fouls than Stoke City (486) in the 2013-14 Premier League.
- Villa signing Joe Cole has not assisted a Premier League goal since October 2010.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Potters get off to the perfect start, but Villa put up a fight. 2-1.