Fresh from opening day defeats last weekend, this one sees Bruce meet his former club in a meeting of two sides looking for their first win of the new 2021/22 season.
After a second half capitulation saw us ship four against West Ham in a defensive horror show, it’s clear where we need to improve heading into this one.
The hosts may be without Jack Grealish, last season’s top scorer Ollie Watkins, Bertrand Traore and fellow wing wizard Leon Bailey, however the likes of Danny Ings and Emi Buendia have what it takes to hurt us if we’re as open and unprotected as we were last weekend.
Saying that, there were some real positive moments in the first half of Sunday’s 4-2 defeat. Allan Saint-Maximin was unplayable at times and together with Callum Wilson showed that we’re capable of hurting good sides if they’re both fit and at it.
With Joe Willock available and Bruce hopeful Jamaal Lascelles will be fit enough to return to the heart of our defence, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be coming away with a result against a half-fit Villa side who looked way off the pace at Watford.
- Jonjo Shelvey – Set to miss out with yet another calf injury. No details yet on how long he could be missing for.
- Martin Dubravka – His foot has become infected following surgery, meaning he’s set to miss another ‘few weeks’.
- Karl Darlow – Still a while away from being fully fit according to Bruce, with Covid hitting him hard last month.
- Paul Dummett – Remains out with a calf problem, but is expected to feature against Burnley next week.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Wasn’t fully fit last weekend, however Bruce seems hopeful he’ll be ready to return here.
For the hosts, Ollie Watkins remains out with a knee injury, explosive winger Bertrand Traore has ruled out and Dean Smith has suggested that £30m man Leon Bailey won’t be fit enough to start.
The Villa boss could welcome back midfielders Morgan Sanson and Douglas Luiz, however the latter only recently returned from the Olympics so is likely to start on the bench.
(5-3-2): Woodman – Murphy, Lascelles, Fernandez, Clark, Ritchie – Hayden, Willock, Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Wilson.
The lack of natural left-sided centre backs could see Bruce stick with Clark, despite him struggling badly last weekend and Fabian Schar waiting in the wings to give us that ball playing option we lacked against West Ham.
That said, I expect Lascelles to replace Krafth. The latter just isn’t a CB and has never really looked up to it at Premier League level – even in his favoured position. Not only that, I often think we look far more organised defensively when the skipper is playing, so his return would be a welcome boost at the back.
Personally, I’d stick Schar in for Clark to make up for Shelvey’s absence and improve the quality of our balls out from the back, but I see Bruce sticking with the former Villa man.
In midfield, Bruce has three options when it comes to Shelvey’s replacement – Joe Willock, Sean Longstaff or Jeff Hendrick.
Longstaff is more of a ‘like for like’ in terms of his preference to sit deep and keep things ticking, but I’m really hoping Willock is deemed fit enough to start and comes straight into the side. After all, that would then allow Hayden sit deep in his preferred position, giving license to Willock and Almiron to join Saint-Maximin and Wilson in attack.
I’ve felt pretty pessimistic about this one, but the team news coming out of the Villa camp suggests they’ll be anything but full strength, missing last season’s top scorer and their two first team wingers.
We’ve been awful at Villa Park under Bruce, losing 2-0 in each of the last two seasons, but I think we might just nick something here.
I can’t see us winning and still have a horrible feeling the likes of Ings and Buendia will cause us major problems – one is lethal if given half a chance and the other can be their creative spark in Grealish’s absence – however I see ASM and Wilson causing havoc on the counter, us taking the lead and holding on for a decent point.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-1 Newcastle