After an international break littered with Aston Villa related positives, we are finally on the cusp of seeing our beloved boys in claret and blue return to Premier League action against relegation battlers Fulham.
It has been an exciting couple of weeks to be a Villa fan, despite the club not being involved in league football, and hopefully that buzz can translate to the action on the pitch.
Much of the positivity going into this game will of course be centred around Jack Grealish’s long awaited return to first team training at Bodymoor Heath, but there are plenty of other promising snippets to discuss.
Ollie Watkins picked up his first England cap, and scored with his first attempt on goal against San Marino. After something of a barren spell for us lately, I feel this explosive start to his international career will provide him with a real confidence boost ahead of Sunday. His work-rate has remained impeccable but the goals haven’t always come for him. Hopefully he will return to us with a renewed swagger and add to his tally.
Also on the scoresheet for his country was Bertrand Traore, who bagged the only goal of the game for Burkina Faso against South Sudan in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.
Trezeguet was involved in Afcon qualifying too, and played an hour of football for Egypt in their 4-0 demolition of Comoros.
Both nations topped their respective groups and the club took to Twitter to congratulate both African internationals on their success.
The biggest plaudits of all have to go to Super John McGinn, who bagged three goals in two games for Scotland during this period, including a stunning overhead kick to seal a draw against Austria in their World Cup qualifier.
He also opened the scoring during their second qualifier against the Faroe Islands, before adding to his tally with a stunning bullet header in what ended up being a 4-0 demolition.
The shackles were truly off him for his national side, and he bossed both games impressively. And while we shouldn’t expect Meatball to come back and start banging goals in for fun, as his role is of course much more defensive minded this season, I do believe it could give him that little bit of edge going into our final ten game run-in.
All in all, it has been a fruitful couple of weeks for the Villa internationals surely that can only bode well ahead of our weekend clash.
Looking at Fulham; they will not give us an easy ride, of course, and despite losing their last three games, their form has improved massively since the beginning of the season.
Just a couple of months ago, they were virtually dead and buried alongside West Brom and Sheffield Utd, but they’ve managed to stick some points on the board – including bagging themselves a victory against Liverpool at Anfield – and they now sit just a couple of points behind Newcastle.
Survival is certainly a realistic option for them now, and they will be fighting for their lives. Coupled with the fact our form against the sides in trouble has not been particularly vibrant lately, this is definitely another potential banana skin in our ever-weakening push for Europe.
Jack’s expected return should give us an extra bite in our attacking creativity, which has been sorely lacking over the last five or six fixtures without him in the side.
With safety assured and European qualification not looking likely this season, now feels like the time to mix things up a little bit, and find our best eleven again.
Ross Barkley has ten games to prove his worth, although I can’t see us signing him permanently, and some of the fringe players may get a chance to shine before any expected shake-up in the summer.
Big Wesley’s return is on the horizon, too, and while he won’t feature at the weekend, it isn’t unrealistic to think we may see him get a short run out before the end of the campaign.
With Liverpool and Man City to follow, the Fulham game seems the perfect opportunity to experiment a little. I’d like us to utilise Morgan Sanson in a more defensive role, bring Jack back in on the left, and give McGinn a little more freedom going forward.
Whatever happens, I’m excited to be watching the boys again on Sunday, as this break has felt impossibly long. Fingers crossed they don’t disappoint.
Score prediction: 3-0
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