Come Saturday afternoon 1197 days will have passed since Villa Park last hosted Premier League football. Our last top flight outing resulted in a tepid 0-0 draw with Newcastle United that, at the very least, halted a run of 11 straight defeats and dragged our opponents into the relegation mire.
A lot has happened since then mind – a couple of takeovers, three Championship seasons, two play-off finals and four wins (zero defeats) against our cross-city neighbours! However, one thing is for sure, we’re in a much better place now both on-and-off the pitch than were back in May 2016.
And whilst we were dogging it down in the Championship this weekends’ opponents Bournemouth have been up to a different kind of graft and guile; steadily building the foundations of what can now be considered a reasonably safe and sturdy Premier League outfit. Having said that, manager Eddie Howe is as down-to-earth as they come and will know that survival is not a given. As is the case for most clubs outside of the ‘big six’.
Ahead of our fixture with the south coast club I was able to obtain the views of Tom Crocker, Sports reporter at the Bournemouth Echo, in order get the inside track on our opposite number.
Q) What can you take from the opening day home draw to Premier League newcomers Sheffield United?
A) “Optimism has been understandably rife among Bournemouth fans heading into this new season, but the result and performance against Sheffield United did leave a somewhat underwhelming feeling. Cherries failed to work the goalkeeper until the hour mark, which for a home game on the first day of the season was hugely disappointing. Add to the fact that Chris Mepham did put the Cherries in front and it looked like it would be enough to grind out the win, to then concede a sloppy goal with two minutes to play just make for a disappointing afternoon all round. The big positive is that it was at least a draw, while Aaron Ramsdale and Philip Billing both impressed on debut.”
Q) It’s just over a week since the transfer window shut. What business did Bournemouth complete over the summer and how do you rate it?
A) “It has to go down as a brilliant window. Speaking to the players, more than on have said keeping hold of the key men has been just as important as anybody they have signed. Eddie Howe always said he was determined to keep the squad together and add more players in the other way, but with speculation over the likes of Ryan Fraser, Callum Wilson, Nathan Ake and David Brooks this summer, it looked like being a tough task.
But all four are still here while Howe has recruited five exciting, young players. Sadly Lloyd Kelly and Arnaut Danjuma have already picked up injuries, but Billing and Jack Stacey showed good signs during pre-season while everyone is excited to see Harry Wilson in action. The club also did well to make a profit in some outgoings, bringing in around £46million for Tyrone Mings, Lys Mousset and Connor Mahoney.”
Q) And now for a question that I’ve been desperate to ask a someone that’s closely connected with the Cherries! Villa fans adore Tyrone Mings and we truly believe that he will eventually be considered a cult hero. In fact, many of us wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get an England call-up between now and the end of the season. What are your thoughts on him? And why didn’t it work out for him at Bournemouth?
A) “Ah the big question! As I see it, sadly in football some moves just don’t work out. Mings arrived with big potential from Ipswich and looked the another astute Eddie Howe signing. It was a club-record fee at the time of £8million, which shows how highly he rated the player.
The biggest problem for Mings during his time here was injury. He picked up a serious knee injury in just his second game, keeping him out for over a year. He then came back and received a lengthy ban for the ‘stamp’ on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Then the following season, a back injury saw Mings miss seven months between September 2017 and May 2018. All of this halted any momentum he tried to build up.
That obviously led to the loan to Villa and it certainly seems like that move is working out a lot better at the moment. I saw quite a lot of Villa last season and aside from the incident involving Nelson Oliveira at Reading, which he was perhaps fortunate to escape unpunished, Mings was brilliant and played a key role in the promotion.
But when the huge offer came in, a fee which I understand could rise to £26.5million, it was too good to turn down for a player who would not have been in the starting XI for the first game of the season. Also, until he has produced regularly in the Premier League, there will remain a question mark about whether he can make the step up, but the potential is there for sure if last season is anything to go by. Time will tell just who got the better end of the deal, but it was certainly understandable to make the sale for that price.
I actually wrote a piece at the time he left on this whole situation, it feels like a good deal for all parties.” [click here to view Tom’s article]
Q) How do you think that you will line-up against the Villa?
A) “After the display last week, I’m hoping Cherries revert to a back four. That’s been the foundation for most of the success of recent seasons. Injuries are playing a big part at the moment, seven players are currently missing, which is crazy to start a season with that many player out. But the back three/five really restricted things in an attacking sense against Sheffield United, so I think Harry Wilson will come in for a debut having had a full week of training with the team.
This would be the XI I think could well start (unless anyone else drops out after the time of writing!), although a notable mention should go to Dominic Solanke, who is knocking hard on the door to get in ahead of Joshua King up front.”
Q) Who do you consider to be Bournemouth’s key man for this game?
“Perhaps a boring answer, but Fraser or Callum Wilson. Both struggled to make a real impact against Sheffield United, but they are the two in the side who have the x-factor to trouble any defence, as shown so regularly last season. King and Wilson were poor on Saturday but the pace on the break should be more evident this week. Fraser started to cause problems in the closing stages against Sheffield United, but if he is on top form from the off, Cherries have a great chance.”
Q) The biggest area of weakness that Villa should look to exploit?
A) “You would have to save the defence. Cherries conceded 70 goals in the Premier League last season and the personnel are near enough the same at the moment.The big difference back there is in goal, where Ramsdale should keep his place. But having only made his top-flight debut last weekend, this will be another big occasion for the 21-year-old”
Q) And finally – what is your score prediction?
A) “Villa Park will no doubt be rocking for the first game back in the big time and also having shown some good signs against Spurs. But having failed to win on the opening day and with tough games against Man City, Leicester and Everton coming after this one, Cherries will be desperate for the three points and I’m going to go them to win it 2-1.”
I’d like to thank Tom for taking the time to join me for this match day preview and – excluding the matches versus us – I wish Bournemouth all the very best for the season.
You can hear more on my thoughts on the clash on our podcast that was uploaded earlier on in the week – click here to listen (available on Anchor, Spotify & Google Podcasts).
Written by Ryan Pitcher