This season we will be gathering the views from our opponents' local media on their team, progress and hopes for the season. As we prepare to take on Aston Villa at The Den on Saturday afternoon, we speak to the Birmingham Mail's Gregg Evans.
What was your view on Aston Villa last season?
The start to last season wasn’t too dissimilar to this season – the poor run just didn’t last as long. Steve Bruce managed to recruit the players he wanted and turn the season around, ultimately reaching the Play-Offs and just missing out on promotion to the Premier League.
What have you made of the start to this season for the club?
It’s been a very difficult start to the season for Villa. They’ve failed to see off eight of the eleven teams they’ve played, and that isn’t good enough for the talented squad and high expectations at the club. They have a mixture of youth, experience and players from Premier League and international level, so it has been disappointing. The team have played all the bottom six except Millwall so far, but only Preston have conceded more goals this season.
What has the atmosphere been like around Villa in recent weeks leading up to this week's departure of Steve Bruce as manager?
Unfortunately, it has been uncomfortable in the past few weeks – the crowd’s spirits towards Bruce had become worse. The club’s away supporters in particular tend to be very loyal in getting behind the players and manager, but there was a lot of dissatisfaction in the Villa away crowds. I’ve always been a big supporter of Bruce and thought that he could kick-start things this season – I believe he was very close to getting it right – but I think it was the right decision moving forward, and that a fresh start was needed.
How do you feel the club and the team can move on positively from the change?
There isn’t too much wrong with the squad – it just needs a bit of fine-tuning, and to find that winning formula and stick to it. I think Villa will take their time with finding their new manager, and the international break comes at a good time for the club as it will give the owners time to carefully analyse their candidates and carry out a thorough search to make sure the next man is the correct man.
Who would you describe as Villa's key men?
I think the front two of [Jonathan] Kodjia and [Tammy] Abraham are starting to blossom together as a partnership – they’re certainly going to cause problems this season. Jack Grealish was, for me, the standout performer in the Championship during the second half of last season, and I think the fact he has seen Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount called up to the England squad in the week will fire him up to recapture that form.
How do you expect Saturday's match to turn out?
For outsiders looking in, going to Millwall is always a difficult game. It’s a hostile atmosphere at The Den, and the team must win the physical battles. If they can win those battles early on, I think given the players they have, they should be able to get a positive result. I don’t think Kevin MacDonald will change the team too much, though I think he has a decision to make regarding the goalkeepers and the centre-halves. Villa’s two first-choice central defenders are out, which is something Neil Harris could exploit, but if the attacking players for the visitors are used to good effect, Villa should be able to go and get the three points.