Assuming COVID doesn't throw any more spanners into the festive schedule, Aston Villa travel to Brentford this Sunday for their second meeting of the season.
From Villa's time in the Championship, we know Brentford aren't a team to be taken lightly, but a lot has changed since we last met in the last week of August. Whilst the Bees started their season with an outstanding takedown of Arsenal, they've lost a bit of their sting lately, losing to both Brighton and Man City in the past week. The Villians meanwhile are still riding that Gerrard high (despite the loss to Chelsea), and it's his impact that will be the biggest change since the Bees visited VP just a few weeks into the new season.
We played well enough against Chelsea last time out, though both Gerrard and McGinn were noticeable holes in the team. We kept the European Champions quiet enough for the first half, and it was two penalities from Matty Cash and Ezri Konsa that ultimately made the difference. As Gary Mac said in his post-match interview: the scoreline flattered the visitors. Brentford love to attack on the counter so keeping the ball in midfield and staying tight to formation are going to be key if we want to leave London with three points on Sunday afternoon.
Ivan Toney is Brentford's star player, without a doubt. Both Brighton and Man City managed to keep him quiet in their respective matches, and the Bees have failed to find the back of the net in both matches because of that. Thomas Franck has said it's touch and go for Bryan Mbuemo as well, which is a definite plus for the Villa defence. Finally, watch out for Sergi Canos - his return to the wing is expected this weekend. Targett and Ramsey need to watch him like a hawk if we're to stop Brentford from launching a counter-attack - and our centre-backs need to watch out for him when the long ball from Sorenson comes in. If you need a recap on how dangerous he can be, I suggest watching the highlights from their first game against Arsenal.
From a Lions perspective, Gerrard is back as is McGinn, however, Ashley Young is looking unlikely with a fractured toe; Leon Bailey and Marvellous Nakamba are both still out, and Tyrone Mings is serving his 1 match suspension. Personally, I'd like to see Kourtney Hause come in to fill his boots but whether it's Tuanzebe or Hause, they've got a lot to prove. Whilst I'd love to see Ramsey pushed up to the front left alongside Watkins, I think Gerrard will keep him in midfield along with McGinn and Luiz, which means either Watkins or Ings will get pushed out to the flank. I can see it being Watkins, though his best position is definitely through the middle.
Our last meeting with Brentford ended 1 all, and I have a feeling this one could end the same. Only 2 points separate the sides in the table going into the match, so whilst a draw would do us no harm, it's become very clear that the gaffer expects nothing less than a win every time we play. Here's hoping the team can embody that Gerrard fighting spirit as we travel to West London.
Kick off: 2pm GMT
My prediction: BRE 1 - 2 AVL