Aston Villa v West Ham United

After what seems like an eternity, made to seem even longer by the extra delay for TV purposes, we next visit Villa Park, the handily-named home of Aston Villa. Kick-off is the usual Monday night nonsense of 8pm.

It's our first visit to that part of the world since 2015, which will represent the 111th meeting of the two clubs in a sequence that began with us losing an FA Cup 2nd round match 5-0 up there in 1913. We've won 40, drawn 32 and lost 38 up to now. It's taken them the intervening three seasons to make their way back to the Premier League, their return coming via the playoffs last season, their 2-1 win over Derby doing the job after they had finished fifth in the league.

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It's not been that spectacular a return for them to date. They were left ruing some Spurs late goals that saw them go down 3-1 at the toilet bowl on the opening day. Their last outing ended somewhat controversially, what would been a late equaliser at home to Palace, former Hammer Henri Lansbury's effort being ruled out after Grealish had been punished incorrectly for a dive in the build-up. They have just the one league win to their name this season, a 2-0 home win over what appears to be a travel-sick Everton, the three points gained from that leaving them in 18th spot, just below the dreaded red line.

Daisy, one's personal assistant with the beautiful smile, informs me that a lot of money was spent in the summer, that spending itself being the subject of some concern coming as it did after the sale of Villa Park to a company controlled by the club's. These sales have become something of a trend outside the Premier League, with Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Reading all having done so in recent times.

Indeed, the Derby arrangement is the subject of legal shenanigans on the part of Middlesbrough. It's not the sale of the ground itself that causes a problem, more the notion that a dodgy valuation could be used to disguise inputs from club owners that would breach FFP rules (see also Man City sponsorship). In Villa's case an eyebrow might be raised by the fact that Villa Park was valued at ?57m when you could probably buy Birmingham for ?57.

They paid ?4m plus a player (Gary Gardner) to local rivals Birmingham for Spaniard Jota. Jota was an alumnus of manager Dean Smith during their spell at Brentford. Although not capped at full level by the Spanish, he is one of those players who has been "capped" by something that's not a real country. Sort of like Scotland without the official FIFA status. Who (outside La Coruna and Vigo) knew that the Spanish region of Galicia had its own football team?

The second "official" signing of the summer came in the form of Anwar El Ghazi. El Ghazi spent last season on loan at Villa Park and scored in the playoff final. There's a spot of confusion over the size of the fee paid for him. This side of the channel a figure of ?8m has been quoted whilst influential French periodical L'Equipe reckons on about half that. Of Moroccan extraction, the player also qualifies for the Netherlands and (you know what's coming here don't you) although not a current part of the squad, he does have (wait for it) two Dutch caps to his name.

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?22m was the fee paid to Club Brugge for Brazilian striker and Methodist founder Wesley. Daisy comes up with some pearlers every now and then when digging up odd facts about players and this week is no exception. Apparently one of his legs is over an inch shorter (or, I suppose, longer if you prefer) than the other one. We've seen our share of players over the years with a propensity for running around aimlessly in circles. In Wesley it would appear that Villa have one with an inbuilt excuse.

Another ?15m went on Southampton left-back Matt Targett, whose name sounds like one of those American private investigator series that permeate daytime TV these days, usually with the words "A Glen Larson Production" prominent somewhere amongst the credits. Targett has been capped at most age levels by England but has stalled short at Under 21 level, his last cap coming around 3 seasons ago. He also qualifies for Scotland, but presumably things haven't quite that bad for the player yet. Targett will be missing from this fixture, a thigh problem having kept him out of the side to date.

Also missing will be Mahmood Hassan, an ?8.75m capture from Kasimpasa (Turkey, apparently). The Egyptian midfielder will be serving a ban for picking up two yellows in the defeat at Palace. The player has been given the nickname "Trezeguet" in honour of the former French international of that name. A nickname is all very well but sticking that on the back of your shirt does suggest some presumptuousness on the player's part., unless of course there is a bit of irony involved, in which case it would be a bit like James Collins having "Pele" on the back. Or Harry Kane bearing a shirt marked "Einstein".

?20m seems rather a large fee for the services of AFC Bournemouth defender Tyrone Mings. Mings, another "loan made permanent" deal had previously gained some notoriety for getting a 5 match ban for stamping on Ibrahimovic a few years back, the ban presumably being reduced from 10 matches because, well it was Ibrahimovic, wasn't it? Clearly there's something in the player - after all he made the England squad last week. There again so did Jordan Henderson.

Daisy said they had been busy and another ?15m went to swell the coffers of Manchester City in return for Douglas Luiz. I say Manchester City, they probably forgot he was there having failed to make an appearance, the work permit people not being that impressed with the signing. The Spanish rules being somewhat less stringent the player spent a couple of years at Girona. The couple of caps picked up for Brazil Under 23 probably helped with the bureaucracy on these shores and he arrived in the summer, probably asking City to post his stuff on to him.

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The final player we will look at (there are others but Daisy has had a long day and has to prepare for my massage) is 'keeper Tom Heaton. He is a decent 'keeper and moved on from Burnley having lost his place to Nick Pope after a bad injury. Burnley were blessed with decent keepers having two fine custodians on the books plus Joe Hart but clearly the shirt was going to be difficult to regain from Pope so Heaton swapped not wearing one claret and blue shirt for another with first XI football in mind.

And so to the wacky world of Association Football. There's a lot of litigation going on out there. Apart from the aforementioned Boro/Derby spat, there is talk of Sunderland suing their former doctor who gave the all clear to the signing of Alvarez from Inter Milan despite the player being in possession of a knee with all the load-bearing capacity of Hammersmith Bridge. For some odd reason the sum of ?13,000,000.97 has been bandied about. The Avram grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered's resident Geordie made some comment about the odd 97p being roughly the net worth of the club as a whole but he's not the most reliable of witnesses overall.

England won a bonkers match at Southampton, defeating Kosovo 5-3 in an attempt to make the Euro qualifiers interesting, what with it being harder to not qualify than qualify, unless of course you are Scotland. Winstone the Turf Accountant was looking a bit concerned at that result, suggesting that a flurry of wagers had been placed on said scoreline. I haven't seen him looking that pale since he took that big bet on Leicester winning the league.

And what of us then. Well if you can remember that far back we beat Norwich 2-0 in a match that turned out to be rather one sided in the end, Heller weighed in in the first half and should have had a penalty, the authorities having apparently given the VAR guys the weekend off. There has been much grinding of teeth over VAR's failings over the past few weeks. If only those giving their opinions on VAR had been as vociferous about the dreadful state of refereeing that led to VAR's introduction in the first place maybe we wouldn't need the bloody thing in the first place.

Good to see Yarmolenko back - minus a few points for an awful dive in the first half. Unlike Anfield we don't like to see that sort of thing from our players thank you. Glad that he is back on the scoring charts - the celebration suggested that the goal was a great weight off his mind after a rotten injury. Long may he progress.

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We are down to two on the injury front. Winston Reid's rehab continues apace whilst Antonio has had surgery on his hamstring, with a return sometime in the new year looking likeliest.

Prediction then. Well if an incentive were ever needed for a match the fact that we would go third with a win ought to act as some sort of gee-up. Home advantage will count for something I suspect, even if the home side haven't quite come to terms with the top flight as yet.

However, the fact that Henri Lansbury is getting a game for them ought to suggest something of a difference in squad quality. Although Winstone The Turf Accountant is still missing, is app is still working so the ?2.50 I was going to spend on that golden toilet before I knew it had been nicked from Blenheim Palace, honest officer, will instead be going on an away win. Lets call it 2-1 to us then shall we?

Enjoy the game!


When Last We Met At Villa Park (Premier League December 2015)

A Cresswell drive in first half stoppage gave us the lead. Mike Dean was in charge so it was no surprise whatsoever when he awarded a penalty that a honest man wouldn't have given in a million years, it apparently now being an offence for a defender (Ogbonna) to have the shirt pulled off his back by an attacker (Gestede). Ayew (the one we didn't sign) converted to end the match as a draw, our 6th in succession. Post-match the Baroness made some sarky comment on twitter about the home side celebrating a corner, reminder, were reminder needed, that her habit of bringing the club into disrepute is not a recent phenomenon.


Referee: Mike Dean

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The season is barely five minutes old and we are already lumbered with football's most dishonest official for the second time of the season. Why?


Danger Man: Jack Grealish

Was the next big thing a few years back when England and Ireland seemed locked in a battle for his international allegiance. In the end the player seemed to fall for the mistake of believing his own hype and his lifestyle raised eyebrows. Received wisdom has it he has knuckled down a bit of late, though his haircut is still daft and those micro shin-pads are a serious injury waiting to happen.


Percy's Poser

The guest publication for the Norwich game all those months ago was the Eastern Daily Press from which the following missing words were removed:

"XXXXX XXXXXXX music nights score a big hit for soul and reggae fans"

A "well-played madam" goes out to Assumpta Minestrone of Chadwell St Mary who correctly identified the missing words as being "Funky Chicken". Of course they were.

For this week we go to Villa's local rag, the Birmingham Mail, who in a public-spirited announcement have alerted the West Midlands that the local constabulary are trying to reunite a package left at an M6 Service Area with its (presumably unhappy) owner. All you have to is guess the mystery object!

Good luck everyone!

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