Villa's young lions tackle the Tigers

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Michael Regan/Getty ImagesSteve Bruce's hard-nosed style has Hull City off to a fast start in the Premier League.

If ever there was a 'down-back-to-earth-with-a-bump' fixture following Villa's thrilling victory over Manchester City last Saturday, it is Saturday's visit to Hull City. It could easily be an unwanted wake up call if Villa haven't done their homework thoroughly.

A glance at the Premier League table, and an acknowledgement of Hull City's early season form, should swiftly remove any sense of complacency from Villa minds. City -- or Hull City Tigers, as the club has been officially known since a rebranding announcement -- have a point more than Villa and an impressive record at the KC Stadium; seven points from a possible nine, taken from victories over Norwich and West Ham, and a draw with Cardiff.

Hull's two league defeats have been against Chelsea and Manchester City, both away, while the newly promoted side won at St James' Park, beating Newcastle, 3-2. The relevance is that Hull have taken three points from those three games, and Villa have also taken three from the same opponents this season. It suggests an even affair on Saturday.

Villa's prospects have been improved by the news that Hull's leading scorer, Robbie Brady, is out following a hernia operation that will keep him sidelined about four weeks. Keeping Brady quiet would have been one of the key tactical aspects of Paul Lambert's pre-match preparations and the Irishman's absence may affect the Villa manager's decisions.

Whereas he may have considered recalling Matt Lowton at right-back and pushing Leandro Bacuna in front of him at right midfield to offer double the protection, Lambert may decide he doesn't need to plan such defensive cover.

What won't have escaped Lambert's attention is the form of the two players Hull acquired from Tottenham this summer. Tom Huddlestone, signed on a permanent transfer, and Jake Livermore, recruited on a season-long loan. Together, the midfield pair give Hull a solid, organised and composed base.

Huddlestone, never the most mobile of players, can pass all day long and keep things ticking over. He's one of a handful of Englishmen probably rather unfortunate not to make Roy Hodgson's latest national team squad.

The best way to combat two sitting midfielders is to press them, put them under pressure, and generally disrupt any time they might have on the ball. Again, this may influence's Lambert's selection. He could look at Bacuna, and Yacouba Sylla, midfield players always looking to hit the edge of the opposition penalty area, and consider them worthy starters. Fabian Delph, an absolute must to start every game given his excellent current form, also has the game and the desire to get forward.

With Karim El Ahmadi playing well, and Ashley Westwood close to fitness and pushing for a return, Lambert has midfield choices. Whoever he goes with, Villa can't sit deep and cede the midfield area, or Huddlestone and Livermore will spend the afternoon pulling the possession strings.

Credit for both Hull's start to the season, and their promotion from the Championship in 2012-13, goes to Steve Bruce. Because he was rather an old-school defender in his day, the archetypal broken-nosed centre-back, there's an assumption that Bruce is in the same mould as a manager.

Not particularly. There's a shrewd coaching brain behind the rugged features. Bruce has put together decent Premier League teams at Birmingham -- his side held sway over Villa for a couple of years -- Wigan, giving Roberto Martinez a good base with which to inherit, and Sunderland. He's doing the same at Hull now.

In the Hull starting line-up on Saturday will be Curtis Davies, providing a direct link to Villa. Davies spent several seasons in the claret and blue under Martin O'Neill, an undeniably talented central defender cursed with more than his fair share of bad luck during his time at Villa Park. His progress at the club was hindered by two serious injuries; a ruptured Achilles tendon and then a recurring shoulder problem which eventually required surgery and a lengthy layoff.

His Villa career never recovered from that, with Davies unable to recapture his place, and then sold on to Birmingham. It's pleasing to see him back in the Premier League, and playing such a significant role. The defensive responsibility will be mainly carried by Davies, with centre-back partner James Chester injured.

For Villa, as well as the potential return to the squad of Westwood, Gabby Agbonlahor is close to being involved. Westwood might not make the XI, but Agbonlahor certainly would. The change would surely be reverting to a back four, dispensing with the three-man central defence which started against City, as Lambert goes on the offensive.

If that's the case, his most difficult call could well be who to select alongside captain Ron Vlaar in the middle of his defence. There was barely anything to separate Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker during the victory over City, though Clark's improved form over three games since replacing Jores Okore might see him squeeze ahead.

My Villa starting XI (4-3-3): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Luna; Bacuna, Sylla, Delph; Weimann, Kozak, Agbonlahor.


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