Odds: Sheffield Wednesday 23/20, Draw 2/1, Aston Villa 5/2
Aston Villa may be among the favourites to win the Championship at 12/1, but the oddsmakers evidently don’t regard their chances of getting the 2016/17 campaign off to a winning start at Hillsborough very highly, making Sheffield Wednesday strong favourites despite their visitors’ up-until-recently-lofty status.
The atmosphere around the Owls is pretty good right now, with the club progressing in the right direction under manager Carlos Carvalhal after reaching the play-offs last season and making proven second-tier signings such as Watford’s Almen Abdi in pre-season.
Villa have brought in their own Championship poster boy in Ross McCormack, but he joins a side and manager both struggling to reassert their identity after recent ignominies, three days prior to their first league game of the campaign.
The Scot may well be parachuted straight in to the starting line-up against Wednesday, but his teammates were taken apart on the counter attack by Middlesbrough in their final friendly, losing 3-1.
Against an already coherent Wednesday riding high on a feel good factor not even Champions League titans Benfica were capable of resisting during the summer (losing 1-0 at Hillsborough in July), they’re expected to struggle.
Win, Lose or Draw?
The Villans predictably ended last season with the Premier League’s worst away record, losing 15 of their 19 road trips and winning a mangy uno.
Unfortunately for them, an August visit to Owlerton looks to hold precious little opportunity for getting the monkey off their backs early in the new campaign.
Wednesday lost just twice in 28 outings at their stronghold last term, with Rotherham the only one of their last 23 opponents to take the spoils of victory home with them.
To give Villa their due, they only had the second-worst road defence in the top flight in 2015/16, but they still allowed 41 goals, at an average of more than two shipped an outing.
The Hillsborough club have boosted an already dangerous forward line of Fernando Forestieri and Gary Hooper, with the addition of Steven Fletcher, all three of whom have found the net in pre-season, and can be trusted to notch as a result.
Defence wasn’t Wednesday’s strongest suit last season and the less said about Villa’s motley rearguard in 2015/16 the better, yet this fixture is no casually discarded dog end outside the fireworks factory.
Carvajal’s men kept clean sheets in four of their last friendlies, while Villa scored no more than once in three of their last four.
The Villans notched 13 times in 19 league games in the preceding campaign and with Championship goal machine McCormack afforded precious little time to work with the men charged with supplying him ahead of the fixture, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get them firing immediately.
Who will do the damage?
Previously written off as a mercurial type during his five seasons at Watford, Fernando Forestieri found new levels of consistency at Hillsborough last term, scoring 15 times in 35 league starts.
Any concern that such a haul might be a flash in the pan looks to have been wide of the mark if his pre-season form is anything to go by. The Italian has struck in all four of friendlies he has been involved in, including when notching the winner against Benfica.
Aston Villa fans could have been forgiven for turning up at half-time last term given their on-pitch representatives bagged just eight Premier League goals prior to the interval all term, compared to 19 in the second stanza.
Wednesday were similarly lit up post intermission, bagging 45 times after the oranges compared to just 21 in the opening period.