Aston Villa may have ridden their luck over the two games so far in the Peace Cup, but we have the semi-final line up the majority would have predicted before this tournament got going – Juventus vs Real Madrid & Porto vs Aston Villa. In normal circumstances, a pretty tasty proposition. During pre-season, who knows? According to O’Neill, the lads were pretty thrilled with their come back win over Atlante and they certainly had to work hard to achieve it.
Porto beat French Champions League side Lyon comfortably 2-0 in their first game, but stuttered to a 0-0 draw against Beşiktaş to top out their group.
The Portuguese side famously beat Monaco in the 2004 Champions League final to seal a domestic and European double in Mourinho’s last season in charge. Since then, they’ve won the league 4 out of 5 seasons and made three domestic cup finals, winning twice. In Europe, they’ve failed to emulate their success under The Special One, last year’s quarter-final defeat to Man Utd being the furthest they’ve travelled.
Villa fans fretting about new signings will surely have some sympathy for our Portuguese opponents – a number of players have left the club this summer for major transfer fees, but they’re yet to make a significant acquisition this summer.
Argentine playmaker González moved to Marseille for €18 million. Striker López went to Lyon and took his 49 goals in 106 game strike record with him, although he didn’t play against Porto in their Peace Cup match. Lyon paid €24 million for his services and made it a double swoop by also taking Porto’s French left back, Cissokho, for a cool €15 million.
Ker-ching!! I don’t know if Porto have money troubles, but with €69.55 million in sales and only €21.68 million spent, the fans must be pulling their hair out. And Villa fans think they have problems!!
The main goal threat will come from the hilariously named Brazilian; Hulk. No really, that’s his name. He’s one of those Brazilians who plied their trade in Japan for while before coming to Europe. He had an amazing record in Japanese 2nd division football of 63 goals in 83 games, which translated into 8 in 24 games during last season’s Portuguese League. He bagged the two goals against Lyon earlier in the tournament too.
Villa will be missing our apparent captain elect as Stan Petrov dislocated his shoulder early in the Atlante game. Expect that injury to take a few weeks to heal, so he’s unlikely to start the new season. Reo-Coker will fill in admirably, it’s a good opportunity for him to show how he can break up play and take responsibility for re-starting the attack. This is also an excellent opportunity for Sidwell to show his quality in the middle. With both Petrov and Barry out of the picture, these two need to step up or there will be few left championing their cause.
Surely MON will hand a start to Albrighton? He’s got on the pitch fairly early in both previous games due to injuries and he’s certainly excited the Villa faithful with his attacking play and taken his opportunity with both hands.
Almost certainly an unchanged back four – not much alternative really. Lichaj’s lack of experience has been exposed a few times in the two games, but overall he’s impressed and surely lessened the concern of the sections of fanbase looking for MON to bring in new faces at full back.
In goal, Brad Guzan has given MON a selection headache. He made some important saves against Atlante, even showing the older Brad how to smother a low, driven cross. His positioning seems to have improved and he’s certainly not shy, as Curtis and Carlos could attest. At Premiership level, I think I’d still favour Big Brad, but that’s probably just for one more season.
The third place play-off game seems to have disappeared, which I think everyone will be pleased about, so lose this one and the team will be coming home. Beat Porto, which on paper should take more effort than Atlante, and there’s a final to be played on Sunday.
First things first though. This game will be in Malaga again and kicks off at 9:30pm GMT. I’ll be updating again on Twitter.