Aston Villa to host West Brom in friendly match
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion scores his team's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play-off semi final first leg match between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park on May 11, 2019 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Aston Villa will face off against local rivals West Bromwich Albion as both sides step up their preparations for the restart of the English football season.

The Villans face Sheffield United at Villa Park on 17th June to kick the Premier League season off again while the Baggies take on Villa’s local rivals Birmingham City at The Hawthorns on 20th June. According to reports, there will be two one hour matches at Villa Park to give the full squads some much-needed game time to prepare for a hectic fixture list.

Differing fortunes

Dean Smith’s men have had a rather underwhelming season to say the least. They currently sit in 19th, two points from safety. However, their first fixture back is their game in hand against the Blades. Victory in their first match back would send them up to 16th ahead of Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham. The Villans also have one of the toughest run-ins out of anyone in the division, with five of the top seven to play.

In sharp contrast, Slaven Billic’s Baggies are running away with automatic promotion from the Championship, six points clear of third place Fulham and are tussling with Leeds United for the Championship title. The two second tier heavyweights are separated by a single point in the favour of Leeds. Needless to say, Albion are looking for all the preparation they can as a single slip-up will likely cost them the league title.

Back to fitness

The fixture is of particular interest to Dean Smith as he can finally give some minutes to John McGinn. The midfielder spent three months out with a broken ankle during Villa’s defeat to Southampton in December. On top of the two months out of action due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Scotsman has spent five months out and is surely itching to get going again. On top of McGinn, shot-stopper and play-off hero Jed Steer has recently returned to training following a long-term injury and could play some part in one of the low-intensity matches.

The results of the games are of little interest to the coaches as the main focus will be on preparation. Fringe players such as Jota, Indiana Vassilev and Louie Barry will appreciate the opportunity to put themselves in Smith’s thinking for a starting spot against the Blades.