Aston Villa is in desperate need of a win to get things back on track, but they'll enter this West Midlands derby in the unfamiliar position of underdogs as they face a suddenly struggling West Brom (assuming the snow melts.)
This is the point in match previews in which I would typically set the scene, talking about Aston Villa's recent form and their current standing on order to pull back to the bigger picture. But I'm not going to do that this time around, because the scene doesn't need setting and we're all painfully aware that the bigger picture looks like something that was last painted in the Birmingham area during the mid-14th century. Aston Villa needs to win, and unfortunately they look incapable of doing so against pretty much any team in the Premier League at the moment.
Our (generally) collective outlook on things isn't actually reality, at least so far as how good/ bad this team actually is. They played reasonably well against Southampton and certainly didn't deserve to lose, while it took a pretty special kind of collapse against Swansea City to walk away with only one point. If you can ignore the Bradford City result (which you shouldn't, but let's be positive for some reason) then this two game stretch feels a bit like the run just prior to the Liverpool win. Decent play, no result.
But there's not much comfort to be taken from that kind of thing at this point. I'm not a fan of results-based-analysis as a general rule, but at this point the results are about all that matters. Perhaps not from the perspective of trying to figure out what comes next, but at a certain point "what comes next" is coming next in the Championship. If Aston Villa takes the pitch tomorrow and ends up getting destroyed but somehow manage to take three points from the Hawthorns, I'm not going to be all that bothered. I just want points.
Luckily for Villa, West Brom looks more prone to surrendering three points now than they have all season. The Baggies have lost three in a row, with their late-game collapse against Reading last weekend standing out as a particularly humbling defeat. This is a side that's been somewhat prone to uninspiring runs of form in recent months, with their impressive standing at 7th place in the league largely owed to a white-hot start that was shown to be unsustainable with the onset of the Baggies' first three-game losing streak that began on November 28th.
That's not to say that West Brom's season shouldn't be admired, or taken as a some kind of fluke. West Brom is at the moment a much better team than Aston Villa, three-game losing streak or no, and there's certainly a great deal to admire (or envy,
as the case may be, to be more accurate) about the way they've gone about building their club. But this isn't a team that's invulnerable in the way the top sides currently feel, and they're also not a side that's playing well at all at the moment. To say that West Brom is "there for the taking" would be an overstatement, but they can be beaten, even by Aston Villa.
But "can be beaten" isn't the same thing as "has been beaten" and until Villa can manage a win, it's going to feel unattainable. That Aston Villa's last league win came over a month ago during a congested part of the fixture list sounds bad enough on its own, but it somehow feels twice as long as that. Villa's 3-1 over Liverpool felt so very much like the turning point, but it's been a long and depressing slide into the muck since then. No matter what happens, Villa won't end the season without another win. Ahead of a packed ten days, with four massive games on tap, a win over a vulnerable West Brom side would be a pretty tremendous start. And of course, it's always good to take the spoils from a derby. But man, this team is just really bad. I tend to think of myself as a generally fairly positive voice, but I'm at a loss for optimism right now. Just make me feel something, Villa, because I'm increasingly numb to this season.