Game Preview - Aston Villa (h)

BIRMINGHAM ENGLAND - JANUARY 29: Nathan Baker of Aston Villa is shown the red card by referee Lee Probert during the FA Cup sponsored by E.On Fourth Round match between Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers at Villa Park on January 29 2011 in Birmingham England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Theoretically at the very least, this game preview should be effortless to produce, given our pre-season of competitive football that has ran since late June. Us Fulham bloggers should have our season fitness at an almost peak and match practice certainly shouldn't be a field we are left lacking in.

Hopefully, then, this piece is a masterclass in all things game-preview and there will be no stone left unturned. Let's hope the boys on the pitch can reciprocate that, too.

Any wishes of an early season flourish in the Premier League may prove unfounded, however, given, not necessarily the class of our opponent, but the sheer nature of Aston Villa to ruin any Fulham party. Despite finishing one place behind us and undergoing major managerial upheavals over the past year, the Midlands side never fall short of dampening our spirits, drawing twice against us last season and defeating us twice the season before.

Their latest managerial escapade features Alex McLeish and a whole host of disgruntled fans - and also involves a figure whom we quite welcomingly saw the back of in earlier in the close season. With Gerard Houllier ousted - reportedly due to his unfortunately ill health - the search for a new Villa gaffer set sail. This prompted an untimely ego-exaggeration for Fulham's very own Mark Hughes who, it's rumoured, quit the Cottagers in favour of an expected role at Villa Park. No such events occurred, though, and Mark Hughes is left with egg on his face while Aston Villa are left with former Birmingham manager Alex McLeish - 'left with' perhaps being a derogatory way of inducting a well-educated manager in McLeish.

Villa's pre-season has been suitably mixed, the most notable result being a decent win over Blackburn Rovers in the Barclays Asia Trophy - McLeish's newly inherited side went on to lose in the final to Chelsea. Fulham's, in thankful contrast, has been quite consistent in that it has been bleak but successful. Wins over RNK Split, Crusaders and NSI Runavik mean we now find ourselves in the Play-off round for the Europa League.

Aston Villa's first competitive match under the tutorship of their new manager will provide a welcome return to fitness for Darren Bent and James Collins who both missed their respective international matches through injury - not that the England game went ahead. News signings Shay Given and Charles N'Zogbia are set to make their debuts.

Fulham are likely to welcome back Moussa Dembele to the starting line-up while Bobby Zamora may yet again play through the pain with a broken hand.

Score Prediction: Fulham 2 - 1 Aston Villa

Predicted Line-Up: Schwarzer; Riise, Hangeland, Hughes, Baird; Dempsey, Murphy, Sidwell, Duff; Dembele, Zamora

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