Rapid Vienna v Aston Villa, Europa League, August 20, 2009
The mood around the Aston Villa camp following the disappointing home defeat to Wigan on Saturday appears to be bullish. Captain Stiliyan Petrov described the 2-0 loss to the Latics as a â€œone-offâ€ whilst Gabriel Agbonlahor (5/1 to score first) has promised to â€œput it right this weekâ€ in the banana-skin of a tie in Vienna.
The Villa fans, who booed their team off at the final whistle on Saturday, will be well aware of the connection between league form and European football. The UEFA Cup exit at the hands of CSKA Moscow last season, even with a weaker side, led to a downturn in form that eventually saw the campaign end in disappointment.
Martin Oâ€™Neill has much juggling to do with what now looks like a crucial Premier League match against Liverpool at Anfield on Monday. John Carew (6/5 to score) is expected to be fit but may not start if Villa rest players to avoid the 5-0 hammering they suffered at the hands of the Merseyside giants last season.
The bad news for Oâ€™Neill is that the trip to Vienna will not be for the faint hearted and the home side will pose a stern test. Such is their desire for victory over their Premier League opponents that the match will be played at Rapid Viennaâ€™s intimate Gerhard Hanappi stadium rather than the much bigger Ernst Happel stadium.
Rapid have had a mixed start to the season having claimed a win, draw and defeat in their opening three games in the Austrian Bundesliga. Part of the reason for their inconsistent beginning to the 2009/2010 campaign may be due to the loss of highly-rated 22-year-old striker Erwin Hoffer, who secured a big move to Napoli.
Nevertheless, they do have lots of attacking firepower and have hit five goals at home twice already this season, against Villaznia Shkoder in the Europa League and against Austrian Karnten in the Bundesliga. The â€œGreen & Whitesâ€ also beat Liverpool in a pre-season friendly a month ago.
Villaâ€™s defence (Villa are 11/8 to keep a clean sheet), which if the pundits are to be believed, has never recovered from Martin Laursenâ€™s retirement, will have to beware of striker Stefan Maierhofer. The Austrian international makes John Carew look small and the 6.7ft striker was rumoured to be a target for Wolves earlier this summer. Fellow frontman Christopher Trimmel (7/2 to score), who comes in at just 6.2ft, is another front man in good form and has claimed four goals in his three most recent matches.
Much has been made of Wiganâ€™s win at Villa on Saturday and in many ways this fixture is a chance to bounce back. Martin Oâ€™Neill will likely blood some of the youngsters that impressed at the Peace Cup and whilst many bemoan their lack of experience, the club should be lauded for bringing talent through the ranks.
Nevertheless, this is a tricky tie, one of the toughest possible (Everton face Sigma Olomouc on the same night) and a draw or away goal may be a good result to finish off the tie at Villa Park.
101gg predicts: Rapid Vienna 1 â€“ Aston Villa 1 (11/2)
Full match odds here.