By Amir Mir
Aston Villa will begin their first game in the second-tier since 1987, when they take on Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday afternoon at Hillsborough.
Manager Roberto Di Matteo has four new summer signings to choose from with Ross McCormack, Aaron Tshibola, Pierluigi Gollini and Tommy Elphick all signing on long-term contracts for a combined transfer fee of £24 million.
The Italian favoured a 4-4-2 formation during his time at MK Dons and West Brom, where he gained promotion with the latter in 2009-10, but during pre-season Di Matteo has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation, most recently in the 3-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Villa have won five games during pre-season with victories over GAK, Telford, Worcester, Nantes and Cambridge, including a draw against Bristol Rovers and the recent loss against Boro.
On Sunday they will come up against Carlos Carvahal’s side who narrowly missed out on promotion last season when they were beaten in the play-off finals to Hull.
The Yorkshire club have new signing Steven Fletcher in their armoury, as well as Fernando Forestri.
For Villa, Jordan Ayew was one of the standout performers during pre-season, netting on three occasions, as the Ghanaian, alongside academy product Jack Grealish impressed their manager.
Ayew played a number 10 role on numerous occasions during pre-season, most notably against French side Nantes when the versatile attacker played behind target-man Rudy Gestede.
With the arrival of McCormack supporters will be hoping Di Matteo will throw the Scottish international straight into action, with Ayew slotting in behind the 29-year-old to form a formidable attacking line.
But, will Di Matteo take the risk and play McCormack straight away? Or will Ayew lead the line on Sunday? And is there the possibility of four new summer signings starting the game?
Grealish who also found the net during pre-season was played on the left by his manager, the club’s academy graduate could start alongside fellow graduates Andre Green, Gary Gardner and Nathan Baker.
Elphick has been captain throughout pre-season and is expected to wear the armband, and build a partnership alongside Baker at the heart of the Villa defence.
The Midlands outfit who conceded 76 goals on their way to relegation last season will want to build a strong partnership at the back, with youngster Pierluigi Gollini expected to start in goals.
Either way Di Matteo will be hoping for a positive start from his side, as he could field four new summer signings in McCormack, Tshibola, Gollini and Elphick.
In other Aston Villa team news, new signing Ross McCormack has revealed what was said between him and the coaching staff before he signed.