Jan 29, 2014, 2:05 PM EDT
Yesterday’s Merseyside Derby received all the hype ahead of the Premier League’s 23rd round, but for the fans that will pack Villa Park in Birmingham this evening, no fixture may be more anticipated than West Bromwich Albion’s trip to Aston Villa. At 2:45 p.m. ET, the two clubs will renew one of the premier rivalries in the West Midlands, with their season’s second derby available to steam via NBC Sports Live Extra.
Last time out in league, Aston Villa gave one of the best performances of what’s been an inconsistent season. The same spark they showed to open the campaign with an upset at the Emirates was evident at Anfield, where they took a 2-0 lead on Liverpool. Though the Reds fought back, the 2-2 result gave Villa (or, at least their fans) new hope. The often uninspired play that’s evolved from Paul Lambert‘s willingness to cede his opponents that ball was replaced by a potential to transcend another relegation battle.
Under new manager Pepe Mel, West Brom are hoping for the same. The Baggies currently sit in 15th, only four points above the drop. In their last six Premier League matches, the club’s claimed seven points, collecting four draws to go along with a win over Newcastle and a loss at Sunderland. Though management will be hoping for more as Mel settles into his job, that pace should be enough to avoid relegation.
But that pace may be forgotten should the Baggies fail to put in a strong performance at Villa Park, with a poor showing against a rival underscoring the transition period management’s elected to endure.
The real pressure, however, will be on the home side. In the middle of a roller coaster season, a loss at home to their rivals would send Aston Villa into another dip, blunting the progress they made at Anfield.
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