Preview: Hibernian vs. Aston Villa – prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Wednesday’s Europa Conference League clash between Hibernian and Aston Villa, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Battling it out for a place in the group stage of this season’s Europa Conference League, Hibernian and Aston Villa meet for the first leg of their playoff tie on Wednesday.

Ahead of an enticing all-British contest at Easter Road, the Scottish side have progressed through two previous rounds of qualifying; Villa now enter the competition, making their return to Europe after 13 years away.

Match preview

Hibernian manager Lee Johnson during the match on December 15, 2022© Reuters

Following a memorable success in Switzerland last week, Hibernian secured themselves a spot in the final round of qualification for the Europa Conference League – and with it, a reunion with one of their favourite sons.

Scrapping out a draw was enough to see Lee Johnson‘s side through against FC Luzern, after they took a 3-1 lead from the first leg in Edinburgh with them to Lucerne.

Having increased their advantage when Elie Youan struck early on, Luzern levelled soon after and then went ahead on the night; however, when Youan set up Martin Boyle to make it 2-2 with less than 20 minutes remaining, Hibs were back in control of the tie.

As fate would have it, the draw had already teed up a meeting with Aston Villa’s John McGinn, and the English club’s captain now returns to Easter Road, where he excelled for three years before moving south in 2018.

Part of the Hibernian teams that won both the 2016 Scottish Cup – a first victory in the competition for 114 years – and promotion back to the Premiership, McGinn is remembered fondly in Leith. However, such memories will surely be pushed to one side on Wednesday evening.

Having finished fifth last term, Hibs started slowly this season – with league defeats to St Mirren and Motherwell and an embarrassing Conference League loss in Andorra – but in addition to knocking Inter d’Escaldes and Luzern out of Europe, they have since progressed in the Scottish League Cup with a 2-1 defeat of Raith Rovers.

Aston Villa's Douglas Luiz scores against Everton on August 20, 2023© Reuters

After a largely positive pre-season, Aston Villa also endured a sticky start to their 2023-24 campaign, but they bounced back from a demoralising first-day defeat by dismantling a listless Everton side on Sunday – just days after being beaten 5-1 by Newcastle United.

After a fired-up McGinn opened the scoring at Villa Park, Douglas Luiz doubled Villa’s advantage from the spot, and the home side eventually ran out 4-0 winners to pick up their first Premier League points of the season.

However, joining key players Tyrone Mings and Emi Buendia in the treatment room at Bodymoor Heath, mercurial playmaker Philippe Coutinho came off injured, further testing the strength of Unai Emery‘s expensively-assembled squad.

The Villans’ Basque boss – a confirmed specialist in continental competition – now leads his side into Europe, some 13 years after their last taste of UEFA competition, having pulled off a miraculous turnaround at the club since arriving in Birmingham late last year.

Picking up more points than any team other than Manchester City during the second half of the 2022-23 campaign, Villa won each of their final seven home fixtures to pip Tottenham to seventh place – their best league finish for over a decade.

The 1982 European champions have since signed new recruits with experience at the highest level – Pau Torres, Youri Tielemans, club-record signing Moussa Diaby and loanee Nicolo Zaniolo – but injuries have depleted their options ahead of this week’s trip across the border.

Hibernian Europa Conference League form:

Hibernian form (all competitions):

Aston Villa form (all competitions):

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Team News

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery reacts on July 15, 2023© Reuters

Given a mounting number of absentees, it remains to be seen how Unai Emery will formulate his Aston Villa side for Wednesday’s first leg – Villa trialled a three-man defence during pre-season and could even return to such a setup.

In addition to Tyrone Mings and Emi Buendia – both of whom are out for the season – Phillipe Coutinho is now sidelined after succumbing to a hamstring injury on Sunday, while Jacob Ramsey (foot) and Alex Moreno (thigh) are also unavailable to Villa’s head coach.

Having made a big impression since joining from Bayer Leverkusen, Moussa Diaby is almost certain to start for the visitors, joining last term’s top scorer Ollie Watkins in attack. Jhon Duran completed his return from injury with a goalscoring cameo at the weekend, though, and could come into Emery’s thinking, alongside potential debutant Nicolo Zaniolo.

Hibs, meanwhile, should turn to Dutch striker Dylan Vente to lead their front line. Despite suffering a bloodied nose at the end of Sunday’s cup win, in which he scored the winner, Vente should be cleared to play; most likely supported by either Christian Doidge or Adam le Fondre.

Midfielder Dylan Levitt sustained an ankle injury in Lucerne last week, and as the Wales international may have done ligament damage he is set to miss at least the first leg.

Long-term absentees Harry McKirdy and Jojo Wollacott are not available either, but Josh Campbell should overcome a shoulder problem to play some part in the game.

Hibernian possible starting lineup:
Marshall; Miller, Fish, Hanlon, Stevenson; Newell, Campbell; Youan, Le Fondre, Boyle; Vente

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Martinez; Konsa, Carlos, Torres, Digne; Kamara, Tielemans; Diaby, McGinn, Bailey; Watkins

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We say: Hibernian 1-2 Aston Villa

The huge gulf in resources between the two clubs leaves Aston Villa clear favourites to progress after next week’s second leg, but Hibs certainly will not make life easy for the Premier League side. On home soil, the Hibees have won both of their qualifying fixtures so far; however, stepping up in class will see them beaten by a team with a wealth of European experience – most notably in the dugout.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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