It’s year two in the Championship, but it still feels weird how often Aston Villa play in the middle of the week these days. Wednesday brings a visit to Preston North End, and that might be a good thing, given their recent downswing in form.
What to know about Aston Villa
Villa have lost once in 11 league matches, sit in the top six, and still I’m not sure they’re playing all that great. This is both a good thing (since improvement is possible) and a bad thing (because Villa will, at some point, need to play better to keep picking up results consistently).
The big concern is easy: Jonathan Kodjia will likely miss out after picking up a knock against Birmingham City. The positive is also easy: Kodjia still hasn’t scored this year and Villa are doing alright.
Keinan Davis will likely make a return to the starting XI, and if he continues to play well, Villa’s attack should be pretty fine. It will be interesting to see what other changes Steve Bruce makes from Sunday’s squad, though: Villa played much better with both Mile Jedinak and Glenn Whelan on the pitch — would Bruce consider going for both in the XI? Albert Adomah looked good on his preferred right wing, so will the gaffer bench Robert Snodgrass? What about going 4-4-2 and playing Scott Hogan instead of Josh Onomah?
The easiest change, however, should be getting Neil Taylor back into the XI as he returns from suspension. In truth, four points from three matches when you had no available left back wasn’t the worst of runs.
What to know about Preston North End
If you take a quick look at Preston’s stats, you might notice they seem particularly solid at the back — their defence has allowed just 10.7 shots per game, third-lowest in the league — and conclude it could be tough for Villa to generate many chances away Wednesday night. This, however, is a case where the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Through their first eight matches this year, Preston had conceded just 70 shots (8.8 per match). Over their last six matches, they’ve conceded at least 10 in every match — including 17 twice, against Brentford on Saturday and Fulham two weeks ago.
Whatever was working defensively early in the season for North End stopped sometime recently, and while they aren’t really shipping chances (the 13.3 shots against per match in their last six games is a perfectly average rate), they’ve certainly been shipping goals against: In their last four matches, Preston have conceded 10 times.
Their attack, however, has done a 180˚ turn for the better recently. North End only scored 11 times in the opening 10 matches, but they’ve netted twice in each of their last four matches. But combined with the suddenly leaky defence, Preston’s form has taken a tumble: they’re winless in four, slumping from fourth to ninth in the table.
A trio of attackers have shared a lot of the goal-scoring load for Preston this year — Jordan Hugill, Sean Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen have combined for 12 goals and will all likely start Wednesday — but Villa fans will be most familiar with a pair of supporting midfielders: Daniel Johnson, who has two goals to his name this year, and Callum Robinson, who’s pitched in a goal and assist. Both started in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Brentford.
Despite each club’s recent form, the bookies like Preston a little more here at home: North End are most frequently hanging around 7/5 or 6/4, a Villa win is out around 2/1 at most sites, and the draw will be in the ballpark of 11/5.
I don’t know why, but I feel good about Villa’s chances here. Preston’s defence has been poor recently, and even without Kodjia, Villa have a number of quality attackers who can punish sides that allow a high number of chances.
Give me the Claret and Blues in a nice, professional 2-0 win, with goals to Keinan Davis and Scott Hogan.