Aston Villa are riding high on an impressive victory at Villa Park over Norwich City on Saturday and with a quick turnaround Tuesday evening’s affair with the Latics will look to continue that momentum and could also give some indications of manager Steve Bruce’s confidence.
What to know about Aston Villa
After struggling for five halves of league play, Steve Bruce pushed the right buttons against the Canaries and has an upper hand in his tiff with Villa supporters who were questioning his early season choices and tactics, as well as his overall fitness in his position. All credit where it’s due, Bruce made a great call in putting Keinan Davis up top and that spark led to great things from the Aston Villa attack, which took a lot of pressure off of a beleaguered back line.
With that said, it took our Bruce those five halves to play a style of football that fans were pining for, and that probably only gives him about forty-five minutes of credit. If Villa’s XI open with a mentality and determination like they had in the first half against Hull City and over the course of the whole evening against Norwich, the faithful should be sated; however, if Bruce has them back and playing tentative like against Reading, the boo birds will let him know at half.
In Villa’s first round Carabao Cup win in soggy Colchester, Bruce made a number of changes to his starting XI. On the whole Bruce took the opportunity to look a notch down the depth chart making nine changes to his match day squad, but most noteworthy were his experiments with Birkir Bjarnason at left back and giving Callum O’Hare his debut in first team action. Bruce went one-for-two in that O’Hare looked fit and ready to be a difference maker on the squad, whereas Bjarnason struggled with the change.
Those changes represent a few things to look for against Wigan: Villa’s depth at left back and establishing a pecking order on the squad, as well as details on injury concerns and whether or not the youth continue their push into Villa’s match day squad.
Brief look at Left Backs
Neil Taylor remains the only left back on the squad, so Bruce using Cup matches to find a backup makes a good bit of sense. Bruce closed the game against Colchester with Ritchie de Laet at the spot, and although de Laet struggled at right back against Reading, an opportunity against lower division competition could help him to get legs.
The bulk of Bruce’s changes against Colchester as I mentioned were simply going down the depth chart to the next player up: Sam Johnstone gave the keepers kit to Jed Steer; Gabby Agbonlahor gave way to Andre Green; Albert Adomah took over for Ahmed Elmohamady on the right wing; Glenn Whelan was swapped for Josh Onomah; Conor Hourihane replaced Leandro Bacuna; Chris Samba spelled John Terry; and, finally, Alan Hutton was ousted for James Bree. James Chester wore the captains armband and, along with Scott Hogan, accounted for the two holdovers from the opener.
Going down the line of those changes, it’s interesting to note that a few of those look to be changes going forward with Green, Onomah, Hourihane and Bree all performing well and earning their places.
From the Physios Table
On the injury front, Gabby and Hogan on Saturday were passed due to their injuries, while Onomah was a first half sub due to a head injury. Hogan made his way onto the match day card in what must have been a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” choice by Bruce in case the Green gambit hadn’t proved so effective. Mile Jedinak was reportedly close to making the match, as well. It could be that Jedinak was held off against Norwich in order to get less vital time in the Carabao to get his conditioning and legs under him.
Up and Comers
Another thing to look for in Villa’s lineup is the involvement of Callum O’Hare and Keinan Davis. O’Hare acquainted himself with first team action against Colchester and Davis was the key to unlocking the Villa attack against Norwich City. With a Friday visit to Bristol, their involvement—or lack of—could show if Bruce thinks they’ll factor into a match more crucial to Villa’s promotion push and whether or not he needs to make any future additions during the open window. Neither O’Hare nor Davis made an appearance on the match sheet against Stoke in U 23 action on Monday, nor did Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, who could factor.
So what is to be expected against Wigan? It’s hard to say precisely, but Steve Bruce has many options thanks to the depth of this squad. He likely could end up with a squad that looks more like the opener against Hull, though, and that says a lot about the start of the season Villa has had.
What to know about Wigan Athletic
The Latics are in the midst of precisely what the Claret and Blue fans fear. Relegated from the Premier league in 2013 after bizarrely winning the FA cup a mere three days prior, Wigan had nearly shot back up to the Premier League in 2013-2014, finishing fifth and bowing out in the playoff to QPR. Since then Wigan have been oscillated yearly between promotion from League One and relegation from the Championship.
This being an odd year, though, the Latics are in a great run of form leading League One with a perfect 9 points through three matches. Though crowded at the top with three other squads by points, they’ve only conceded one in league play and have a league best +6 goal differential. Their first round Carabao Cup win came against fellow League One side Blackpool.
In 2016/2017 Wigan faced their relegation from the Championship finishing in 23rd place. Only Rotherham was worse by points, though Wigan barely bested Birmingham City in goal differential by two at -17 to -19.
Villa defeated Wigan in both matches last year without conceding, though both were much closer affairs. In March keeper Sam Johnstone kept Villa level facing 15 shots and standing tall before James Chester and Scott Hogan both scored in the final quarter to decide and put away the match. December gave Villa one of their signature victories of the campaign when Jack Grealish’s 87th minute strike on a failed clearance earned Villa three points.
Aston Villa could really use a win to show that they’ve learned who they are from the game against Norwich. James Rushton and Ronson Brown pointed out on Holtecast 112 Villa aren’t truly in a position where putting in a good effort and bowing out of play makes sense. Bruce needs the confidence that he’s figured this squad out and the players need to see continued effort that they have an identity. Also, Villa just have too many players that need time on the pitch so keeping in tournament play allows them to do that. I would like to see Bruce find time for Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, and it’d be good to see if Mile Jedinak is progressing from training.
For a result, the optimist in me says I hope Aston Villa continue their form and earn a two goal victory, the realist says that Wigan has been playing well for longer and will look to make a statement. My prediction is that we get our first experience with the ABBA penalty system and we move on with Jed Steer sealing the victory.