It was back in March that QPR managed to pull the rug from underneath Steve Bruce’s Villa - on a high after beating Wolves. A rescheduled game, Villa welcomed the R’s to Villa Park, and were battered. A sluggish AVFC couldn’t really get to grips with the Londoners, and the game ended in disaster - a perfect symbol for Bruce’s reign at the club.
Now, Villa head down to Loftus Road on Friday night to make amends - despite the fact that Bruce isn’t around anymore. Villa can get right back on track with a win, while QPR can continue their decent early run. Game on.
What to know about the Villa
At least Dean Smith’s Villa know how to lose games in a competent manner. Last time out against Norwich would have been a different story if the old boys were in charge - and Villa relied on kicking the ball hard and running really fast to no avail. At the very least, Villa did actually look like winning the game at one point before falling flat.
Despite their new era beginning with a fairly bright start, Villa still have issues. The side are currently relying on John McGinn to do nearly everything, which was bad news for the side considering he was suspended for the loss against Norwich City. Ørjan Nyland’s form has dropped, again and there seems to be an imbalance in the sqaud in general. These are not easy problems for Smith to fix, at all. For one, the imbalance in the squad cannot really be corrected until one of Villa’s current back-up wingers steps up. Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi haven’t looked terribly good so far, despite some decent spells. If neither of them can get fit and push Albert Adomah and Ahmed Elmohamady in the side, Villa are in trouble - as they’ll then have to look at other options - likely putting Jack Grealish or Jonathan Kodjia out wide. Adomah will miss the coming game against his boyhood favourites, so there’s a good chance for a winger to really step up to the plate. It’s looking like Bolasie will get the start, and he’s got no other choice than to perform and repay Dean Smith’s faith in him. Since Villa are without Andre Green, who is on-loan at Portsmouth, there’s nothing else that they can really do.
As for the midfield, John McGinn will return - which is brilliant. He’s been a revelation for Aston Villa. Glen Whelan looked very good in midfield as well last time out and he’ll now look to challenge Birkir Bjarnason for a place in the midfield lineup. Whelan’s passing ability outshone the rest of the team on Tuesday. The spotlight on Friday will fall onto the shoulders, once more, of Jack Grealish. Grealish’s ability is clearly there, but form has eluded him this season. A performance from Grealish could really take a lot of pressure off of this Villa squad.
Villa’s defence is fairly commendable - with Axel Tuanzebe really impressing as of late at centre-back. The back-line needs a bit more organisation, and it absolutely needs to bail out Ørjan Nyland whenever it can. There’s no other option for Villa at this point other than to roll with Nyland until January. Benching him could be a recipe for disaster, and hey - he can only go up from here, right?
Dean Smith will look to get Villa firing, but his squad have to step up their game and perform away from home. QPR probably won’t take that lying down, though.
What about QPR?
It’s a surprise to me that Queens Park Rangers have somewhat ‘thrived’ under Steve McClaren. While he’s got the right footballing education, he seems to have strolled from disaster to disaster - and QPR should have been no different. Yet, here we are - with the R’s actually fighting and making a decent fist of establishing themselves away from the Championship relegation battle. Both Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells (remember him?) are doing well for QPR, and while Villa have the firepower, it’s QPR who aren’t waiting on a reload. QPR can also call on some real creativity in midfield via Luke Freeman and Eberechi Eze.
I’m very happy that Steve McClaren has seemingly found his feet, as he’s often packed in with managerial names that he has no business being grouped with. He’s fairly smart, he’s just in dire need of some good PR. Very similar to Mick McCarthy in this instance, who is probably missed at Ipswich Town right now.
I am fairly confident of a Villa win, but this schedule has been horrendous for Dean Smith. A game on Saturday, Tuesday and Friday will kill his planning and the fitness of his team. Rotation is needed, but can Smith trust his back-up wingers to do a job right now? I’m not so certain. Villa will need to fly out of the gates, control the game, and grab a goal at the right time. Scoring early on and failing to double a lead will be disastrous and heap pressure onto them - something they can’t really deal with effectively.
QPR? I think their powder is dry on this one, and honestly - I wouldn’t be that surprised at a Villa loss. All they need to do is pounce on Villa’s mistakes and load the box. That’s it.
A loss won’t make me all that upset though. It’s been a horror week and will provide some valuable data for Smith and Villa. They’ll just need to forge it into a win next Friday against Bolton. A win against QPR will be as good a bonus as they come, though.