Dean Smith will no doubt be leading his Aston Villa side out tomorrow with a wry smile on his face. His Villa have won their last three games, including one resounding win over Birmingham City in a slugfest of a Second City derby. However, the magnitude of matches does not decrease for AVFC in the coming days. Tomorrow, they face high-flying Nottingham Forest before a weekend tie with Middlesbrough. Two matches that in all honesty, Villa cannot afford to fall short in.
To be blunt, Villa have rarely fallen short under Smith thus far. The Villa Head Coach has endured two expected stumbles when the schedule took the wind out of his side - but apart from that, it’s been all go.
Aitor Karanka’s Nottingham Forest serve as somewhat of a glass ceiling for the Villa. Currently occupying 7th place with 30 points, AVFC can move level on points with a victory over Forest. A loss will ensure that Villa’s promotion path is made all the more harder - and they’ll certainly have to make it up over the course of the season. That can be done, but that does mean that today’s match is a promotion/play-off six pointer. Forest are a strong side this season - and this is a high stake game for Villa.
Over the past six games between the sides, Villa have won 2, Forest have won 2, and two have been split. It’s a completely even record. According to WhoScored - one of Forest’s wins, and one of the stalemates, were in friendlies. Competitively, it is Villa who are supreme - and it is Villa who will take it on recent history going into this game. The last two encounters between Nottingham Forest and the Villans have seen Villa win, twice. A lot has changed since then though - and Forest will be looking at this match as a massive opportunity, as will the Villans.
How about that Villa?
Villa are riding a three game winning streak heading into the match-up with Nottingham Forest. Dean Smith has fully rejuvenated Aston Villa - and seems focused on helping this Villa team correct their mistakes; and their are more than a few occurring each game.
Villa’s main issue revolves around James Chester. The Villa stalwart is barely mobile due to a knee injury sustained in the build-up to the international break - and it’s clearly affecting his game. While an injured James Chester is far beyond the capabilities of most Championship defenders, there’s a big question revolving around just how far Villa want to push their luck with this man. Injuring Chester further will damn Villa to playing the rampant and roving Alan Hutton at centre-back in the stead of the injured James Bree and Mile Jedinak. While Conor Hourihane and Glen Whelan have played in the position, theirs is an entirely different situation. They have merely filled the role during match-play transitions for the odd 40 seconds to ensure Villa’s formation isn’t inbalanced when Chester or Axel Tuanzebe carry the ball. Placing one of the pair at centre-back for 90 minutes won’t end well. However, this is all conditional - James Chester has proved to be resilient, and here’s hoping that that carries on.
John McGinn should return for Villa and this means that Glen Whelan will likely see the bench. This is slightly unfair as he stepped up to the plate against Birmingham as he has done so all season long, but John McGinn is John McGinn and that’s that.
Albert Adomah and Henri Lansbury will miss tomorrow’s match due to injuries sustained in the Second City derby - meaning that Yannick Bolasie should start against Nottingham. Don’t be surprised if the steady Ahmed Elmohamady fills in, though - he’s been ever so slightly impressive on the wing this season. Callum O’Hare should continue on the bench and may see match action. It’d certainly be smart to bring Jack Grealish off the pitch if Villa are doing well and winning, so O’Hare is a great bench option.
All-in-all, don’t expect much in the way of rotational madness for Villa right now. They’ll fine tune, but a good thing is very much a good thing. The core of the squad will stay the same for the foreseeable future.
The Tricky Trees
Aitor Karanka’s side have won three of their last five Championship fixtures and sit 7th in the table, with both eyes focused on promotion from the league at the end of the season. High-profile import João Carvalho is the big name, but it is Joe Lolley and Matty Cash who seem to be leading the way the way for Forest, with Lolley especially making a name for himself at the same time. The Villa fan is second in Forest’s scoring charts.
Veteran Lewis Grabban, a name familiar to Villans, leads the way for Forest with ten goals and his experience is match by others in the side - including Claudio Yacob, Danny Fox, Costel Pantilimon and Jack Colback. Karanka, with aid, has created the perfect Championship blend for his side - who look to mirror Wolves and win promotion, impressing all the while.
Nottingham Forest, like most teams in the league, use the flanks well and seem to be fairly matched with Villa so far this season - with the Villans preferring to whip the ball in from wide, with Forest maintaining the through-ball into the box or failing that, the speculative effort set-up from outside the penalty area. Much like Villa, they can’t defend a set-piece, at all. Almost half the goals they have let in this season have come from the dead ball. They maintain a better record in that area than Villa, though.
Forest’s last game saw them blow Bolton Wanderers away - with the aforementioned Lolley and Grabban making up the score tally with one and two goals respectively. Playing a Villa side on a high is an altogether different ball-game. So to speak.
It’s a home game and Villa should win, no matter the opposition. They cannot afford a loss - so it’s time to set the example. 2-0 to AVFC.