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Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa: Statistical preview & analysis

Gareth Cooper is back to break down the numbers ahead of Villa’s play-off semi-final

Ipswich Town v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Ahead of a crucial Championship play-off semi-final clash with Middlesbrough, Gareth Cooper has returned to break down the key clashes and pivotal statistics.

Head to Head

Middlesbrough vs Villa

Middlesbrough Statistic Aston Villa
Middlesbrough Statistic Aston Villa
14 Home vs Away Wins 10
3 Home vs Away Draws 4
6 Home vs Away Losses 9
Assombalonga (15) Top Scorer Adomah (14)
33 Home vs Away NPG Goals Scored 26
17 Home vs Away NPG Goals against 23
36.12 Home vs Away xG total 29.48
0.77 Home vs Away xG per 90 0.63
35.13% Win Chance % (Based on xG per90) % of most likely score 0-0 (24.66 %) 26.72%
Gareth Cooper

We need to get one thing clear straight from the off. This will be the closest first leg of a play-off you may see for quite some time if the numbers are anything to go by and we have every reason to believe that this first-leg will not be a high scoring tie.

Middlesbrough at home have an low xG per 90 minutes of 0.77 meaning that they don’t create many clear-cut goalscoring opportunities . Their goals? 1.4 per 90. In layman’s terms, they finish well.

Aston Villa away from home are a similar story. Villa have a low xG of 0.63 per 90 but are actually scoring at a rate of 1.3 per 90. This scoring rate from both teams is without a doubt play-off form.

Calculating a result percentage is based on xG will always has its flaws, but is a 0-0 draw on the cards? Below are both offensive templates for both sides in radar form for comparison.

We can see how closely matched offensively the teams are and this is partly why I expect a low scoring affair, especially in the first leg. Boro, of course, will try to win the game at the Riverside - but with Villas tight defence having conceded only 23 goals away from home all season (which is a joint second best with Cardiff) we can now see why these stats come in to play a bit more. With both sides even, a 0-0 is likely.


Aston Villa

With Aston Villa being undefeated against Middlesbrough in their last 5 trips to the Riverside Stadium, Villa boss Steve Bruce may opt for a 4-5-1 set up when defending (as shown below) which moves into the typical and familiar 4-1-4-1 shape when attacking.

Glenn Whelan, Jack Grealish, Robert Snodgrass and Lewis Grabban will no doubt be recalled by Steve Bruce after being rested in Villa’s last league match, a defeat to Millwall.

The 4-5-1 setup, when defending, means Villa can double up in the wide areas where Boro are at their most threatening with former Villans Adama Traore and Stewart Downing operating down the flanks.

It’s likely that Birkir Bjarnason and Neil Taylor won’t feature with both players carrying injuries.

Gareth Cooper


Middlesbrough will probably bring in Grant Leadbitter in place of Adam Clayton to add a bit more experience in to the centre of the Boro midfield in their now consistent 4-3-3 shape (36 games in this shape). Britt Assombalonga will probably play as the central striker but Tony Pulis may decide to bring in Patrick Bamford, after his goal at the weekend, to provide some aerial threat up against Terry and Chester.

Adama Traore - In Focus

Derby County v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Adama Traore is the one man Villa fans will be most wary of over the two legs. With good reason.

However, it’s pointless getting wrapped up in the hype. Let’s check the facts and the stats and see if we can’t ground our fears. Below, I’ve compared Adama to the man Villa brought in to replace him, Albert Adomah.

Adama vs Adomah

Player Successful dribbles per 90 Completed crosses per 90 Assists per 90 Key passes per 90
Player Successful dribbles per 90 Completed crosses per 90 Assists per 90 Key passes per 90
Traore 7.1 0.6 0.3 1.4
Adomah 1.8 0.6 0.2 1.4
Gareth Cooper

As we can see Traore’s dribbling ability is never in doubt.

If Villa can engage him reasonably high with one of their wide midfielders,and back that up with a full back closely behind him to limit the space for him, then Adama will find it hard to shift into a lethal fifth gear. This applies to both flanks with Stewart Downing on the left.

This can also work in Villa’s favour. If Villa can use defence-to-attacking transitions to good effect, and quickly enough with good timing, Traore and Downing will leave space behind them and, given the probable 4-3-3 shape Boro will employ, Robert Snodgrass and Adomah could exploit that open field and really get at the Middlesbrough full backs.

Ayala & Set-Pieces

Burton Albion v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

One final concern for me is both Daniel Ayala and Stewart Downing. Downing’s left footed delivery is still as good as it has always been and Villa cannot afford to give away free kicks in dangerous areas around the 18 yard box for two reasons:

1) He has scored two goals from direct set-pieces, not a great deal admittedly but it’s more than Snodgrass has done for Villa!

2) Daniel Ayala has scored 7 goals from centre-back this season and 6 of these have come from set pieces with 5 coming from Downing’s free kicks. If Patrick Bamford plays, look out for the block to allow Ayala a clearer run at the ball. In a one off play off game it could well be the difference.

It’s worth noting that Boro have scored 11 set piece goals away from home and 6 at home, so something to bear in mind for the second leg.