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Press high, disrupt the flanks: How Aston Villa can beat Fulham in the play-off final

Gareth brings the statistical preview ahead of the play-off final

Aston Villa v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Semi Final:Second Leg Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Villa head into a big clash this weekend, the final one of the season, with a place in the Premier League as a reward. What’s the key to the game?

It may sound obvious, but Fulham need the ball to be effective going forward, to be precise they need a lot of the ball. Fulham have one of the highest percentages of passing success in the four highest English leagues, and to be fair they are extremely effective when it all comes together. They exceeded their total expected goals total by 5 goals compared to Villa’s expected total of 66.81 of which they managed to equal.

Fulham powered their way into a playoff spot. Starting with a win away at Middlesbrough on the 13th of January, from that point on they won 16, drew 4 and lost only twice away at Birmingham City on the 6th of May. They lost the following game away at Derby on the 11th May in the first leg of the play-off semi-final before beating The Rams in the return leg at Craven Cottage 2-0 to overturn the deficit.

The Villa run-in wasn’t so smooth. In the same period as Fulham Villa won 13, drew 4 and lost 5 the last of which coming the game before the first leg of the play-off semi-final first leg against Middlesbrough, so in that respect the two sides have that in common.

Aston Villa
Gareth Cooper
Gareth Cooper

Looking at the radars it is easy to see who seems the more overall balanced side, but looks can be deceiving.


I don’t expect Steve Bruce to make any changes to the Aston Villa side which has served him so well of late. One change could be that we seeJames Bree continue to deputise for Ahmed Elmohamady at right back, however the Egyptian’s hamstring problem seems to have cleared up so he should take his place in the starting eleven. Whether Bruce feels the same is yet to be seen.

Fulham’s top-scorer Ryan Sessegnon will be looking to continue his hot streak in front of goal with the teenager being a real threat down the Fulham attacking left hand side. Odoi should continue at centre half after his winner in the play-off semi. A position up for grabs is the attacking right with Kamara and Ayite fighting it out with the former winning that battle of late.

Gareth Cooper

Game plan

In terms of the attack, Aston Villa will need to push Fulham back as much as possible. John Terry will need to cement a high-line, as long as it is safe and ensure his squad can play in the midfield, where Villa are at their strongest, with Conor Hourihane and Jack Grealish pulling the strings.

Grealish, will again, be key and if Mile Jedinak can push on to McDonald instead of sitting deeper this will leave Grealish with more space and even more so if Albert Adomah can cut infield and take Fredericks with him leaving that space for Grealish to burst into with those jinking runs of his into the penalty area from the inside left position. The opposite side may prove more of a problem with the threat of the Fulham counter attack especially with Ryan Sessegnon and his pace which brings me nicely onto the defensive shape needed.

The Villa defensive plan is similar to the attacking one, push Fulham back as far as possible so that they have to play in their own middle third and not ours. Keep them pinned back.

Fulham love nothing more than a team that gives them the time in midfield to pass the ball around to get the ball from McDonald to Cairney or Johansen in positions around the edge of the oppositions 18 yard box.

Villa must press high and across midfield, Jedinak will be key here as Cairney and Johansen are extremely mobile so when they enter his eye-line, he needs to press quickly to disrupt the flow of the attack.

Grealish and Hourihane again will need to press as high as possible as do all our midfielders. Villa essentially have a spare man in midfield and this could be key in defence to attacking transitions especially if Jedinak can recycle the ball quickly after regaining possession. Alan Hutton and Elmohamady need to engage Sessegnon and Kamara as high as possible, disrupting attacks. This in turn means if we can press high, no passes in behind should prove a threat as long as Chester can drop off a tad in the event Mitrovic tries to run in behind.

Either way, enjoy the game. Let’s do this. UTV.