Today Aston Villa take on West Bromwich Albion in the reverse fixture of the West Midlands Derby. The controversial fixture was defined by a moment of poor officiating and today Villa will look to turn their season around with a positive performance against one of their local rivals.
Back in early December when the two sides played out a 2-2 draw, Villa went in to that game having won four out of the last five games and only a ridiculous game that ended with 5 goals a piece at home to Nottingham Forest was the outlier. That preceded an impressive win away at Middlesbrough, but since then Dean Smith’s side have won only twice in the Championship.
Let’s be honest if it wasn’t for a Jay Rodriguez hand-helped equaliser, Villa would have won the game and what was a decent winning run may have continued.
Aston Villa since the WBA game - P11 W2 D6 L3
WBA since the Villa game - P10 W5 D5 L2
Although both teams don’t mind a draw as of late, West Brom are an attacking force to be reckoned with. They have scored 62 goals with an xG (Expected Goals) of 51.26, however - their high intensity gung-ho approach when attacking has come at a price at the other end. Having conceded 40 goals with an xGA (Expected Goals Against) of 36.7 (albeit 5th best in the league) The Baggies can be found out as teams have discovered but achieving this is easier said than done, of course.
West Brom are on a run of only having lost once in the last 7 games in the Championship, losing away at Blackburn. When playing away from The Hawthorns, they have scored 14 goals in the process and conceding just the 5 goals. Over the last 7 games, both at home and away, they have only won twice. A quick look at the two sides form in the last 7 games doesn’t give much away to what we can expect later:
Aston Villa last 7 games - W1 D4 L1 GF10 GA12
West Brom last 7 games - W2 D3 L2 GF10 GA9
The teams have very similar records of late which may come as a surprise to some who think West Brom have this one in the bag already. And with both teams having a win percentage of 33% against each other more there is yet more food for thought.
Probable Starting Lineups:
Villa have dabbled under Dean Smith with a 4-3-3 shape but this generally ends up being a 4-1-4-1 formation especially when defending and to that end I can’t envisage a scenario that would see Dean Smith going with a starting place for Jonathan Kodija due to the fact West Brom like to play with Mason Holgate and Kieran Gibbs fairly high at full back. I think Smith may favour Andre Green due to his pace on the counter attack and his work rate defensively and with our attacking strengths in the wide areas this would be the way to go.
This brings us on to the issue of who Smith prefers out wide on the right hand side. Albert Adomah, having been mildly unimpressive against Brentford last time out, may well be replaced for the game by Ahmed El Mohamady due to his defensive attributes although some may argue Adomah also has the qualities to do this job well enough.
Preventing high quality chances has been Villa’s problem, with them having the 6th worst record for xGA in the Championship having conceded 50 goals with an xGA of 43.95. With West Brom well known for their ability to A) attack and create chances from wide areas and B) create high xG chances, protection will be needed for Alan Hutton and Neil Taylor (fitness permitting) in the Aston Villa full back positions hence the El Mohamady and Green selections.
On The Counter:
Darren Moore’s charges are well-versed in not only defending in an organised fashion but also in moving rapidly forward in the defensive-to-attacking transitions with Livermore and former Villa man Gareth Barry consistently recycling the ball in central midfield. Moore may well go with a 4-2-3-1 with the pair in a midfield two. The ban forced upon Dwight Gayle for diving means Hal Robson-Kanu will likely to the left centre forward position and The Baggies will miss Gayle pace on the counter for sure.
As mentioned previously, Holgate and Gibbs love to raid forward from their full back positions in support of wide players. I can’t help but fear for Hutton and Taylor and the prospect of West Brom attempting to overload these areas especially down the Villa right.
To that end if, and it’s a big if, Villa’s midfield five as well as Hutton and Taylor, can steal the ball in decent positions and be able to release Green or El Mohamady early enough there will be space in behind the West Brom full backs as shown below.
Villa recycling the ball quickly and playing into wide, final third areas will be vital if they are sustain some attacking threat.
It sounds simple but getting hold of the ball in theses scenarios will be difficult and this is an area in which Villa have struggled. Glenn Whelan is a holding midfielder but of late the quickness of play around him sees him struggling at times, as does Conor Hourihane perhaps, and much the same can be said for Mile Jedinak. For me, Whelan is still the best option in this area. This leaves John McGinn to do a great deal of running for his midfield partners. But with Gareth Barry not being the youngest and Livermore having a tempestuous relationship with tackling, McGinn will again be key in his passing choices out to Green and El Mohamady and the match way well be won or lost based on his decision making.
This will be a lot tighter than many think and if Villa come away with a point I think Dean Smith wont be to displeased. Anything more than that may well be a bonus. However, Villa are at home and as long as the fans stay in support of the team in what may be a hostile atmosphere maybe they can achieve a better result than just a point. It’s just a shame that both are dependent on each other recently.
by Gareth Cooper