It’s that time of year where Villa and Birmingham Twitter comes alive with the usual banter around the Second City derby but should the blue half of Birmingham take a look back at previous encounters then ‘carrying on our winning streak’ isn’t the phrase they would probably choose to use. City seem to forget that they haven’t beaten Villa in the last 7 meetings, in fact the only Blues win occurred back in early December 2011 with City scraping a narrow 2-1 home win with an 84th minute winner from Nikola Zigic. Of the 22 players starting the game that day not one is still at the club with only substitute Craig Gardner still at Birmingham City today.
Currently sitting in 8th in the Championship table, just 2 points above Villa in 11th, Birmingham have enjoyed somewhat of a mini renaissance under Gary Monk but nothing to the extent that their fans can get overly excited about. Having won just the three games in their last ten games achieving a winning streak has been hard to come by. Three draws and 4 losses add to the false dawn.
Villa cannot claim to have a better record though with just the two wins in the same time frame with 5 draws and 3 losses.
But things look a lot rosier when we look at the contests between the sides including all competitions both at home and away.
Birmingham - P6 W0 D2 L4 GF3 GA9
Villa - P6 W4 D2 L0 GF9 GA3
To put that into perspective in terms of win percentage’s City have won 17%, Villa 33% with a draws at 50%.
It doesn’t look good for City when they play Villa at St Andrews either, of the six games played their since 2007 Villa have won twice with 3 draws and a single City win back in 2010.
Villa seem to come alive in Second City derbies and the 4-2 win back at Villa Park in November last year was testament to that and who can forget Alan Hutton’s mazy run finished off with a superb left footed finish to send the Holte End into ecstasy.
Win and Villa overtake their rivals. Simple.
Tommy Elphick will be out for at least six weeks after tearing his plantar fascia and Alan Hutton will of course still be missing giving Dean Smith a quandary in the left centre-half position. Expect Jack Grealish to not only keep his place but to keep the captaincy. John McGinn has served his 2 game suspension, but incredibly he may well have to settle for place on the Villa bench. Whether Lovre Kalinic replaces Jed Steer in goal remains to be seen.
City will be without Maxime Colin at right back with Charlie Lakin and Marc Roberts unlikely to be ready for a return so, like his opposite manager, Gary Monk has selection issues in defense. Gary Gardner is ineligible to play, of course, so brother Craig may well deputise for him.
Will City play a diamond as they have tried this out in recent games? Something to watch out for perhaps.
Connor Mahoney was Birmingham City’s WhoScored.com’s man of the match in City’s loss away at Hull City last time out so to bring Jaques Maghoma back in for him maybe risky but in a derby this may well be the case.
Che Adams is a much improved center forward than he was 6 months ago with 6 goals in 5 games, Tammy Abraham and Adams are both on 21 goals this season and will be looking to add to their tallies on Sunday.
Dean Smith has said in the pre match press conference that Whelan, Hourihane and Grealish all performed at an 8/10 level in the Derby game so I would expect all three to keep their place and Smith may well revert to a 4-1-4-1 with Whelan back to his screening role in front of a back four that will see Kourtney Hause move inside to fill the left center back position with Neil Taylor replacing him at left back, this would mean Tyrone Mings shuffling across to the right center back slot. Adomah and El Ghazi should keep their places on the flanks. This of course may well end up as a 4-4-1-1 with Grealish playing in the number 10 position behind Tammy Abraham.
I have probably talked about formations enough already but it’s a good thing we are because Villa can play in a multitude of shapes so don’t be surprised that if Smith decides to bring John McGinn straight back in to the side Villa could well line up in a 4-3-3 shape (below) with Grealish on the left of a front three. In my opinion it depends how much Smith feels he can risk going forward as the graphic above gives much more security when defending in the 4-1-4-1.
City are a team who try to play their football in the opposition half and directly through the center of the pitch a style that Gary Monk has tried to implement and this inevitably tends to lead to them taking quite a few long shots with 43% of their efforts coming from outside the 18 yard box, a high volume compared to others. For instance Villa have posted 11% of their shots from inside the 6 yard box, compared to City’s 5%, probably due to Tammy Abraham’s preferred positioning and heading ability so a difference indeed.
City also have some good crossers of the ball so expect to see plenty of deliveries in the air to Adams and Jutkiewicz and with Villa’s poor record in defending down the flanks this should be a concern for Dean Smith. Villa are of course a possession based team so expect them to have the ball a lot more than their rivals and similarly to City they too tend to deliver the ball into the box, for Abraham, but Villa will need to pick their moments and Grealish will need to keep his head up and deliver those dinking balls into Villa’s top scorer carefully.
Below is an example of a hypothetical City attack playing down the right hand side and in a position to cross the ball and this is where I think Villa can capitalize.
When the ball is cleared if Villa can get Grealish on the ball he will be able to create space in the midfield with his close control and ability to protect the ball and in the meantime Adomah, and El Ghazi will then have time to get into wide positions on the flanks and counter on City due to their full backs probably being high up the pitch on both sides if the ball is on one side or the other.
However Villa set up and whoever Dean Smith chooses to start with I always enjoy derby day and I have a good feeling about this one. History is with us. John and Jack are back, they don’t stand a chance.