Villa Park, stand your ground. It’s time for Villa’s first match at home in the 19/20 Premier League season, and it’s an important one.
The story so far
Bang, boom, Eriksen. The Great Dane took to the field last weekend and scorched Villa. His influence ensured Tottenham were able to leap back from 0-1 down to win out 3-1. The world focused on a Jack Grealish ‘mistake’ - while Villa fans focused on hope. A positive display against a dominant Tottenham side is in the bag, and Villa will now be looking forward to something tangible as Bournemouth come to town.
Bournemouth themselves were rocked as Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United walked the promenade before gate-crashing the game late on to nick a point in tremendous fashion. They’ll be up for it.
Aston Villa will want three points to start dampening questions aimed at their Premier League credentials, Bournemouth will want to get a lead on what could be a season-starting six-pointer. It’s all to play for.
Who are ya?
Small club eh? Little place on the seaside? Don’t be fooled. Bournemouth are here to stay and have proven their top-tier credentials time and time again. Locked into patterns of spending and tactical gameplans, Bournemouth have flourished in the Premier League under long-time boss Eddie Howe.
Survival in their first season in 2015/2016 (at the expense of teams like Aston Villa) has been a boon and Bournemouth have bounced from strength to strength - and they have never looked better. Firmly established as a top-tier football team, they might be looking to push on.
However, every season might be the end of the dream for The Cherries. The Premier League is cruel and Bournemouth, a team hanging outside the top ten, will be casting glances over their shoulders until they can further develop their promising infrastructure. Any team that isn’t improving, is declining. You cannot stay still less you suffer the hangover that ends in dread and relegation to the Championship. Bournemouth have worked so hard to get here that you cannot see them dropping without putting up a massive fight.
Let's talk more about fight. Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale wasn't even a choice in fantasy football this season. When the prices were released, he was that pissed off that he asked Bournemouth to rectify the situation. The Premier League stated that they don't really pick fourth-choice goalkeepers for their fantasy game. Ramsdale persisted and for good reason - he started Bournemouth's opening match last week.
Several key injures to players like David Brooks will stunt Bournemouth during the opening stages of the campaign, but they have the right man at the top to succeed against all odds.
There's a lot of fight on display here.
Eddie Howe is a talented manager and one that is able to extract performances from Bournemouth in every single game. He’s adaptable and considers how best to defy his opposition in each match. He proved that last time out against Chris Wilder, surprising the Sheffield United boss by deploying a back-three to counter Wilder’s attacking centre-backs. He thinks - and that’s dangerous. You can bet your bottom dollar that he’s already worked out how to beat Villa - it just depends on whether his side can see out the plan, but with Howe, the plan is always sound.
There’s never a question - he’ll be a Premier League manager for as long as he wants. He’s got the goods and might end up managing the national team soon. A legend at his current football club, Howe - a considerate manager - is here to stay.
One to watch
Phillip Billing took man-of-the-match plaudits for The Cherries against Sheffield United in his debut and he is the second battling midfielder in a row that Aston Villa will have to face after their spar with Tanguy Ndombele. Billing will be looking to make an impression after giving away the set piece that gifted The Blades an equaliser last time out - and he’ll be licking his lips at the chance to gain superiority over Villa’s talented midfield.
It’ll be on Villa’s dual-eights in McGinn and Grealish to defy Billing and win the day - but they’ll need key assistance in might from the man behind them - whether it be Marvelous Nakamba, Conor Hourihane or Douglas Luiz.
What about the Villa?
Villa proved that in Heaton, Engels and Mings that they have a defence that can tango with elite Premier League strikers - but that doesn’t meant that the defensive corps can expect a day off against Bournemouth. Any single slip may damn the Villa in what could be a closely-fought encounter thanks to the ball-winning ability of both teams in the middle of the park.
Dean Smith will certainly be expecting to see some service for his main man up top. Wesley Moraes had nothing to work with in his debut last weekend - and Villa were barely able to play a cross in towards him. With more possession, the striker should seem a lot more comfortable and may get a lot more time with the ball.
Villa’s wingers will need to step their game up - as most of Villa’s attacking input will be provided by them. Trezeguet and Anwar El Ghazi will be set to start, but should they encounter any stumbling blocks against Bournemouth, then rotation may beckon.
John McGinn and Jack Grealish will take some beating in the midfield and will continue to lead Villa’s attack. Grealish will be hoping to emulate John McGinn and get further up the pitch. The midfield battle he endured against Spurs didn’t highlight his exceptional abilities - more freedom against Bournemouth will be welcome.
As for the defensive midfield slot, it’s a coin-flip. Conor Hourihane could continue, and hasn’t done much wrong- but Villa may think about testing Douglas Luiz or Marvelous Nakamba to introduce them to Premier League football. Nakamba’s ball-winning abilities may be favoured, but Luiz’s all-round skills could put him into consideration for a start. One thing is for sure - Villa will need to action midfield changes earlier in the second-half as tired legs led them to ruin last time out.
Aston Villa won’t want pyrrhic victories in the form of media praise and mainstream admiration - they will want to get a rocking Villa Park on it’s feet and win some points.
The Cherries deployed a surprise three-man defence against Sheffield United and while that will certainly help them contain Villa’s lone striker, they will more than likely revert to a four at the back. Bournemouth are missing a number of key players, but Harry Wilson and Callum Wilson are incredibly dangerous and need less than a moment’s notice to endanger Aston Villa.
Villa, on the other hand, will certainly be aiming to utilise a much higher defensive line than the one showcased against Tottenham Hotspur. Out of necessity, Villa retreated to a deeper block - but expect them to push higher this time around. If Bournemouth do continue with three defenders, then the game will rely on Villa’s wingers to make space for a driving midfield and Wesley up front.
The dual eights - McGinn and Grealish - may be used as auxiliary strikers should Wesley drop deep. Don’t be surprised if McGinn ends up as the player playing highest up the pitch. Overloads from driving midfielders will be key to Villa’s success if they continue to play a lone striker.
Villa will need to return to their wing-game to gather some success from this match. Crosses into the box were a source of success last season but they certainly won’t be this season if they can’t make chances from wide-out. Villa’s full-backs and wingers will be relied on to give Wesley a fair chance. Bournemouth found themselves rattled by a set-piece last time out, while Villa haven’t really had an opportunity at all to showcase any attacking ability thus far. A lot will be learned from this match.
Aston Villa performed mightily against Tottenham - and they will have a chance to showcase their attacking might this time around. Bournemouth won’t suffocate Villa in possession as much as Spurs. This might be a stodgy tactical battle between Dean Smith and Eddie Howe - and it might get incredibly ugly as plans fall apart and the midfielders take control.