Villa’s season continues on Thursday as they host AZ Alkmaar on matchday four of the Europa Conference League. Unai Emery’s side come into the return fixture with the Dutch side with the aim of consolidating their position in the group after delivering a statement victory away in Alkmaar on matchday three.
Goals from Leon Bailey, Youri Tielemans, Ollie Watkins, and John McGinn gave the Villans a 4-1 victory and outlined their credentials as being among the favourites to win the competition. Back-to-back wins in Group E against Zrinjski and AZ were much-needed after a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Legia Warsaw in the opening match. It all means Villa are in charge of their own destiny at the halfway point.
Last time out domestically, though, Villa were beaten 2-0 away at Nottingham Forest in a defeat that meant they missed the chance to move into the Premier League’s top three and failed to find the net for the first time in 10 outings.
Thursday’s fixture is a chance for Emery’s men to regain some momentum as a second-successive win over AZ and a 14th home win out of 15 in all competitions could take them top of the standings ahead of the home clash with current Group E leaders Legia Warsaw in three weeks’ time.
Pascal Jansen’s AZ, meanwhile, bounced back from their shock opening-night defeat to Zrinjski, during which they surrendered a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3, to beat Legia 2-1 at home in their second match.
But the home loss to Villa left them surprisingly bottom of the group and three points behind second place going into the return meeting with the English side. Defeat would all but eliminate them going into the final two fixtures, but victory will put them right back in the frame for qualification.
Saturday’s draw with Excelsior was a frustrating one as a last-minute equaliser denied them a win that would have taken them two points clear of Feyenoord and shored up their second-placed position in the Eredivisie. Instead, they are third and trail leaders PSV Eindhoven by seven points.
Villa are likely to field a similar side to the one that won in the Netherlands two weeks ago, with Tielemans and Bailey set to be given starts after their scoring exploits at the AFAS Stadion.
Pau Torres will likely be given a rest, so Clement Lenglet may well partner Ezri Konsa in defence.
Unai Emery is still without Jacob Ramsey and Jhon Durán due to ankle and toe injuries, respectively, so Ollie Watkins will continue to lead the line. Àlex Moreno has returned from his hamstring injury but may only be fit enough for a place on the bench.
AZ are without Mees de Wit and Sem Westerweld who are both out with knee injuries, so David Moller Wolfe and Mat Ryan will keep their places at left-back and in goal.
Vangelis Pavlidis will play as a lone striker for AZ in a 4-2-3-1 system and will be supported in attack by Jens Odgaard, Dani de Wit, and Ibrahim Sadiq, the latter of whom who scored their consolation goal against Villa in the reverse fixture.
Aston Villa (4-2-2-2)
Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Lenglet, Digne; Luiz, Tielemans; Zaniolo, McGinn; Bailey, Watkins
AZ Alkmaar (4-2-3-1)
Ryan; Sugawara, Bazoer, Penetra, Wolfe; Clasie, Mijnans; Odgaard, De Wit, Sadiq; Pavlidis
Villa’s imperious home form and the impressive way they dispatched AZ away from home means that they will be favourites to claim the points they need to put on the brink of qualification.
The hosts’ aversion to clean sheets - they’ve collected just two this campaign, and Pavlidis’ goalscoring form suggests a closer affair than on matchday three, though.
Prediction: Aston Villa 3 AZ Alkmaar 2