Everything about tomorrow’s Play-Off Semi-Final suits Aston Villa tactically, and expect to see the boys in claret and blue bending the game in their favour.
Going to the Hawthorns for the Play-Off second leg actually suits Aston Villa, as West Brom have to come out and beat us.
In the first leg, West Brom had an extremely clear game plan: don’t concede a goal. They sat at least 10 men behind the ball at every Villa attack and for 75 minutes shut us out pretty well. But Hourihane’s left wand smashed that plan back to the Black Country with a strike forcing the ball to do its best postage stamp impression. Having conceded one goal, West Brom would still have been happy to hear the final whistle there and then, taking a 1-1 into the second leg where they’d fancy themselves.
But what their 10-at-the-back plan didn’t account for was the creativity of the best player in the league, running off the back of Kieran Gibbs before getting chopped. Surprisingly, this challenge was reviewed by an independent panel as West Bromwich Albion complained that Grealish was diving and therefore attempting to deceive the referee.
Strangely though, while their plan had failed, West Brom remained content in playing the most severe case of anti-football we’ve seen since Pulis came to Villa Park in March, and were probably not too disappointed to only lose by one. What this one goal deficit means now though, is that they have to completely change their game plan (all without their best player of course) and come out and beat us, which nobody can seem to do at the moment. You can bet your left arm that Villa’s game plan will be exactly the same as it was on Saturday: go out and win the game. In their heads it will be 0-0, and Dean Smith has already made clear his plans. Attack just as we did at home and we will be fine, as the gaps will appear this time.
Baggies cannot afford to sit behind the ball for 90 minutes and ride out the game. They have to win. And to win they have to score. And to score they have to attack. I know, it seems a strange concept, but West Brom actually need to attack.
Therefore, this game suits Villa more than the first leg. Gaps will appear all over the place this time, and while West Brom are probably going to have more chances to score than they did on Saturday, so are Villa, and if we can score 2 while they are building a wall between us and the goal, we can definitely score if their focus isn’t defending. The attacking quality in this Villa side is unprecedented from our time in the Championship, and to go up you have to beat the best. West Brom are obviously a good team with some very good players, but Villa (at the moment at least) are better, and there isn’t a single player I would swap.
This Villa team is firing on all fronts right now, and with West Brom needing goals to progress, they can’t park the buses that they took to Villa Park. The likes of El Ghazi and Green will have more space to utilise their pace and skill, and the holes will appear for more people to support the attacks. West Brom clearly have to alter their game plan, which will disrupt them a bit, and they are missing their star man, which will disrupt them a lot. I might be nervous, but I am certainly confident that this game can suit Villa to the ground, and another date at Wembley will be booked by tomorrow.