‘Complete Preview’ returns for the first game of the Premier League season – a tough test away at Tottenham Hotspur for Aston Villa.
Follow the writer on twitter: @GuyPoxon
All credit to Tottenham Hotspur. In the three seasons that Aston Villa were wallowing in the Sky Bet Championship, they have established themselves as a top-four, European powerhouse.
They have done it the hard way too. Without spending too much cash and through the success stories of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier, and the steady development of Son Heung Min and Christian Eriksen into arguably world class players.
Before looking at anything in detail, it’s important to stress that this is almost the biggest test that Aston Villa could have possibly faced in their first game back in the top flight. The fact that Tottenham Hotspur still may never earn the status of “former European Champions” like Villa have, won’t matter in the slightest.
This one is a free hit for Aston Villa. Even if we were to lose 3-0 or 4-0, in reality it shouldn’t really warrant too many warnings signs or negativity – as Spurs have battered most of the sides in the Premier League. Pochettino’s men are firm favourites here.
Working the Market (Finally)
|Notable players in||Notable players out|
|Tanguy Ndombele||Kieran Trippier|
|Ryan Sessegnon||Vincent Janssen|
|Giovani Lo Celso||Josh Onomah|
|Jack Clarke (loaned to Leeds)||Fernando Llorente|
For the first time in three windows, Tottenham Hotspur actually have incomings. Their biggest signing is Defensive Midfielder Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon. He’s an all-action midfielder from Ligue 1 who makes clever passes but also enjoys a forward run. He possesses a bit of trickery to get out of tight spots too. Given that he was signed earlier in the window, you might expect him to start against Aston Villa – and he’ll cause the midfield and defence all sorts of problems if he can hit the ground running.
Ndombele scored three goals and assisted seven in 42 appearances in the Champions League and Ligue 1 last season. He showed proficiency going forward, his ability to affect a game with a key pass, and his dribbing and tackling ability.
Giovani Lo Celso is a big signing too – but don’t expect him to feature having only signed on Deadline Day. The midfielder is very promising.
Ryan Sessegnon is also a nice addition for Spurs. He’s still very young at 19-years-old, despite already having 35 Premier League appearances under his belt. He’s a great talent, albeit raw. He was the stand-out player in the Sky Bet Championship the year Fulham gained promotion, but was none existent in the Premier League the next.
Bringing out the Big Guns
Delle Alli and Son Heung Min are both unavailable for selection tomorrow, which is sure to vex Tottenham fans a little.
However, they’ve kept a hold of Christian Eriksen – now 27 – who made 35 appearances last season, scoring eight and assisting 12. Eriksen is an exceptional passer of the ball, both short and long, as well as taking up dangerous scoring opportunities, reading the game well, and is one of the best set-piece specialists in world football.
Lucas Moura will also be a big threat. Like many players, he’s improved under Pochettino and at 26-years-old, he’s coming up to his peak. He’ll likely fill the hole left by Son Hueng Min tomorrow evening, providing the dribbling ability, pace and goal threat that Son usually gives.
Who’s the other guy? Ah yes, Harry Kane. England’s captain. He’s looked fit in pre-season – a big boost for Spurs – scoring from the half-way line and back to prolific form. He’ll be licking his lips at the prospect of improving on an injury laden 28 appearances from last season, in which he still scored 17 goals. He’s a poacher and good in the air, but also holds an incredible range of passing and can beat a man to give himself a yard very well too.
Predicted line-up: Hugo Lloris (C), Kyle Walker-Peters, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Ben Davies, Moussa Sissoko, Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Winks, Lucas Moura, Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane
Tottenham play in two systems, of which a 4-2-3-1 could be their first choice against Aston Villa:
This should protect their centre-halves against Aston Villa’s pacy wingers a little more than their 3-5-2:
Tottenham’s style of play is one of an energetic press, much like RB Leipzig. They apply high pressure in strategic parts of the pitch. Expect their midfield to drop back, picking up the ball from their centre-halves in order to start attacking phases, as well as their wide players and full-backs making up some impressive combinations out from the back and into wide areas. Intricate combinations will be how Spurs force their way into the box.
Another way that they can hurt teams is through their midfield – who make dangerous runs both forward and laterally, across the pitch or beyond the back four – causing confusion within defensive systems. Their fluid front three changing positions is great at dragging their opposition around the pitch before they find a killer pass.
Out of possession, Kane, Eriksen and Lucas Moura will be expected to press Aston Villa’s back four aggressively. This will be an interesting challenge for Dean Smith’s brand of playing from the centre-halves. However, intelligently, playing Leipzig will have given Aston Villa some practice in this regard. If Tottenham manage the occasional counter, they’ll do so with speed.
What to Expect from Aston Villa
Aston Villa are potent out wide, through a counter-attack, diagonal pass from deep, or build-up play. This will be a helpful outlet against the relatively inexperienced Kyle Walker-Peters (who is likely to start ahead of Serge Aurier who has tried to force a move away this summer). He’s talented – but by no means the finished article. El Ghazi is a pacey, tricky and strong winger who’s sure to cause him problems should he start. Moussa Sissoko will be required to help the slight-of-frame Walker-Peters out defensively, which causes problems for Pochettino.
Down Aston Villa’s right flank, you’d expect Jota or Trézéguet to give someone like Ben Davies some problems, too. He’s not lightning quick and loves to get forward, which may leave Spurs exposed. If Mauricio Pochettino decides to opt for Danny Rose at left-back, it’ll be to cope with the pace that Aston Villa can offer down the right-hand side. Rose isn’t as good of a crosser as the ball as Davies, and often needs support when Tottenham Hotspur are on the attack. If Wesley decides to go for a back or front post header against any of the Spurs full-backs, Pochettino might have another problem to think about.
Jack Grealish will be difficult for Tottenham to contain without an out-and-out, hard-waring Defensive Midfielder in their line-up. If Grealish has a good game, then there will be a number of chances for him to link-up well with John McGinn or Wesley Moraes.
It looks like Conor Hourihane will start – providing a clear threat from free-kicks. Grealish will have been briefed to win fouls in dangerous positions, with Hugo Lloris looking shaky last season and Hourihane on fire from set-pieces in pre-season.
A Game of Chess
Dean Smith is visibly excited to show his pedigree against Pochettino’s system. The game is likely to throw up a few scares for Aston Villa, but they’ll be looking to provide their own thread going forward.
Should Tyrone Mings and Bjorn Engels manage to keep their forwards quiet, Aston Villa will have a real chance. This is an equally big game for Wesley Moraes. He’s been unfairly questioned despite scoring twice and assisting four in pre-season. He’s underrated going into this game, and that could make all the difference.