Complete Preview is back for Aston Villa’s first home game of the Premier League season, as they face AFC Bournemouth.

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Eddie Howe has been managing AFC Bournemouth for ten years, since the seaside club were in League Two.

They’ve amassed a decent squad since their arrival in the Premier League four years ago, with players like Nathan Ake, Callum Wilson, Josh King, Ryan Fraser and Philip Billing all rated very highly.

In his pre-match press conference yesterday, Dean Smith joked about the last time these two managers met – in League One as Walsall beat Bournemouth 3-1. But these two managers share more than just a humble rise to the Premier League, as they both favour technical build-up play, pressing football and strong man management.

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Style and System

Bournemouth were promoted with a huge points tally in 2015, playing a 4-4-2 possession based system that could press well and counter quickly. Howe has adapted his team over time in the Premier League and changed specifics such as player combinations and at times, complete systems.

In their opening game of the season against Sheffield United, the Cherries deployed a 3-4-2-1 system for the entirety of the 90 minutes, with high fullbacks and an attacking block of Fraser, King and Wilson sitting infront of the impressive Billing and Lerma.

A Fine Balance

The overlapping fullbacks are a major part of this system. Howe expects his side to be fast in transition from defence to attack, and his fullbacks can go from supporting the back three – to make a back five – to bombing up the wing and making combinations with the midfield and forwards.

It’s a fluid system which allows King and Fraser to play like wingers, or in the pockets between the opposing midfield and defensive line as extra midfielders.

The freedom of the fullbacks can give Bournemouth an outlet – with, for example, Rico, making triangles with Lerma and Fraser to beat an opposing press. The benefit of this system is mostly in attack, but this leaves Aston Villa’s wingers with a chance to get in behind the back three.

All three of their centre-backs are good in their own right, but only Nathan Ake is particularly athletic, and even then he may struggle with Trézéguet’s low centre of gravity. Likewise, Wesley will fancy his chances against any of their defenders, and El Ghazi, should he start, will feel his pace and size could cause the likes of Ake and Mepham problems.

This back three is one of the reasons that Bournemouth concede so many goals. Last season, they shipped in 70 goals. The only teams to concede more were relegated in 19th and 20th, with Fulham letting in 81 goals and Huddersfield letting in 76. Aston Villa will feel that they can score against this side.

Additionally, Bournemouth’s system may be fluid, but it’s possible that they will end up with only two midfielders at times, which is okay, but it means that they don’t have a block in the centre of the field like Aston Villa do. This block is key to shutting off space for opponents, and Grealish and McGinn could exploit the pocket in front of the back three.

Blunt Against Blades

This point was good value for Sheffield United. Reserving comment about the commentary of the game, Bournemouth conceded an equaliser late on in the match to surrender two points. This is shown by their possession stats, which fluctuated between 65% and 58% for the first 45-60 minutes, before falling away at an alarming rate. Bournemouth conceded 48% possession from the 65th to 75th minute, and went all the way down to 28% in the final 15.

This is probably to be expected as Bournemouth will have tried increasingly to defend their lead, and Sheffield United will have chased the equaliser. It’s interesting to note, though; that Smith will look to Bournemouth’s defensive fragility and probably try to pile on the pressure during spells of the game. If Villa have gained some fitness from the slog against Spurs it might put them in good stead to provide a high level of intensity to overcome the Cherries. 

Sheffield United played a similar system to Bournemouth; a 3-5-2. This is probably why it was an even game, with both teams cancelling each other out, initially. 

(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

The PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) statistic is interesting – the higher the number, the more passes Bournemouth (or Sheffield) allowed before being challenged, tackled, intercepted or fouled. This shows that Bournemouth’s defensive intensity was marginally lower than Sheffield’s, on average, through the match. In reality, both teams had quite a similarly defensive press. 

Notably, Bournemouth only passed long 8.6% of the time.

Glazing (past) the Cherries

Bournemouth will come to Villa Park an established Premier League team. Despite what you think of them, as small club or not, they have a good team, an excellent coach and this is now their fifth season in the top flight. Villa will look to retain possession, but so will Bournemouth. And when Bournemouth do hold possession they will try to build out from the back, into the centre of the pitch, where Billing and Lerma can set up combinations with Fraser, King, Rico and Smith. 

Villa will need to play aggressively against Bournemouth, matching that intensity that Spurs showed. If they can do this, Bournemouth’s fairly set-in-stone tactic of short passing might come unstuck against Villa’s lively midfield. 

Villa could also look to the long ball as an outlet. Not just the Tyrone Mings-ping to McGinn, but balls into Wesley so that he can contest Bournemouth in the air – AFCB are particularly weak in respect to aerial duels. 

Lastly, Aston Villa will have been pleased by their use of set pieces last season and in the game against Leipzig. They’ll hope to improve on the lack of quality shown from dead-ball situations against Spurs, because this is another weakness of Bournemouth’s – defending set pieces. Perhaps, for this reason, Dean Smith will give Conor Hourihane the nod to start.

Predicted Aston Villa XI:

Heaton, Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor, Hourihane, McGinn, Grealish (C), Trézéguet, El Ghazi, Wesley Moraes

It’s possible that not much will change since Spurs. Our only predicted change is Guilbert to come in and give Villa more attacking prowess at home. But, equally, Elmohamady did well against Spurs and may keep his spot. 

One thing to note, is that Dean Smith showed that he’s not afraid to do something unexpected which he showed with his team selection against Spurs – and it almost paid off. If I were Eddie Howe, I don’t know what I’d expect from Dean Smith, Aston Villa’s most valuable asset at this stage.

Bournemouth Players to Watch:

  • Callum Wilson
  • Josh King
  • Ryan Fraser
  • Philip Billing
  • Nathan Ake

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