Complete Preview returns as Aston Villa do, as they face Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League.
Words: @guypoxon | Audio Description: @findfoy
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In a whirlwind week or two for Aston Villa fans, we’ve been treated to a 5-1 execution of Norwich City, followed by the formidable England debut of Tyrone Mings and John McGinn’s first career hat-trick with his national team, Scotland.
But next lies a different test for Aston Villa – a home game against an equally buoyant Brighton team who beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 in their last outing. It was a classy performance from Graham Potter’s team, and possibly the first glimpse of what Brighton’s talented squad could achieve when playing an attractive brand of football.
According to Brighton fans, the Seagulls are increasingly playing a more pleasing brand of football to match the blood-and-thunder approach of the previous regime, when they narrowly avoided relegation.
The hard-men from Brighton
Brighton Predicted Line-Up: Ryan [GK], Montoya, Webster, Dunk, Burn, Groß, Alzate, Stephens, Mooy, Maupay, Connolly
First and foremost, Brighton have some solid defenders in their line-up.
One of this summer’s transfer rumours was Adam Webster’s ludicrously-priced £30,000,000 move to Aston Villa. Webster will likely make an appearance at Villa Park, but it will be with the Seagulls rather than in claret and blue.
Adam Webster has started the season well overall. He’s made five appearances and stands out for winning 3.8 aerial duels per match, and making 2.2 interceptions per 90 minutes. Compare that to the man who came to Villa Park instead of Webster, Bjorn Engels, and the Belgian giant hasn’t done too badly either – beating Webster per 90 minutes on tackles, clearances, blocks, and being dribbled past less times than Webster by a solid amount.
Lewis Dunk sits alongside Webster and plays the role of a solid all-rounder, leading from the back. The most impressive thing about Lewis Dunk is his passing ability – which stands at 86.3% in the Premier League. This is almost the same as Engels, but Dunk’s already provided two assists which does show that his passing is strong under pressure.
Dunks defensive contribution is high, with a good number of tackles and interceptions per game, and a reasonable amount of aerial duels won. Some say he should have been called up to the England squad with Tyrone Mings, and that might not be such a terrible idea.
Brighton’s attack-at-all-costs brand of football does leave their back four somewhat exposed. For example, Mings and Engels get dribbled past 0.1 times per 90 minutes, meanwhile, Dunk and Webster are dribbled past 1.0 times in the same period. This suggests that Villa can get at that back four.
Brighton’s attacking brand is often helped by one of their more consistent performers, starting in defence, Dan Burn. A big defender who can play in their back three or back four system, Burn is very physical and can produce some excellent marauding runs.
Moving forward, and midfielders Aaroy Mooy and Pascal Groß have continued to provide some excellent quality in the centre of the park. Groß in particular spent much of last season injured after having an excellent debut season in the Premier League. So far, he’s yet to rack up an assist but has created an average of 2.5 key passes per game in his six starts. That’s a touch more than Grealish has managed per 90 minutes – although the Aston Villa captain has played in more games.
Looking at the danger men up top for Brighton, both Aaron Connolly and Neal Maupay seem to be developing a strong partnership. They’ve scored five goals between them, out of Brighton’s seven in total, and they have an xG tally between them of around four.
Maupay was heavily linked with Aston Villa during the summer, and he hasn’t had a bad start to the campaign. He’s racked up an xG tally of 3.36 goals this season, predominantly taking shots with his right foot and headed attempts. He’s very much played the role of a poacher, but he is capable of making those surging runs in-behind the backline.
Which Brighton will show up?
Looking at Brighton’s goals this season, they seem to take two approaches. The first is probably Graham Potter’s ideal scenario, where his team create chances using runners in-behind who operate in the spaces between centre-backs and full backs. Against Spurs and Watford, where Brighton played quite expansively, this was very effective. Targett and Guilbert will need to be aware of narrow runners and make sure they help Mings and Engels in cutting those runs out.
Secondly, Brighton are very capable of causing havoc in the box with long-range crosses, often from set-pieces. In their cagier games, such as the loss to Southampton and draw with West Ham, they’ve taken the ‘route-one’ approach. Sometimes veteran target man Glenn Murray will come on and try and get on the end of those crosses.
Potter might mix his tactics around in-game, choosing a combination of creation through narrow runners in-behind and long balls into the box to cause chaos. Either way, while Mings and Engels are up to the task, just one mistake could give Brighton a route into the match.
Aston Villa have been guilty of being beaten too often by a hopeful ball over the top in recent years – heart-in-mouth moments during the Play-Off Final spring to mind. Plus, Lewis Dunk has already shown excellent ability to produce Mings-esque defence-splitting balls from deep – he did so against Watford.
While Dean Smith’s men have created goals from beautiful build-up play, they’ve also been proficient in carving out opportunities to shoot from range. Not only do Villa have players like McGinn, Hourihane, Douglas Luiz and Grealish who like to shoot from range, Brighton have conceded three goals from outside of the box this season.
Aston Villa on the up, maybe?
A heavy dose of realism is needed alongside some much-deserved indulgence in the feel-good factor which surrounds Aston Villa, right now. The Norwich result wasn’t just good, it was the first time a newly promoted side have scored 5 away from home since 2001. However, Norwich’s injury problems, while not 100% an excuse, will have contributed to everything clicking for Villa on the day.
But there is just cause for optimism. For a start, many would say that a big result was due for Villa. After all, fans will feel we deserved points at Palace and Arsenal, and that Villa deserved all three against Bournemouth, West Ham and Burnley. Nevertheless, football doesn’t always give you what you think you deserve.
And if you want proof about the performances being good – other than watching the games – consider that Aston Villa currently have the 5th highest average match rating in the league:
- Manchester City [7.18]
- Liverpool [7.00]
- Chelsea [6.88]
- Leicester [6.87]
- Aston Villa [6.80]
- West Ham [6.78]
- Burnley [6.77]
- Arsenal [6.76]
- Tottenham [6.75]
- Crystal Palace [6.73]
- Wolves [6.71]
- Bournemouth [6.71]
- Manchester United [6.68]
- Sheffield United [6.68]
- Brighton [6.68]
- Newcastle [6.59]
- Everton [6.57]
- Norwich [6.57]
- Southampton [6.55]
- Watford [6.39]