Aston Villa are in dire need of a win – but face a bottom half rival who want to do anything to stop that in Brighton.
Words: Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon
Aston Villa fans will likely feel frustrated by the positive change that happened over at Brighton & Hove Albion this season – and perhaps a little jealous.
Scrapping, but so far so good
A couple of decent signings and the appointment of Graham Potter seem to have steadied the ship a little in comparison to a team who could have easily dropped last year.
Contrast this to Aston Villa. Brighton’s risks in the market have paid off somewhat already, whilst Villa, hampered by unlucky injuries, need to improve to avoid the drop.
Brighton sit three points ahead of Aston Villa, with a superior goal difference by 10.
By all accounts, Brighton are playing attractive football in the Premier League and currently sit ninth in the league for expected goals at 29.81, above Aston Villa with 28.27 – and for expected goals conceded – 34.86 compared to the Villans 45.95, which is the worst in the league.
Predicted line-up: Ryan (GK), Dunk (C), Duffy, Webster, March, Propper, Mooy, Montoya, Trossard, Groß, Maupay
Brighton’s ability to fight in big games has largely stemmed from the good partnerships which have developed between their midfielders and attackers – Aaron Mooy, Pascal Groß, Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly.
Groß returns from injury, to the delight of Brighton fans, having provided a key 1 goal and 4 assists for the Seagulls. Pascal Groß’ stats are mightily impressive:
1.63 shots per 90 minutes, 3.25 key passes per 90 minutes, 6.33 expected goals and assists. He’s a threat from set-pieces with an excellent delivery which caught Villa our on the home leg more than once, and Smith’s side will need to match his energy, too.
Many Brighton fans have hailed the all-action presence of Aaron Mooy as a huge part of their relative success so far this season. For a midfielder with a fairly average physical appearance (on first impressions), he has bundles of energy with good technique to match. The Australian has a point to prove against Aston Villa, after Jack Grealish’s masterclass in the first leg eked out a moment of madness from Mooy, who subsequently saw red after only 35 minutes.
Mooy has a 6.73 rating overall, with the key stat being that he nearly completes 80% of his passes despite playing in an advanced role on the pitch.
Mau-paying the price?
It’s good to see Championship players making the step up to the Premier League with dignity.
Aston Villa have a habit of missing out on reaping the rewards from those types of players too many times; this season with Tammy Abraham leading the line for Chelsea, but also because they failed to sign Brentford star Neal Maupay.
The young Frenchman has an xG of 8.35 with an xA of 1.12 – he’s looked impressive with his pace and good movement in the box. Maupay has repaid Brighton’s faith so far with 7 goals and 1 assist. You can’t help but think that he will break 10 goals for the season which will be a big help for Brighton, and all you can ask of a young striker in their first season in the Premier League.
Interestingly, while he’s a dangerous player, he’s stats are comparable to Wesley’s. With one less appearance, Aston Villa’s record signing has one less expected goal and assist than Maupay, 2 less actual goals and the same number of assists.
This is despite the fact that Wesley took half the number of shots as Maupay. Aston Villa fans might have been quick to judge the young Brazilian, all the while praising Maupay so highly – in truth, they offer a similar number of goals, assists, and even key passes.
Lewis Dunk’s performances this season have been excellent – his leadership and technique to match may yet earn him a call up to Gareth Southgate’s England side, but the competition is stiff with Aston Villa’s own Tyrone Mings playing well (despite an anomaly against Man City).
The battle between these two centre-halves will make for an interesting watch.
Brighton’s captain has earned a 6.93 rating for the season, truly leading by example. Lewis Dunk is a force in the air – winning 2.6 aerial duels per match – and so Villa might have to try and drag Brighton’s backline around the pitch to create space rather than relying on crosses into the box without a real target man.
A test of character
Attending Villa Park to see that performance against Manchester City was a truly awful experience. Villa have fallen foul in such a manner very few times in the last couple of seasons, but it was a reminder of that terrible relegation season.
After a positive start, a period of madness and conceded two or three poor goals in such a short time frame really seemed to rattle Villa, who couldn’t get a grip back on the game. Going into the dressing room 4-0 down left Aston Villa with an impossible task, who then lost the second half 2-1.
A new signing in Pepe Reina might have given Dean Smith’s men a bit of lift, but it looks like El Ghazi will have to lead the front line again, with the squad having suffered from a terrible list of injuries – Heaton, John McGinn, Jed Steer, Keinan David, Matt Targett and Wesley.
But hope isn’t yet lost. Matt Targett could return which will provide Aston Villa with an attacking outlet down the left, almost like a new signing in itself – this back three suits the way Targett likes to get forward as well, and he may come back to haunt Brighton after his last minute heroics at Villa Park.
Looking longer-term, and this week looks the week that Villa gets some more signings in to cope with unfortunate injuries – and those signings are very much needed.
Hope looked devoid till February, even in March, last season. But perhaps Dean Smith will pull off more magic?