After a near perfect start to the season, Everton travel to Villa Park looking to continue their unbeaten run. Aston Villa have had a fairly steady start to their life without Jack Grealish and find themselves twelfth in the table on four points. Despite spending big in the summer, Villa have a few players who haven’t quite blended into Dean Smith’s team yet, with the likes of Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey both yet to really light up the Premier League so far.
Lets take a bit of a deeper look at Saturday’s opponents. Aston Villa have a non-penalty xG of just 2.9 so far this season, the 2nd lowest in the whole league, with only newly promoted Watford worse. They have also only completed 41 open play passes that lead to a shot attempt, the 3rd worst in the league - this shows how much they are struggling creatively without Mr Grealish. They have only scored 5 goals this season, 2 of them being from the penalty spot.
The lack of chances will be really concerning for Villa fans especially when you have spent £30m on someone of Danny Ings’ calibre up front. Rafa Benitez has emphasised wanting his team to get more crosses into the box, but Aston Villa have attempted 22 more crosses than the Blues. The majority of them have come from their full backs Matt Targett and Matty Cash, who both love to get forward. They are given the chance to overlap due to Villa often playing inverted wingers. The wingers, typically Buendia and Anwar El Ghazi so far this season, like to drift inside leaving space for the wing backs to overlap them.
Speaking of Cash, this is one area of the pitch we might not get much change from. The fullback is 8th in the league for amount of tackles and interceptions combined. Not only like I mentioned does he love to bomb on and get crosses in, he’s a very difficult man to beat one on one. Demarai Gray, who has had a fantastic season so far, is going to have to be at his very best to get the better of him this weekend. He’s also had the most touches in the attacking third for Villa, again showing how advanced he’s been this season. With Cash advancing so much and Everton being away from home, I expect us to sit back and absorb the pressure Villa will put on us. Then we can counter attack into the wing areas that have been left exposed. This is where Gray’s pace will be vital this weekend.
Villa have yet to find a system which suits them so far this season. They’ve tried a 5-3-2, 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 in their first few games with not too much success. New signings Buendia and Bailey are yet to really stamp their authority of the Premier League, with the latter barely getting any minutes at all. Buendia missed their last game due to his involvements with Argentina, but he’s expected to at least be in the squad this weekend as is goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Buendia and Bailey, when you look at their stats for the season so far, look like two players we shouldn’t be worrying about. My concern is, they have undoubted talent and they are ready to explode onto the scene at any moment. Last season Buendia had the most assists, most key passes per 90 min and scored 15 goals in the Championship. I have no doubt he was ready to make the step up and I think there’s a lot more to come, just hopefully not on Saturday.
Aston Villa’s most creative man so far this season has been John McGinn. A tenacious, tough tackling but technically gifted midfielder. He has inflicted 9 shot creating actions, more than any other Villa player. Rafa may be tempted to go with a 3 man midfield, like he did in the second half of the Burnley game on Monday. This would be to match them man for man and to try give one of our players of the season — Abdoulaye Doucoure — a bit of freedom. Doucoure has himself gotten 16 shot creating actions to his name, which is higher than any other midfielder in the whole league. This is one area of the pitch I think we need to exploit, the centre of the park.
Villa have used multiple central midfield combinations so far this season, with the likes of McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, Ashley Young, Marvelous Nakamba and even 17 year old Carney Chukwuemeka. Not only in the midfield, in defence we’ve seen a back 5, a back 4, with Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Axel Tuanzebe rotating. There seems to be a distinct lack of consistency in Dean Smith’s lineups.
Ollie Watkins made his first start at the weekend and Bertrand Traore has struggled with injury too, which is something we can take advantage of. Centrally, Doucoure and Allan have been arguably the best pairing in the league so far this season. Allan has the 3rd most tackles, the most successful pressures and the joint most tackles leading to winning the ball back. Doucoure (on top of his shot creating actions) has the most passes completed whilst under pressure from an opponent, has recovered the most loose balls and has even chipped in with 3 assists and a goal. We have to be aiming to get Doucoure some freedom on Saturday evening, and allow him to get into the spaces he did in the second half against Burnley. For someone so big and athletic, his ability to find a pass and pick up the ball between the lines is fantastic.
I expect us to once again have less possession this weekend, allowing them to have the ball and try hit them on the counter when they commit men forward. I think if we allow Gray freedom to stay high with Townsend tracking back on the other side, Gray will get a lot of joy in behind Cash when he bombs on. If Allan can keep Buendia quiet, we restrict their top goalscorer Ings to not getting the ball inside the box and our energy in midfield counteracts the busy McGinn, we should come away with three points.
Let me know what you think in the comments.