By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Brighton
With the international break now over, Aston Villa prepare to address their recent home troubles at Villa Park, as they look to improve on their recent back-to-back home defeats, with the visit of Brighton.
Despite looking strong at times, Brighton have had a difficult start to the season. After just one win in eight games, they sit in 16th place, just three points away from the relegation places.
Meanwhile, Villa are at the opposite end of the table and a win here could potentially leave them level on points with first placed Leicester City.
Aston Villa – W W L L W
Brighton – L D D L D
Dean Smith on Brighton
“I’m expecting a really tough game because I’ve watched a lot of their games, looked at a lot of their stats and they’re in the top half for a lot of those stats. They haven’t got the wins they would have expected with those stats.
“They’re a modern-day football team in terms of playing through the thirds. They have some very good players and we’ll certainly have to be at our best.
“We need to go and get a result at Villa Park because our last two results there haven’t been good. We’re coming up against a really good footballing team.”
On team news
“Tom Heaton has played some minutes now. He played against Burnley Under-23s and he played an in-house game that we had last week.
“He needs a few more minutes but he’s training with the first team every day. Wesley Moraes is a bit behind but he’s starting to do some ball work and build up his strength.
“We’re trying to get him up to speed so that he can join in. Bjorn Engels has a thigh injury and he’s not trained with us yet, nor has Fred Guilbert who has a side strain. Kortney Hause should start back training today.”
Graham Potter on Jack Grealish
“I’m pleased for [Grealish] that he’s showing it for England and he’s been showing it in the Premier League.
“But we’ve always liked him and we’ve always thought he’s a top player from when we played against him in the Championship. Sometimes you’re in a team that is maybe down the bottom and you don’t get a chance to show it as much.
“For us playing against him, we’ve always felt that he was a really, really top player and now he’s just doing it. I suppose Aston Villa have taken steps forward as a team so it obviously helps him in that regard.
“He’s higher up the pitch, he’s involved more, there’s better players around him, he can influence the results more. It’s going to be a challenge to stop him but it’s not like he’s the only guy.”
Brighton have been experimental with how they set up so far this season, but their most used formation has been a 3-4-2-1 with Neal Maupay up front, Adam Lallana and Leandro Trossard behind him, Ben White and Yves Bissouma in the middle, Dan Burn and Adam Webster either side of Lewis Dunk in defence with Tariq Lamptey and Solly March as wing-backs.
They have done a good job of commanding games so far, seeing 53.9% possession, completing 82.4% of their passes and registering 13.1 shots per game. They use their wing backs to help progress the ball up the pitch and like to try to keep hold of the ball, but with 11% of all passes being played long, they know how to switch things up when they need to.
In terms of attack, they are doing OK – they have scored 11 goals from 11.06 xG, so they can have no complaints with their consistency. 11 goals at this early stage of the season is not necessarily a cause for alarm, but it does suggest they have trouble creating quality chances; two of these goals have been penalties, and the other nine have come from open play having taken 80 shots so far. 40% of these shots have come from outside the box too, suggesting that for all of their possession based play, they struggle to play through defences.
At the other end of the pitch, they have conceded 14 goals from 10.06 xGA. They are good at limiting chances in general having only faced 38 shots from open play so far, but their defence seems to struggle to cope with the pressure. Perhaps more worryingly, they have conceded four penalties, which is a sign of panicky defending.
Brighton are a good ball playing side who are fun to watch, but they seem to lack the confidence they need to climb the table. Perhaps a win or two would be just the remedy they need, so they will be well up for this game.
One to Watch
Tariq Lamptey is the name on everybody’s lips, but it is his fellow wing back Solly March who is taking the plaudits for Brighton so far this season. He is the only player in the squad rated above 7 for the season by WhoScored, he has won a man of the match award and he has contributed a goal and an assist. His 1.4 key passes per game is useful going forward, but he does not shirk his defensive duties with 2.4 tackles and an interception per match. Perhaps he is taking advantage of the opposition’s attention being focused elsewhere.
Aston Villa 2-1 Brighton – 19-10-2019
What Villa fan can forget this game? Brighton went ahead through Webster early on, only for Grealish to level the score on half time, setting the stage for Matty Targett’s dramatic late winner.
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How it could play out
Much has been made recently of how Understat’s xPTS (Expected Points) tally has Brighton sitting in 5th place with 12.54 xPTS, and how this shows they are unlucky to be so near to a relegation scrap. This may well be the case, but it could also be an indication of just how shaky their defence currently is. They are drastically underperforming on xGA and unless they can sort that out, they will struggle to meet their potential.
Villa’s 18 goals from 12.80 xG shows that this is not likely to be the game where they turn things around, however; Villa have found their attacking swagger this season with Ollie Watkins currently 8th in the season’s top goalscorers list and Grealish showing vast improvement in terms of goal contributions with four goals and five assists. Trezeguet’s back post prowess struck again against Arsenal too, forcing an own goal from Saka with his guile. His performances are due a goal of his own sooner rather than later.
Grealish’s numbers in particular show that most of everything good that happens for Villa goes through him in some way, so the big question for them is whether his international escapades will have had a toll on his fitness. He featured heavily in all three games, the last of which was only Wednesday night, so this game might come too soon for him to be at his full powers.
Similar concerns are held about John McGinn, Douglas Luiz and Trezeguet, all of whom played their part and only played recently.
In truth, Villa could have done with a Sunday fixture instead of their first Saturday three o’clock kick-off this season to give them a valuable extra 24 hours recovery time.
Perhaps these concerns are unfounded, and all of these players are perfectly capable of coping with a demanding fixture list. This remains to be seen; presuming no problems, this Villa side should be too hot for Brighton to handle.
Aston Villa 2-0 Brighton
Villa have a good recent record against Brighton. Given the current state of things, it is fair to say Villa has a high chance of continuing in that vein. Brighton are not to be underestimated however – they are not a bad team and could still cause an upset.