Villa Wait on Ross Barkley Fitness for Burnley in Season’s First Test of Squad Depth

Aston Villa vs Burnley – 17th December 2020

By Dean Gregory

Villa emerged from a tight Wolves game with all three points to maintain their stellar form on the road, and will hope to carry that momentum into their next home game against Burnley.

Burnley edged a tight game of their own last time out against Arsenal to climb out of the relegation zone, and will be looking to carry their own momentum to put some breathing room between them and danger.

League Form

Aston Villa – L W L L W

Burnley – D W L D W

Manager Quotes

Dean Smith on team news

“Kortney Hause came through some minutes on Sunday (for the Under-23s), as did Tom Heaton and Frederic Guilbert, they’re all fit for Thursday evening. So we’ve got quite a few players coming back.

“We’re going to have a look at Ross tomorrow (Wednesday) in training, he’s getting closer and closer, we’ll have a look and see how he is.”

On El Ghazi

“Anwar is competing this season with Jack, Trezeguet and Traore and he’s found it difficult to break in so far. But whenever he’s stepped up, he’s played well, he’s a top player, we know that, one of the major reasons we’re in this league.

“The goal and the penalty will have done him the world of good, by coming on the pitch and scoring that goal, it will certainly lift his confidence. Over the last two weeks, certainly in training, I’ve seen a marked difference in his application and attitude to training, to wanting to get back into the team.

“In regards to social media, I’d be happy if a lot of the players came off social media, I’m not on it myself. It is a platform for pats on the back but also critique as well, and if it gets too much then, for me, for the mental health of anybody, not just footballers, then get off there.”

Sean Dyche on Ollie Watkins

“For a player who has done very, very well outside the Premier League to move for that amount of money is a big fee.

“Villa obviously decided they were going to pay it so it is simple. It is not actually rocket science. You just need a chairman and a board who will spend that money. If you haven’t got that then it doesn’t get spent so it is simple. 

“Most clubs know the runners and riders, know the players who are going well, have done consistently well over time, the possible targets. It is putting the money up to get those players and that is something I have mentioned many times about this club beginning to stretch itself and learn that the market doesn’t care whether we want to spend or not, it is saying, ‘You’ve got to.’ So it is a simple equation.”

Tactical Analysis

Sean Dyche sets his team up in a classic flat 4-4-2, with Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez up front, Robbie Brady, Ashley Westwood, Josh Brownhill and Dwight McNeil in the middle and a back four of Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski and Charlie Taylor.

Burnley have struggled to get any foothold in their games so far this season, seeing 43% possession and completing just 73.2% of their passes. This sees them set up in a way to try and contain their opponents and hit them on the break; as many as 19% of all attempted passes are played long, showing that this is their go-to strategy most of the time.

They have scored six goals from 8.84 xG, a concerning underperformance; however, they will be more concerned with how few opportunities they are creating for themselves managing 9.2 shots per game at 0.09 xG per shot from open play.

Defensively they have conceded 18 goals from 16.76 xGA. This is not a terrible underperformance, but it does highlight the pressure they are under a lot of the time – they have conceded 12.60 xGA from open play alone, compared to their 6.28 xG generated from open play.

These stats provide evidence to suggest that playing on the back foot is not the way they deliberately set up to play; instead, it is a symptom of a team that is struggling to perform this season. It implies that unlike other teams that set up in a similar way, pressing them hard would not necessarily be playing into their hands. If anything, that is what they struggle to deal with the most.

One to Watch

Embed from Getty Images

Striker Chris Wood has bagged two goals so far this season, the most in the squad so far. He wins 5.1 aerial duels per game, mostly from long balls played from the defence. Villa should be wary of the 6’ 2” forward using his size to bully them.

Memory Match

Aston Villa 5-2 Burnley – 21-02-2010

Ashley Young, Stewart Downing (2), Emile Heskey and Gabby Agbonlahor put Burnley to the sword to claim three points. This game saw the dubious goals committee review Villa’s first and third goals, as it was unclear who had actually scored them at the time.

How it could play out

Villa will be without a number of key players for this game, with both Douglas Luiz and Matty Cash suspended by cards and Trezeguet out with a hamstring injury. Ross Barkley will be reviewed before the match – hopefully, he will be ok for a least a spot on the bench.

Dean Smith is likely to set his team up in the way he has reliably done so for the whole season so far, but there are questions over who will get the nod. What will the midfield look like? If Barkley remains out, it could see Jacob Ramsey grab his second start in as many games. Conor Hourihane is also in line to start, while Marvelous Nakamba will be hoping for a chance to push his way into the team.

Ramsey put in a polished performance on his first ever start in the league, so Smith may see this as an opportunity to reward his good work by keeping his place. Hourihane may well be the best option for this game due to his work going forward and, of course, his set piece prowess which may be needed to breach Burnley’s low block. As for Nakamba, Burnley will not be expected to have much impetus going forward; would this be his sort of game?

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Villa’s entire right side will be up in the air, too. Ahmed Elmohammady will be most likely to deputise at right back for this game, but it raises questions over what has become of Frederic Guilbert. If he is not at least on the bench this time out, it could spell the end of his time as a Villan.

Finally, who starts on the right wing? Bertrand Traore has been second choice behind Trezeguet so far, but while he has shown flashes of what he can bring he is yet to settle into the position. He needs to be given time to do so as he could be a great asset going forward, but after putting away the winning penalty at Wolves last time out, Anwar El Ghazi surely deserves a chance to show he still has plenty of his own to bring.

This game will be the first real test of Villa’s squad depth this season. There have been question marks raised over whether they are strong enough a squad to be competitive for the entire season, so it will be interesting to see what some of their second string can offer. A congested fixture list will see them having starring roles throughout the rest of the season.


Aston Villa 1-1 Burnley

Villa should have plenty enough to win this, but with so many holes to plug for this match it is hard to say for certain how it will go. Besides, Burnley will be buoyed by their win over Arsenal and will be well up for it. Despite their league position, they are not a typically easy team to beat.

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  1. Agreed we need a striker that doesn’t panic at the sight of goal and is skilful enough to create and bury his chances, one chance one goal is what we should be looking for, of course you have to be prepared to pay the asking price otherwise we will continually be forking out for unknowns and hoping that they will do the job, let’s do this in January.UTV.

  2. Completely agree 27 shots 7 on target and no goals is simply not good enough in this league, no doubt we threw away a 3 pointer this evening and we certainly can’t afford to let this happen again on Sunday, really disappointing we have to beat these teams hovering near the bottom of the league we should be piling the points on when we have the chance and not throwing points away.
    And based on this performance I think we should be looking at another striker in January and by striker I mean a player that knows where the back of the net is.

  3. Disappointment on scale of 1-10 = 11. What chance a 4 point week. Another golden opportunity gone begging. Sorry I want to be optimistic but think I will have to lower my expectations. We have to learn to be calmer on the ball and not rush our chances, heads up and find the killer pass instead of wild snatched shots, 27, but only 7 on target, not good enough.

  4. Definitely a 6 point week, IMO the need for the enforced changes shouldn’t be a problem and the bench should be strong enough to support the starting line up, the only danger is we beat ourselves, please, please no early Christmas presents switch on from the off, this is another opportunity for us to climb the table lets show we have the nerves to take it.UTV

  5. Wouldn’t be to upset at Ramsey keeping his place, if there is a doubt about Barkley no point risking him.

  6. If Barkley is fit play him, no disrespect to Burnley but theses are games that we should be winning, we are a better side with better players so should be full of confidence, same goes for WBA new manager means nothing we will have a full team back and much too strong for them they are a Championship team and again we should be confident enough to take it to them from the off,
    For me I see no reason why this week shouldn’t be a 6 pointer..

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