Brighton vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
A solid defensive performance against Arsenal rounded off a tough run on fixtures for Villa where they gained 9 points from a possible 18. They find themselves in ninth place, only four points off the top six, with the same tally of points they managed to accrue across the whole of last season.
Brighton have started to find form after a rocky start to the season had them in the midst of a relegation battle. Three wins and no losses in their last five games puts them ten points clear of the drop zone, and they will hope to secure survival as early as possible.
Villa’s recent run of alternately winning then losing games, will need to break, if they are to get something from their trip to the south coast.
Brighton – W D W W D
Aston Villa – W L W L W
Graham Potter on Villa recruitment
“The goalkeeper has come in and made a big difference. Cash has done well at right-back, they’ve added (Ross) Barkley, Traore and Watkins up front and that takes the pressure off Jack Grealish a little bit to not be the sole provider that he was a bit last year.
“They’re more of an attacking unit with really good players at the top end of the pitch that can hurt you in a second.
“They’ve also got the ability to keep clean sheets. Credit to Dean and the team there, the balance of the team is really good.”
Dean Smith on league position
“It’s a mere distraction at the moment as we’re only 21 games in. There’s a long way to go still and we haven’t played Everton or Tottenham in the league yet.
“There are games that we haven’t played because of COVID-19 this season, so it’s been a strange one but a good one in terms of our consistency. We’ve been a bit up and down over our last couple of performances – very good against Arsenal and not so good against West Ham.
“The performance against Arsenal is more of what we want to see from our players.”
On squad rotation
“This football club won the league in 1980-81 with only 14 players playing 42 games. We don’t play as many games now, but it is a more congested fixture list.
“We’ve got a healthier squad to use. I’ve still not seen players carried from the pitch with exhaustion and I’ve not had too many of my players complaining.
“The performance team have been excellent, and our players will be the first to applaud them for the way they’ve got them up and ready for each game.”
Club’s sale is still on below
Brighton’s most used formation this season has been a 3-4-2-1 with Aaron Connolly up front, Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay behind him, Yves Bissouma and Adam Lallana in midfield, a back three of Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk and Dan Burn with Joel Veltman and Solly March as wingbacks. They have only used this formation nine times however, with a variety of other options used throughout the season making use of other squad members such as Danny Welbeck and Tariq Lamptey.
50% possession and 80.1% pass success recorded over the course of the season shows a team well balanced. They are defensively organised enough to withstand pressure but competent enough on the ball to play through opponents. They can alter their approach to a game to suit their opponents – 13% of all passes being played long suggests they are not tied down to a ball-playing philosophy.
They attack primarily down the wings with their wingbacks staying wide, a tactic they use to stretch the pitch and to give themselves options to play long when the situation requires it. They recycle possession and build from the back primarily, with their defenders and deep lying midfielders attempting the most passes in the team.
Brighton have scored 25 goals from 33.07 xG, an alarming underperformance that demonstrates their great ability to create scoring chances, but also their inability to make use of them. Their recent good run of form has been built on defensive stability, having not scored more than one goal in any of their last five games. The question they must answer then, is are their woes in front of goal down to bad luck or a lack of technical ability from their strikers?
They have conceded 30 goals from 29.94 xGA. This would suggest they have performed as expected on average, but it does not paint the whole picture – their defensive record has improved considerably, seeing them concede just five times in 2021 (seven games).
Brighton are showing a level of improvement that will almost surely see them avoid relegation easily, and if they can build on their faults they have the foundations of a team and a system that can guide them into the top half of the Premier League. Their position in the league right now belies a team that can be a banana skin for anyone.
One to Watch
Solly March has established himself as a key player in this Brighton team, combining defensive solidity with useful attacking output. He has chipped in with two goals and an assist, makes 4.3 defensive contributions per game and has been one of Brighton’s most consistent performers this season.
Brighton 0-1 Aston Villa – 28-12-1981
Tony Morley scored the only goal the last time Villa beat Brighton away in the league. They have only played seven times in the league since then.
Aston Villa 1-2 Brighton – 21-11-2020
Solly March provided the winning goal to claim all three points. It was the third home loss in a row for Villa, who were experiencing considerably better fortune on the road at this stage of the season.
How it could play out
Brighton are a solid team in good form at the moment, and will provide a test for a Villa side that has just emerged from a brutal run of fixtures. Villa have had a full week’s rest in preparation for this match which should have given them ample opportunity to blow away the cobwebs.
Villa’s form throughout their last six games has been patchy, recording three losses and three wins, and with all the wins coming from the weekend fixtures and the losses in midweek. Brighton, meanwhile, have played four league games in quick succession with no more than four days rest between each, and they have recorded two wins and two draws from those.
Brighton also come into this game having played in the FA Cup midweek, although only a handful of first team players made an appearance in that match. It suggests that they are prioritising survival in the league over any chance at winning silverware, and will see this match as an important step in securing their status as a PL team next season.
For Villa, this is a chance to keep in touch with the european places. Currently four points off the top six and just five points off the top four, gatecrashing Europe against the odds is still well and truly on the cards this season. Beating a team in the ascendancy like Brighton will be a necessary step in achieving this goal.
Brighton 1-2 Aston Villa
This will not be an easy match for either team with two strong defenses going against each other. Brighton’s form means they are not to be written off, but Villa’s superior attacking prowess across the season should see them come through victorious.