Dean Smith’s Food For Thought Ahead of Villa’s Yardstick Match

Fulham vs Aston Villa

A week on from Villa’s narrow win against Sheffield United, they face a trip to newly promoted Fulham to judge their progress on.

Villa will go into this match high on confidence, fresh off a 3-0 cup win over Bristol City, with their an unbeaten run of five games in the Premier League. They will be looking to ride that confidence and gain some early traction in the new Premier League season.

Meanwhile, Fulham have bounced back from a hard-fought loss against Leeds with a solid 2-0 cup win against Sheffield Wednesday. They will be hoping they can get off the mark in the league at the third time of asking.

League Form

Fulham – L L

Aston Villa – W

Manager Quotes

Scott Parker on mentality

“I think I’ve said this from the outset, and it’ll remain my main voice this year, that we’re going to lose football matches this year and we can’t afford them to really cripple us and we can’t take that into a really negative spiral.

“As much as we want to win games and we want to try and get points on the board, at the same time we need to stay quite level in what we’re doing.

“I’ve been involved in relegation teams and the one thing that gets teams relegated in the end is that spiral effect, that knock-on effect it has on you, and the dent in the whole atmosphere and confidence, team spirit and adhesion. In the end it saps you and it buries you really.”

Dean Smith on three wins

“It is (feeling positive) but it’s only early stages, we’ve only had one Premier League game and a couple of Carabao Cup games. We’ve started well and what Thursday night gave me was certainly a lot of food for thought.

“The players who hadn’t played in the first Premier League game all performed really well and showed me they’re pushing for places in the Premier League.

“The players who started against Sheffield United know they’re going to have to be on their toes to keep their shirts.”

On transfer activity

“We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. Things change very quickly in football.

“I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.

“There’s a number of positions, obviously Ally (Samatta) going out, you look at the forward line, but also midfield as well. We’ll see if there’s one who can fit both for us.”

Tactical Analysis

Fulham have made use of a 4-2-3-1 formation in their opening games, with Aleksander Mitrovic leading the line, Josh Onomah in behind, André Anguissa and Harrison Reed in front of the defence and Michael Hector joining Denis Odoi in centre back.

In the Championship last season, they found good success in playing open and expansive football, often relying on the individual skill of their players to create chances and deprive the opposition of the ball. This approach sees them score plenty of goals, but it has the drawback of leaving lots of space for opponents to exploit. The step up in quality the Premier League brings about will see Fulham struggle, if they continue with this tactic.

Against Leeds, they managed to score three goals from 1.56 xG, proving they do have the quality to take unlikely chances. However against Arsenal, they only managed 0.13 xG with Arsenal’s superiority preventing them from playing the way they like.

Defensively, they have conceded seven goals from an xGA of 4.18. This suggests they allow their opponents too much space in front of goal, a problem they will have to deal with quickly if they hope to avoid an instant drop this season.

They are a team still readjusting to life as a Premier League side it seems, but they have shown signs they can get there. A hearty fightback against Leeds shows they don’t know when they are beat, a mentality that cannot be easily taught.

One to Watch

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Fulham have a talismanic striker in Aleksander Mitrovic, whose 26 goals last season paved the way for their return to the top flight. He has managed two goals so far from a personal xG of 1.06, takes 3.5 shots per game on average and has proved to have the poacher’s instinct to be exactly where he needs to be at the right time. As long as he is around, Fulham are never out of any match.

Memory Match

Aston Villa 0-1 Fulham – 26-05-2018

Who could forget this? In the first of Villa’s two appearances in the play-off final, Fulham dashed their hopes of making a triumphant return to the Premier League via Tom Cairney’s solitary goal. A heartbreaking moment at the time, but perhaps will be regarded as a blessing in disguise for Villa in the long run.

How it could play out

Villa are currently on a three game losing streak against Fulham, including the aforementioned play-off final defeat that consigned them to another season in the Championship. The latest was an insipid performance against them in the FA Cup back in January, where a line-up consisting of mostly first team players cast serious doubt over Villa’s credentials as a Premier League side.

Since that day, Villa were able to mount the fightback they needed to scrape survival on the last day of the season, and have been riding that high ever since. It remains to be seen how smart Villa’s recruitment has been this summer so far, but they do now look like a side that can consolidate its status as a top league team.

This next match will provide more insight into just how well things are actually going; it is a potential banana skin of a fixture that most Villa fans will think they should win with relative ease, but Fulham are not a team to be underestimated. They too will be looking at Villa, licking their lips at the prospect of taking their first three points of the season.

Villa has a long way to go before they can shake the stigma of being the worst team to have not dropped a league last season. They do look to have strengthened significantly in key areas around the pitch, particularly with the signings of Emi Martinez and Ollie Watkins, but they will need to prove their worth going forward, starting with this match.

Many have predicted Fulham to go down again this season, so they will have a point to prove too. The question is, who wants it more?

Verdict

Fulham 1-2 Aston Villa

Martinez aside, Villa have not really strengthened much at the back, which was so often their biggest problem last season. Mitrovic could still very well have some joy here, but Villa’s new-look attack should prove too much for them.

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