By Dean Gregory
Brighton vs Aston Villa
A troubling yet predictable battering from Man City has left Villa reeling and in the relegation spots, one point behind a resurgent Watford. They will attempt to recover with a trip down to Brighton.
Currently occupying 14th place with a respectable goal difference of -5, their position masks the relatively unstable season they are having. They are only three points above Villa, and are not clear of the danger just yet.
Can Villa reconcile and drag themselves out of the relegation zone and pull Brighton closer to it? It would be a very useful three points, if they can get it.
Brighton – L L W D L
Aston Villa – L W L W L
Graham Potter on Aston Villa
“They played the champions last weekend and that type of result can happen. They had some good results before that, so we know they’ll want to respond to last Sunday.
“We know we have to attack and defend well. They’ve moved to a back five recently and that can mean it’s sometimes tough to create chances.
“They have good players and when you lose the ball they can hurt you, that’s just the nature of the Premier League and so we have to be on our game to get a result.
“It’s been nice to have a full week of training after a busy Christmas period and we’ve had a lot of time for prepare for the game, so we feel good in that respect.”
Dean Smith on reaction to Manchester City defeat
“We did the debrief the following day and I spoke to the players about the fact that we got beat 6-1 at home by arguably one of best teams in Europe, but made five fouls all day, that was a big thing for me.
“They can beat anybody. I saw Brighton play Man City away, they played well and got beat 4-0, we didn’t play well and got beat 6-1. And we helped them in a number of their goals.
“The fact we didn’t engage and weren’t aggressive enough, that’s the message I was getting across to the players.
“In all fairness, the response in training has been very good. Like I said after the game, I’m not excusing the performance because it wasn’t good enough, but any team can get beaten 6-1 by Manchester City.
“It’s important we put it behind us and stick it in a concrete box and bury it 6ft underground.”
On the importance of forthcoming fixtures
“We’re now coming up against teams who are in and around us in the league. I said after Sunday’s game, our season won’t be defined by playing against the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. It will be the likes of Brighton, Watford, Bournemouth…who we’ve got coming up. They’re all massive games for us.
“Brighton were very good at Villa Park, we needed a last-minute winner from Matt Targett and they played for an hour with 10 men. But they haven’t won many, similar to ourselves, only two of the last 11 Premier League games, we’ve only won three out of the last 10.
“We both know it’s a tough league and both see this as an opportunity to get a win. We had a poor performance at Watford, we changed it around, got a really good performance at Burnley and Leicester in the cup and then a poor performance against the double league champions.
“We can take that match in isolation and focus on Brighton.”
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Brighton utilise a variety of formations and are not afraid to mix it up to suit their opponent. Most recently, and most often, they have used a 3-4-3, while their most recent win against Bournemouth saw them field a 4-2-3-1. The spine of the team, striker Neal Maupay, midfielder Davy Propper and defender Lewis Dunk, generally remains the same.
They hold their own in games pretty well, with an average possession of 53.6% and a pass success rate of 81.6%. While stronger teams can push them back, they can also dictate the pace of a game themselves against weaker sides wherever possible.
Without a true target man, Brighton like to instead build from the back with short passing plays. 457 passes per game (85% total) are short, with only 60 (11%) being long. The other 3% of their passes are crosses (18 per game), suggesting they don’t utilise the wings to great effect and are not particularly strong in the air, at least in attacking phases.
In terms of shot positions, 62% of their shots are in the box, while 38% of their attempts on goal are taken outside the box. Of the 25 goals they have scored, only three of those have come from outside the box. So 38% of their shots has resulted in only 12% of their goals – this implies they only attempt it as a last resort if they find breaking an opponent down too difficult.
Excluding own goals, Brighton have 23 goals from 30.11 xG. They generate solid chances regularly, but with a clear majority of their goals scored by Maupay and few others picking up the slack, a lot of them go begging. A little more consistency would see them climb the table.
They have conceded 30 goals – for a team not clear of a relegation battle at this stage of the season, that is pretty good – lower than any other side in the bottom 10. 21 (70%) of those have been conceded in open play, with only 5 (17%) coming from set pieces. With players like Lewis Dunk who are good in the air, it is no surprise they are adept at defending set pieces.
Brighton are not particularly easy to beat, but not far ahead of Villa in overall quality either.
One to Watch
During the summer transfer window, many a Villa fan was clamouring for the signature of Neal Maupay, a striker deemed capable of the step up to the Premier League. With 7 goals so far from 59 shots, for a conversion rate of 11.86, he is not exactly lighting the league up, but he is doing reasonably well.
Brighton as a team creates a high amount of good quality chances. While Maupay could do a better job of putting them away, he does find himself on the business end of them often, and will likely see his fair share of chances once again.
Brighton 1-1 Aston Villa – 18-11-2016
Goals from Nathan Baker and Glenn Murray saw both teams share the points in the Championship, the most last time these teams met at Brighton in any league. It is not a meeting that occurs often.
Aston Villa 2-1 Brighton – 19-10-2019
Brighton struck early through Adam Webster, with Grealish levelling the game up at half time. Villa had a one advantage for a good hour of the game. The second half was frustrating for both sides, until a super dramatic last-gasp winner from Matt Targett, of all people, sealed the win.
How it could play out
Since the conception of the football league system, Villa has met Brighton in competitive matches only 23 times. Of these fixtures, Villa have won 13, drawn seven and lost only three. All three of these losses have been at Brighton; however the most recent was all the way back in 1980.
This is not a fixture that is hotly contested, there is no underlying story, no particular history between the teams, and no notable animosity between fans. This match, then, will not be marred by any of that nonsense. It is simply a contest between two teams struggling for good fortune this season.
And wow, how Villa are struggling right now. Danny Drinkwater’s trial by fire will have done his confidence no good whatsoever, and it’s debatable if he’s match fit even now. Pepe Reina, a legendary keeper of the Premier League era, has joined to plug the gap left by Tom Heaton – whether this is a brilliant move is yet to be seen. Also, how will Nyland respond if he’s frozen out yet again, so soon after reclaiming his starting position?
Villa’s biggest issue, of course, remains the still-unconcluded saga of the replacement for Wesley. As of writing, Mbwana Ally Samatta of Genk, another from the Belgian top flight, has reportedly had a medical, but he is unlikely to be ready anywhere near in time for this match.
Meanwhile, Kodjia is reportedly in Qatar for a medical, so Villa are still without any strikers in the squad.
So what happens now? Against Leicester in the League Cup, Villa put in a spirited performance with a 3-4-3 formation, utilising Taylor and Guilbert as wing-backs to good effect, with El Ghazi putting in a shift as a false nine. It was far from perfect (Luiz and Nakamba doing little to inspire confidence), but it was a stark contrast to the Man City debacle.
Against City, Smith set up in a 5-3-1-1 formation with Grealish behind El Ghazi up front, this time operating as a bonafide striker. It can only be assumed that the plan was to use a low block, with Grealish drawing fouls up the pitch to ease pressure and El Ghazi chasing any out balls. It did not work, and it would be disconcerting to see this tactic attempted again against Brighton, a team against whom a good result is arguably more important.
Whatever we see, it is important to take into account the dire situation Villa currently finds themselves in, and the tremendous amount of work behind the scenes it will take to rectify it. Starting the season with only one option for a striker was always considered negligent, but that’s the way it is. How they cope with it now is the only thing that matters.
Brighton 1-0 Aston Villa
Villa are currently wounded pretty bad, and Brighton will be smelling blood. At the moment it’s hard to see how Villa will cope. Brighton will most likely edge it. However it goes down, it probably won’t be a classic.