West Brom vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
How did Villa not beat Burnley? Their first draw of the season was a frustrating one, and hopefully fortunes will be better in the next match against a struggling West Brom.
West Brom snatched a good point from Man City last time out, but this was not enough to save manager Slaven Bilic’s job. Sam Allardyce comes in fresh for the game against Villa, with West Brom languishing in the relegation zone. It’s expected that the Albion may now play in a similiar fashion to Burnley did against Villa, so hopefully Villa’s 27 shots against the clarets, was a case of Villa getting their eye in to spoil Big Sam’s return.
Delivered Before Christmas Below
West Brom – L W L L D
Aston Villa – W L L W D
Sam Allardyce on changes
“I think small changes will make all the difference. I don’t want to be critical of the players, but I watched the Newcastle game.
“It was a small difference on the cross that would’ve stopped that. It was only about shutting him down. You only had to be a metre or so closer and the cross doesn’t come in.
“And you all know about Gayle because he scored 20-odd goals here. You don’t let him get in-between you.
“That is what happened and it was another precious point lost.”
Dean Smith on converting chances
“I don’t think we’ve had a game where we’ve created 27 attempts on goal before. But certainly in our game against Burnley, our chances, we should have converted a few more.
“Is it a massive concern? No, because I know I’ve got the players capable of doing that. You look at the likes of Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins, I think they’ve proven already that they can score goals.
“And against Burnley a lot of chances fell to Bertrand Traore and Anwar El Ghazi, and we certainly know they’ve got the technique to score as well.”
With any managerial change comes a radical change in tactics for any team, and Bilic to Big Sam is a drastic change in philosophy for West Brom. To that end, the way they have set up and played so far this season is largely irrelevant. Instead, we will look at where things have gone wrong for them up to this point and speculate on what Allardyce might change.
So far, West Brom have averaged 44% possession and 76.7% passing accuracy in games. Under Bilic this has looked a lot like the symptom of a team that was out of their depth and lost, unable to maintain possession and unsure of what to do when they had it. Under Allardyce these numbers are unlikely to change much, but they will develop into a side that is happy to sit back and defend, with the occasional long ball out to relieve pressure making passing accuracy look worse than it is.
West Brom have scored 10 goals from 7.62 xG – they have struggled to create many chances, but they are surprisingly clinical when they get them. An average xG of just 0.05 per shot from open play after 82 shots shows how low quality service they have been working with. 65% of all attacks are played down the middle with the flanks relatively unused – this misuse of the wide areas makes them predictable and easy to close out. Allardyce is more known for utilising wingers who cross often, so perhaps he will set up to stretch the pitch more.
At the back they have conceded 25 goals from 29.07 xGA. They defend well in general, but they invite far too much pressure. Bilic tinkered a lot with his formations, utilising three, four and five man defences at different stages. This lack of consistency has prevented them from forming any kind of cohesion as a unit, and they struggle to prevent chances from being made as a result.
Most alarmingly, three of their goals conceded have been penalties – conceding penalties is usually a result of panicky defending. Something will have to change for them to improve.
Sam Allardyce is pragmatic in his approach to the game, so it is likely he will use a four man defence regularly going forward. Whatever he chooses to do, he knows the importance of consistency and will not be likely to chop and change as much as Bilic did. With improved cohesion, West Brom will find it easier to limit their opponent’s changes.
This is all purely speculation of course; only Allardyce knows what he will do in his first game in charge. One thing is for sure – whatever playbook has been developed against them over the last few months can be thrown out of the window.
Villa do have the advantage of coach Craig Shakespeare in their ranks, who worked with Big Sam at Everton and England (although his national team stint was just 10 days), so perhaps he can replay on some insight to Smith on how Allardyce will initially set-up.
One to Watch
Conor Gallagher has been the biggest positive for West Brom so far this season. Two goals from 1.9 shots per game makes him both the top scorer and the most adventurous in front of goal for them. An 84.4% passing accuracy sees him linking the play well, as well as 1.1 dribbles attempted per game.
West Brom have had little in the way of forward ambition so far this season, but the best of it has been down to Gallagher.
West Brom 1-2 Aston Villa – 21-09-2008
Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew were on target the last time Villa beat West Brom at the Hawthorns in the Premier League.
How it could play out
The new manager bounce is a much talked about thing wherever a new manager comes into a club, but in truth there is little to suggest that simply replacing a manager is enough to improve a team’s performance immediately. Sam Allardyce has had less than a week working with players that have looked largely out of place in the league, heading into what will be one of their most important fixtures of the entire season. Is that enough time for him to have an influence?
Another factor to consider is how the players will feel about the sacking of a manager who they played their hearts out for, immediately after what was a very good result considering their current position. Will they be happy to see Big Sam? What effect will it have on morale? What effect will it have on the atmosphere in the changing room, and on the training pitch? Mentality is a huge deal in football. It may take some time for his philosophy to be truly adopted by the squad.
For Villa, they have questions of their own to answer. Why are they able to utterly dominate a team like Burnley for 90 minutes without scoring? What exactly went wrong for them? Having five first team players out at once was certainly no help, and hopefully enough of them will be back in time for this fixture.
Matty Cash and Douglas Luiz have now served their suspensions, so they will likely slot right back into the team. Ross Barkely is expected to be able to play in some capacity in this game, even if it ends up being from the bench. Meanwhile Trezeguet remains out with a hamstring injury, and Ezri Konsa’s mysterious illness will hopefully have cleared up in time.
The factor of the new manager combined with this being a big derby in the eyes of both clubs means that this game is all up in the air. Anything could happen.
West Brom 0-2 Aston Villa
Uncertainties aside, Villa have looked very good so far this season while West Brom, to put it simply, have not. Even with a shiny new manager, Villa should have plenty enough to win this match comfortably, provided they bring their shooting boots.