By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Watford
Following the quintessential game-of-two-halves against Brighton, Villa take on Watford for the second time in less than a month.
With new signing Mbwana Samatta still waiting for international clearance, it will be game number four without a senior striker, and Villa need to pull something special out of the bag to beat a Watford team that has started to find it’s swagger.
Watford’s impressive recent revival actually has them 29/20 favourites with the bookies to win at Villa Park, which means there’s an opportunity to be had with thebetcalculator.com to get decent value on a Villa win tonight. Villa will have to match performances this season against the likes of Everton and Newcastle, to give fans a decent run for their money though.
Can Villa climb out of the relegation zone with a win?
Aston Villa – W L W L D
Watford – D W W W D
Dean Smith on lack of strikers
“The lads have got used to it over the last three or four games.
“Jonathan’s had a tough season. He came back from the Africa Cup of Nations very, very tired after playing a summer series. He then got injured at Tottenham and has struggled for fitness since due to game time.
“With his contract being up at the end of the season, we hadn’t offered him a new one, and so he wanted to look at other avenues and we’ve allowed that to happen.
On new signing Mbwana Samatta
“He’s a recognised striker, for one. He’s got a great goalscoring record at Genk. Character and personality, which is very important for us. It’s something that is very important to any squad. He’ll come in the dressing room and give everyone a lift. “
Nigel Pearson on mentality
“I don’t take anything for granted in football, and I don’t buy into the thought that just because something happened a couple of weeks ago, it is going to happen again.
“They will want to reverse the last result and because we are both in a difficult situation they will be up for the fight. There is no doubt about that.
“Whenever you play sides in and around your own situation, the benefits of a win are huge and we go into the game with every intention to try and win.”
Use code MOMS10 for 10% off prices below
Instead of trying to paint a picture of Watford’s characteristics in the context of the entire season so far, given their improvement in recent games it is probably better to look at their last five, to try and see what they are suddenly doing right.
They have well and truly settled into a 4-2-3-1 system with Troy Deeney up front, Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr on the wings and Etienne Capoue partnering Will Hughes in midfield. Christian Kabasele and Craig Cathcart make up a significantly improved defence.
Watford still seem to find themselves on the back foot in games, with their average possession over the last five being 42.38%. A passing accuracy of 72.4% over this period suggests a downturn in form, yet somehow they are now more than holding their own in games.
Their discipline in the last five is worse on average when compared to their season as a whole too, with 13 yellow cards as well as two reds in a row (three, if you count the FA Cup). All of these stats show they are getting angrier and sloppier as time goes on – so how are they improving?
Perhaps the main stat which provides the answer to this is the amount of successful clearances they manage per game – 32.2 over the last five, which is a significant amount. Add this to the fact that star striker and talisman Deeney is back to his best, with three of his four goals this season coming in that period, along with the improved form of Deulofeu and the implementation of Pearson’s ideas, and it starts to look clear.
Watford employ an aggressive, defensive playing style – those cards are distributed mostly among defensive players with both red cards appearing in the back four. This is a last ditch attempt to stop an attack in its tracks, however; their main focus is to clear loose balls out of defense and get them up towards their target man, who brings the tricky Deulofeu into play. Quick breaks like this, with players who can terrorise a defensive line that’s invited forward, prove to be consistently devastating.
Watford have settled into this play style and will continue to press on with it. It is up to Villa to avoid falling into their traps if they want to win.
One to Watch
Across the season as a whole, it is ex-Barcelona man Gerard Deulofeu who has provided the most in terms of attacking impetus with four goals and three assists. As Watford grow in confidence, Deulofeu improves massively and he will likely get better as the season progresses.
He is a student of the famous La Masia and when he is on form, it shows. Villa will do well to take note of how dangerous he can be.
Aston Villa 2-0 Watford – 20-01-2007
Two extremely late goals , an 86th minute own goal and a 90th minute Agbonlahor strike, proved to be the difference the last time Villa beat Watford. They were relegated that season, and didn’t come back for another eight years.
Watford 3-0 Aston Villa – 28-12-2019
Villa put in possibly the most tepid and uninspiring performance in recent memory as they allowed themselves to be turned over with ease. It is hard to think how this next match could play out any worse.
How it could play out
Wesley sustained a season ending injury on January 1st. 19 days later, Villa are still without a senior striker. Kodjia has departed, Davis is still sidelined and Mbwana Samatta isn’t available yet.
Samatta from Genk should be free to make his debut in the League Cup second leg against Leicester, so the issue is soon to be resolved in part at least. Villa could do with more than one striker to see them through the season however, and time is fast running out to get one.
In the meantime, the question remains – how should Villa set up without a striker? El Ghazi has proven to not be suited to a centre forward role and he perhaps lacks the savvy to play as a false nine, a complicated position that requires a particular type of player. Against Brighton, the game seemed to swing heavily in Villa’s favour when substitutes were made.
The obvious name to mention here is Douglas Luiz, whose sublime cross provided the assist for the equaliser. However, U23 striker Indiana Vassilev came on to push El Ghazi back into his favoured wing position and show him how a striker should behave. While he is inexperienced, and while it would be a lot to ask to expect him to shoulder the burden of leading Villa’s line, he proved he knows how to operate in the role well enough that starting him could be the best thing for Villa’s overall shape.
He showed pace and good positional awareness, and with the reckless back line that Watford have, he could prove to be a thorn in their side. Considering the lack of other options, surely Smith has considered him too.
Meanwhile, Villa’s own defensive performance of late has been interesting – Mings’ return has proven to solidify the back line (the Man City game notwithstanding), while Pepe Reina looks like he can fill Heaton’s boots just fine.
However some iffy performances from Mings’ defensive partners, Hause in particular, along with the uncertainty of the wing back positions and the fact that nobody has yet got one of them on lock, adds an element of doubt.
It is a conundrum – the time to come up with a solution is running out fast.
Aston Villa 1-2 Watford
It probably won’t be the mauling that the last match ended up being, but Watford’s upward surge doesn’t look likely to stop here. Villa might nick one, though – when Grealish is around, that is always a possibility.