By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Tottenham
Aston Villa will return from a much-needed winter break by hosting 6th placed Tottenham at home.
Tottenham find themselves just outside the coveted European automatic qualification spots, held at arm’s length by surprise package Sheffield United. Meanwhile, Villa sit precariously in 17th, just above the relegation spots with both West Ham and Watford snapping at their heels.
Can Villa create some breathing room for themselves?
Aston Villa – W L D W L
Tottenham – L L D W W
Dean Smith on current league position
“If somebody said to me at the start of the season, with 13 games to go you’ll be out of the relegation zone. You’ll be in a cup final, you’ll have more wins than Arsenal I’d chop their hands off. It’s a tough league.
“It’s very difficult to build consistency due to the quality of teams in there but we’re finding that consistency now. Consistency towards the end of the season is a great thing to have.
“We had a big turnaround in the summer as everyone knows but they’re starting to gel. I’m starting to see green shoots of recovery from the players and a knowledge how everyone plays.
“I think we’ll finish the season well.”
Jose Mourinho on Jack Grealish
“Very important player for them. Very important.
“They have their way of playing. Maybe they change against us but the normal Villa is with this back five, the midfield players and then Grealish is a player with creative freedom, with an area of action that’s very important of course.
“Very talented, can score a goal, can make an assist, incredible connection with the fans. So easy to feel immediately that he’s one of them.
“He’s capable of making the crowd chase the team. A very important player for them for sure.”
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Tottenham have employed their 4-2-3-1 formation to good effect this season. It has Lucas Moura up front, deputising for Harry Kane, flanked by new man Steven Bergwijn and the ever-capable Heung-Min Son, with Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sánchez in defense.
They average 51.8% possession in their matches, which does not imply any particular dominance – there are teams both more and less capable with the ball than they are. An impressive 81.3% passing accuracy across the team, however, suggests that whatever the case they can hold their own.
Tottenham are a dynamic side that like to play fast and move the ball upfield quickly. Their short passes make up for 86% of all the passes they attempt. A long ball forward is a rarity, and is indicative of their take-all-comers attitude.
However forward momentum often results in a team being more vulnerable. Their list of defensive shortcomings according to WhoScored is extensive, and includes aerial duels, preventing attacks down the flanks, dealing with through balls and individual errors, preventing chances from being created, amongst others.
They play aggressively too – six penalties conceded (four goals conceded as a result) is second only to Norwich. Their three red cards are the joint most in the league and their 54 yellows come in third. This suggests either a general lack of discipline or a tendency to panic under pressure – up against a player like Grealish, who thrives in that sort of environment, they may find themselves struggling.
Excluding penalties scored, they have 38 goals from an xG of 33.03. This sort of overperformance is usually unsustainable, but Tottenham have done it several times – against Burnley, they scored five from 2.40 xG. Against Crystal Palace, they scored four from just 1.05 xG. And most recently, against Man City, two from 0.42 xG. They rarely underperform in terms of xG (although that’s not to say they never do), usually getting exactly what they put in.
One to Watch
Steven Bergwijn’s Premier League stats so far – 70 minutes played, one shot taken, one goal scored. It’s as good a debut as anyone could hope for, especially considering it was against the defending champions.
Judging anybody off a single game is impossible – it could just as easily be a fluke as a sign of what’s to come. However he looks fast and tricky, if not a little wasteful. Coming up against a side with much less quality, he will be confident too.
Aston Villa 2-1 Tottenham – 01-01-2008
Defenders extraordinaire Olof Mellberg and Martin Laursen scored both for Villa, either side of a late Jermain Defoe equaliser. A tightly contested game that went right down to the wire.
Tottenham 3-1 Aston Villa – 10-08-2019
Villa’s triumphant return to the top flight started better than anybody could have hoped when John McGinn scored a counter attack inside 10 minutes. Villa held on steadfastly until the 73rd minute, when they were finally undone by Tanguy Ndombelé. Harry Kane’s late double sealed the three points for Spurs, but overall it was a spirited performance from the new boys.
How it could play out
Even though it resulted in a loss, the first match of the season provided a lot of positive points for a team that essentially achieved promotion on the back of a miracle. Holding one of the “big six” at arms length for 73 minutes, with a team that had barely even played together, made up mostly of players who were arguably upper Championship quality at best? A real statement of intent.
Since then, Villa have continued to try and find their way, picking up some decent results and proving they have it in them to go toe-to-toe with just about anybody in the league.
However, they still have managed only one win against any team currently in the top ten (Everton), something that desperately needs to change.
It is pertinent to remember, however, that a 17th place finish would still be a good result for this season and Villa are still on course for that, just about. The situation may look dire from the outside looking in, but in reality this season is progressing about as well as could be expected. More positive results against top sides will be a necessity if they are to survive however, given the amount of points dropped against direct rivals so far.
Meanwhile, Tottenham have not had the season they would have been expecting. Currently in 6th behind newly promoted Sheffield United, of all clubs, is not where one of the “big six” teams, especially not one that came runner-up in the Champions League last season, would ever expect to be. All credit to Sheffield of course, but for Spurs, that will be weighing heavily on their mind.
On top of that, they are still without talismanic striker Harry Kane, who has scored 11 of their 40 goals this season. Lucas Moura is playing deputy well, but they always look a little less dangerous without the Englishman. The surprise departure of Christian Erikson, who some consider to be the true lynchpin of the team (and indeed, the man who changed the game against Villa), has surely further reduced their potency.
All of this has not helped the situation of their defence which, in terms of a top team, is not performing. As detailed above, they are demonstrating weakness in almost all areas of defending. Just a handful of those stats stand out – highly aggressive in tackles, weak in aerial duels and flummoxed by through balls, Jack Grealish can really cause some damage against them and new boy Mbwana Samatta, who has had a similarly good start as Bergwijn, can demonstrate his purported heading ability.
Incidentally, Samatta has already solved one glaring issue in Villa’s game – his headed goal against Bournemouth was Villa’s first in the season, not counting Grealish’s discounted effort against Burnley. He has started hopefully as he means to continue, and it will be exciting to see what he can pull off against Spurs.
But, for all their defensive woes this season (relatively speaking), Man City was unable to score against Tottenham in the last match despite an xG of 3.23 – have they solved their issues, or were the defending champions having a disastrous day at the office?
Only time will tell how the rest of this season will play out for either of these sides.
Aston Villa 1-1 Tottenham
The stage is set for Villa to finally take a point off one of the league’s top teams. With one eye over their shoulder, they will come into this knowing the importance of a good result. However, Spurs need to start showing why they are counted amongst the league’s elite, before things go from bad to worse for them. All of this looks set to result in a stalemate, albeit an exciting one.