Aston Villa vs Tottenham
Aston Villa continue to trundle on in a period of bad form, managing just a draw with Newcastle last time out. If they don’t rediscover their early season form soon, their season will soon fizzle out to mid-table missed opportunity. If they could pick a time to play though, Sunday evening would probably be the slot, having notched up some impressive wins throughout the season at that time – most notably the 7-2 win against Liverpool and the 3-0 win over Arsenal.
Next up is Tottenham, who are fresh off the back of a disappointing ejection from the Europa League at the hands of Dinamo Zagreb. They lost their previous league match against Arsenal, so they will be looking to arrest their own period of bad form, after a recent improvement.
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An away win would put Spurs back in the European mix, while putting a serious nail in Villa’s own ambition to escape their mid-table destiny.
Aston Villa – L W L D D
Tottenham – L W W W L
“Wesley is in full-time training with us and we’ve arranged a match during the international break where we can get some game-time into him. That’s what he needs now.
“Bert is having an injection and he will train on Saturday, so he should be available for selection come Sunday. He got a whack in the rib, took a tumble over the boards and he was in a lot of pain. He went to hospital but thankfully there was no bleed. He’s just had some painkillers for that and he’ll be ready to train Saturday morning.
“I’m hopeful for Jack. I’ll leave it until Sunday morning. He’s not trained with us at the moment, but he’s pain-free and he’s running. Ultimately, it will be his decision. I’m hopeful, but if he doesn’t play I can pretty much guarantee he’ll be ready for the Fulham game after the international break. I know Aston Villa fans will be fretting over whether it’s a long-term injury.
“It’s not a long-term injury. We’ve been guided by Jack, who’s been suffering the pain. We’ll leave it as late as we can.”
On facing Tottenham
“The thing that helps us more than anything last night (Tottenham’s Europa League exit) is the fact that the game went to extra-time. The result for us is probably the wrong thing because I can expect Jose Mourinho to get a backlash from his players and for them to come out fighting at Villa Park.
“We have to make sure that we concentrate on ourselves rather than Tottenham. It’s a squad that is littered with very good players, none more so than Harry Kane. We have to be at our best to get anything out of this game.”
Jose Mourinho on what he is looking for against Aston Villa
“That’s the same question as after the game against Arsenal and I didn’t see it against Zagreb, what I wanted to see. So it’s hard to say because I was expecting a completely different attitude and we didn’t get that (at Zagreb).
“Obviously, what do I want against Aston Villa? I want all the ingredients that I told to some of the previous questions.
“They are what I consider the basics of an honest professional. It doesn’t matter about the area. At the moment we’re speaking about football but we could be speaking about any other area in society.
“The basics of any job is honesty, the commitment, the desire, the respect for the people who require you to do a good work. That’s what I expect to have every day, every match.”
Spurs set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Harry Kane up front, with Gareth Bale, Tanguy Ndombele and Son Heung-Min behind him, Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojberg shielding the defence, and a back four of Serge Aurier, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier and Sergio Reguilón.
In Mourinho they have a pragmatic manager who knows the importance of defensive solidity as a foundation for a reliable attack to build on, but does not sacrifice attacking intent for heavily defensive focus. He is garnering a reputation for playing too negatively and using a boring brand of anti-football, but the stats don’t really back this up – 54.9% average possession and 82.2% pass success shows a team that tends to control games and play on the front foot.
Their defensive solidity is no myth either – they have conceded just 30 goals from 28 games, the fifth best record in the league. This is from an xGA of 38.65, showing they have a defense they can rely on to mop up and protect them from mistakes, even when the team is on the offense. It is not unusual for teams pushing high to face 262 shots from open play, but it is unusual for them to only concede 17 goals from those.
It is worth noting they have conceded seven penalties, which is always a symptom of last-ditch, panicky defending, showing the system has its flaws.
47 goals from 40.06 xG is the fifth best attacking output in the league, and shows a team that regularly capitalises on half-chances and unlikely situations. Such an overperformance is unsustainable however, and in Tottenham’s case, most of their attacking success is because of Kane and Son.
Tottenham are a dangerous team that can be difficult to break down while also devastating in attack, but are also flatter to deceive far too often. They have had the makings of a truly top team for a long time now, but the pieces are yet to click together for them to capitalise on this. They are not to be underestimated though, and will provide one of Villa’s toughest challenges of the season.
One to Watch
The highest rated player in the league according to WhoScored is Harry Kane, with a season rating of 7.78. Few can argue with this; he has established himself as one of the best strikers in the world over the years, and with 16 goals and 13 assists to his name this season, it is easy to see why.
Aston Villa 2-1 Tottenham – 01-01-2008
New Years Day, 2008 – Jermaine Defoe’s equaliser was not enough for Spurs to rescue a point against Villa, who scored through defensive pair Olof Mellberg and Martin Laursen.
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How it could play out
There’s no doubt about it, Villa are out of sorts. Just one point against arguably the two worst teams in the league, Newcastle and Sheffield Utd in the last three games, with a bore-draw against Wolves sandwiched in between paints the picture of a team that has done all it can this season.
One thing is clear, if it wasn’t before; Villa struggle without Grealish around. This is no revelation of course, as any team would struggle without their best player around. What it does show is that they are still some way off being European contenders, and further building will be required before they can get there.
Things are not all bad, though. Villa are headed for the warm comfort of mid-table mediocrity; that promised land of bliss where there is no threat of relegation to worry about, but also the understanding that breaking into the top six is not expected and failing to do so would not be a bad thing. After a decade of constantly looking down and then feverishly chasing promotion to stave off oblivion, mid-table mediocrity in the Premier League will feel like a breath of fresh air to some.
It is worth bearing in mind that such an end to the season, while it would seem disappointing given how well is started, is pretty much what the goal was in the first place. Improvement over last season was the aim, and that is exactly what has been achieved. Since the NSWE board took over, Villa have done nothing but improve and there is no reason to believe they will not continue to do so, although an improvement in performances would help cement the feeling.
Back to this game – It is still up in the air whether Grealish will be involved at all, but his exclusion from the England setup suggests it is highly unlikely. As such, this game can be considered a further opportunity for Villa to learn how to operate without their talisman around, something they must do in order for the club to reach that next level.
The return of Matty Cash to the starting XI will provide an underestimated boost.
Finally, congratulations to Ollie Watkins, whose vital contribution to the Villa effort has been rightfully rewarded with an England callup.
Aston Villa 0-2 Tottenham
A little pessimistic, perhaps? It is hard to see Villa getting anything out of this game, given recent results. It is not outside the realm of possibility, as Spurs are hardly paragons of consistency, but a Villa lacking confidence up against one of the most balanced sides in the league? It doesn’t look hopeful.