By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Burnley
Villa Park will host Burnley next, who sit four points ahead of Villa in 9th place. The table is still wide open six games into the season, so a win will go far for either team.
Burnley will hope to push on from a 15th place finish last season, helped by not having the distraction of European football this time around. Villa, meanwhile, will hope to bounce back from a disheartening defeat at Arsenal, in which they demonstrated their capability to go toe-to-toe with the big boys of the league.
Will this be Villa’s chance to kickstart their season in earnest?
“I’m sure most fans will consider us as that team they should get points against, but I’m pleased to say it hasn’t always worked like that.” – Sean dyche
Aston Villa – L W L D L
Burnley – L D L D W
Dean Smith on missed opportunities
“Our last two games have been against two sides who’ll probably finish in the top eight this season, and it should have been six points.
“We struggled to break down West Ham when they went down to 10, but never felt in danger.
“Then, at Arsenal, we used the extra man a bit better, especially at the start of the second half.
“We should have punished them more, and instead got punished ourselves for not doing so.
“I feel it is harsh because I look at the eight games this season and think only Tottenham have been better than us.
“We’ve been very competitive and it’s just that a few mistakes have cost us. We’ve been good at Villa Park, too.
“On the road, we haven’t got the points. But that’s sometimes been down to things out of our control.
“We’re learning every game and that’s the only way you get better.”
“They’ve started well.
“I watched them at Arsenal before we played them and they gave a really good account of themselves.
“Like ourselves, they pushed them all the way and could have got something out of that game.
“They’ve got a lot of threats and they’re very good at what they do.
“The two frontmen have scored some good goals so far this season. We’ll need to be on our toes in order to look after them.
“Burnley are organised and established now. They’ve been in Europe and belong in the top-flight.”
Sean Dyche on Aston Villa
“I’m nearly seven years in, £500m turnover or so, net spend of about £75m, not including the assets on the pitch. Villa have a different model, over £100m spent in one summer, and I’m interested to see how they go.
“It’s still early season, they’re getting used to the demands of the Premier League, trying to piece it together, and I’m always quite intrigued looking at how these models work.
“They’ve played with a decent mix, they can get the ball forward quickly at times, and try and play at other moments.
“It’s how quickly they adapt and adjust to life in the Premier League, as we’ve found, you have to roll with all the highs and lows and stay resolute.
“I’m sure most fans will consider us as that team they should get points against, but I’m pleased to say it hasn’t always worked like that.
“Villa fans will be saying we are that type of team they should be beating, especially at home, but it’s not always as easy as that when the whistle blows.
“I think that will always be the case for us as one of the smaller clubs in the Premier League. But I don’t think the football side of it will be thinking that, I’m sure they will think we’re a decent outfit. We just focus on ourselves and trying to put in another good performance.”
Sean Dyche sets his team up almost exclusively in a classic flat 4-4-2 formation, and he is very sure of his preferred 11 – Ashley Barnes partners Chris Wood up front, Ex-Villan Ashley Westwood sprays passes around behind them, Ben Mee and James Tarkowski partner in defence and Nick Pope is the first choice keeper.
They tend to see less of the ball than their opposition, with 46.5% possession against Southampton being their highest of the season so far. They won that match 3-0, with an overall xG of 0.91 showing a considerable over-performance on their part. However overall, their eight goals this season have come from a combined xG of 6.89.
Their defence has conceded seven goals, three of which came from a rampant Liverpool side. They face just 13.8 shots and make 15.7 successful tackles per game, showing that despite being on the back foot most of the time, they are perfectly capable of coping.
An overall passing accuracy of 64% gives a clue as to why they spend so much time without the ball; it is not necessarily due to a pragmatic playing style, but more likely due to a lack of cohesion in build-up play.
If their ability to retain possession can be considered weak – this suggests a weakness to a high and tenacious press, a playing style Villa continue to work towards getting right. This is further supported by their dismal 36.2% possession against Liverpool, a team famous for their pressing game.
Burnley are a well-balanced team who are not easy to break down, but they do appear to have a particular weakness that Villa will need to exploit in order to win.
One to watch
Burnley will be boosted by the return of Johann Berg Gudmundsson after a three-match injury layoff. He started the season as the first choice right-winger, and he is a daring presence in attack – he averages six crosses per game, 2.7 of which are accurate. On average, two of those crosses are classed as key passes, demonstrating the threat he poses.
A 53.8% passing accuracy paints a negative picture, but for a winger, it shows an attacking mentality. Six crosses a game and 2.3 key passes on average suggests his passing is mostly forward into dangerous areas.
He is willing to take plenty of risks, and he will be a nuisance for Taylor (if Smith isn’t tempted by Targett).
Aston Villa 5-2 Burnley – 21st February 2010
A five goal rout, including two in two minutes from Stewart Downing, saw Villa recover from an early Steven Fletcher goal to record a convincing victory.
How it could play out
Burnley will be fully rested having no League Cup commitments this week following their 3-1 loss to Sunderland in the second round.
Aston Villa’s win against Brighton in the week featured a handful of first team players, with McGinn, Trezeguet and Jota starting. Grealish came on for Mcginn in the 65th minute, Trezeguet was replaced by Jacob Ramsey in the 80th, while Jota played the full 90. Luiz also featured for the full 90, suggesting Nakamba will start against Burnley.
McGinn and Grealish will certainly keep their starting berth in the league regardless, but this poses the question of how the wings will look; with El Ghazi not even being on the bench, it seems likely he will start. Trezeguet was a potential MOTM, so he makes a strong claim to start too. Can he carry that sort of form into the league?
Much will likely be made of Ashley Westwood’s history with Villa; he was something of a scapegoat during his time here, while at Burnley he ended up as last season’s player of the season.
He has started in a similarly positive vein this season, averaging two key passes and only being dispossessed 0.3 times per game. He continues to be a calm presence in their midfield, and will surely build on his sole assist so far, in time. He plays a key role in Burnley’s attacking phases – Nakamba or Luiz will need to be wary of him.
As mentioned, Burnley’s biggest weakness so far this season has been an inability to hold on to the ball. McGinn’s particular brand of tenacity and industry in midfield will compound this problem for them, and if Trezeguet can replicate his imperious display in the week (assuming he starts), he will be key in stopping the likes of Gudmundsson down Villa’s left flank.
Elsewhere, the triumverate of Pope, Mee and Tarkowski in Burnley’s defence has been fairly solid so far, so a proper centre-forward performance will be required from Wesley. He has the ability – a good goal against Arsenal is proof, and hopefully that will spur him on to score again.
Villa will be looking for a third clean sheet in consecutive home games (first time in the Premier League since 2012), which will no doubt register in Dyche’s mind and perhaps make him happy enough with a point.
Aston Villa 2-0 Burnley
Call it optimism, but Villa have shown they can bring the thunder to just about anyone in this league when they’re on form.
Smith will be looking for a response from his players who will still be hurting after their trip to the Emirates.
Hopefully they have learned from the mistakes that have cost them points, particularly against Arsenal and Tottenham, and will be able to race into a lead and see it out this time.