By Richard Wakefield
Steve Bruce has undoubtedly given life to the sinking ship which was Aston Villa and has managed to steer it in the right direction, as Villa fans are finally beginning to look up the table rather than down. An expected, a home win against Blackburn due to a Jonathan Kodjia double has made sure Aston Villa’s form is maintained going in to Bruce’s and arguably Villa’s biggest challenge of the season yet.
Their host for the Friday night television game, Brighton & Hove Albion’s home form and league position should be more than enough of an indication that Villa will go into this game as the underdog.
Sitting second in the table behind Newcastle and accumulating six wins and one draw at home make Brighton one of the toughest teams to beat. However their solitary loss at the Amex came early in the season to Brentford and Steve Bruce will certainly look to replicate that feat on Friday night.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…apart from scoring more goals.
Although Aston Villa may not be the producer of international stars like it once was, many of Villa’s first team players were away on international duty during the break. Despite the prestige it gives to the club, some international matches may work in the favour of Brighton.
With Mile Jedinak being a key example, the Australian has already been ruled out due to his international match against Thailand being played on Tuesday, not giving him enough time to travel, sleep and train for Friday’s game.
Steve Bruce may have already confirmed Jedinak’s absence, but he may want to consider using other options in the Villa squad if possible to start versus Brighton as players like Kodjia, Grealish, Chester and Ayew were all on international duty during the week to name a few. Players who didn’t play in any international matches and trained with the squad may be better suited to play in this match, names such as Aaron Tshibola and Tommy Elphick spring to mind.
It’s a shame Ross McCormack, who can’t get in the Scotland squad, is suspended.
Bringing in some healthy competition that are fresh and ready to prove why they should be the first name on the team sheet, could provide some match winning performances out of players that Brighton might not be expecting.
Brighton top the table in terms of least goals conceded. With the ball only beating David Stockdale nine times in 16 games, Villa will have their work cut out, if they are to win on their trip to Brighton. Keeping six clean sheets at home out of eight games is pretty good going.
Although the Brighton team as a whole – and the defence especially – have to work as a unit for such an accomplishment, Lewis Dunk has been heralded as the main man.
The only downside that can be seen in Dunk and his defensive partners is their poor disciplinary records. In 15 games, Dunk and Brighton left-back, Bong, have accumulated five yellow cards each, which has been enough to give both men suspensions already this season.
With good technical players such as Grealish, Kodjia and Ayew, using their dribbling skills to draw the foul early on and force players like Dunk to play on a yellow card for large parts of the game, this could be key to unlocking this stubborn defence.
With Dunk and others who are on yellow cards having to play safer, this can allow Villa’s attackers more freedom to express themselves when going forward or could even see Brighton playing with less than 11 men on the field by the final whistle.
As previously mentioned, the only team that have managed to beat Brighton at the Amex were Brentford. A 2-0 score line brought home the three points for The Bees and it is clear how they prevailed where no other team could – shoot whenever possible.
Despite Brighton having the lions share of possession like you would expect from the home team, they still only managed to take six shots on goal with their 62% possession whilst Brentford managed the same number of shots with only 38% of the possession. This high shot frequency that Brentford deployed was key in them stealing three points and Villa need to replicate this.
Steve Bruce will expect Brighton to dominate large parts of this game but something doesn’t seem to have been worked on is pulling the trigger in front of goal, with players like Jordan Ayew and Jack Grealish being the main culprits of not having a dig at goal when a half opportunity arises. If Villa can trouble the Brighton goalkeeper as much as possible, Villa may become the second team to travel home with three points from The Amex.
Follow Richard Wakefield on Twitter at @_RichardAVFC
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