By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Brighton
Villa’s first game back from the international break sees them face another team following up an emphatic win. Both teams are in similar form, with Brighton ahead in the table courtesy of one more draw.
Villa’s exploits against Norwich City has given them a positive goal difference, making them the only of the bottom seven teams to have one. Brighton, meanwhile, are fresh from beating Spurs 3-0.
Can Villa gather some momentum against another team hoping to do the same?
Aston Villa – L D L D W
Brighton – L D D L W
Dean Smith on momentum
“I am mindful of the fact we can’t be complacent. We felt the Norwich result was coming. Some of our performances suggested that.
“It would have been very easy for me to walk into the dressing room, having won 5-1 and say: ‘Right, I’ll see you on Friday’.
“But no, it was to keep to the plan – Sunday and Monday off and then work, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That’s what we have done.
“The players probably wanted a few more days off than I have given them but there is work to be done still.
“We need to get better, we need to improve and we are striving to do that in every training session.”
Graham Potter on Villa
“It was a good win away from home (against Norwich), and they are strong at home as well.
“Villa Park, I know well, we played there last year a couple of times. It’s an intimidating place when the crowd are behind the team. Dean has done a great job there, coming in and getting promotion.
“Obviously they have invested again, so it’s a strong side. It’s a tough game for us, we know that.
“How Aston Villa play, they want to attack, they want to create chances and score goals,” added Potter.
“We need to be aware of that and try to nullify it and at the same time, make our own challenge as well.”
Before meeting Villa in the cup, Brighton consistently relied on a 3-4-3 formation, with Dunk in the middle of the back three and Maupay leading the line. In their last two games, they have tampered with their line up, utilising a bizarre 3-5-1-1 against Chelsea and a classic flat 4-4-2 against Tottenham.
It is this 4-4-2 which has proven to be the most successful. Against Spurs, they scored three of their eight goals this season with an xG (Expected Goals) of 2.60, showing they were good value for their effort.
They also restricted Spurs to 0.48 xG, which suggests that their use of the 4-4-2 formation is sustainable, and this was no fluke performance.
This system sees Brighton play a high press with centre-backs Dunk and Webster staying very deep – almost exclusively in their own half. Like any Premier League full-back worth their salt, Burn and Montoya join in the attack and provide width and help for their wingers. However, neither of them average more than one cross or key pass per game, instead focusing more on the defensive side of their game.
It remains to be seen how successful Brighton’s switch to a 4-4-2 will prove to be, but on the back of their best result so far this season, it is hard to imagine they would revert to their stuttering 3-4-3. Villa can expect their opponents to attempt to push them back into their own half and disrupt their build-up play.
One to Watch
Brighton fans have questioned how Lewis Dunk is not ahead of Tyrone Mings in the England setup. He is a competent defender who averages 1.4 tackles, 2.1 interceptions and 3.9 clearances per game. With four yellow cards so far, by far the most in his team, he is more than willing to put his body on the line when he needs to. Wesley will need to keep his wits about him in order to get the better of Dunk.
Interestingly, he leads Brighton for assists with two, even though he only contributes 0.3 key passes per game. Does this say more about him, or Brighton’s attacking prowess?
Aston Villa 3-2 Brighton – 23rd January 2010
A 5th minute goal from Nathan Delfouneso gave Villa a good start in this FA Cup 4th Round tie, and goals from Ashley Young and Fabian Delph secured the win. Ex-Villan Tommy Elphick scored for Brighton in this match, too.
How it could play out
Many a Villa fan was crying out for Maupay’s signature in the summer – eight games into the season, however, his three goals are inferior to the much vilified Wesley, who has four. Wesley’s four goals come from an xG of 4.59, while Maupay’s xG is 3.36 – this means both are performing roughly as expected, but Wesley has so far proved to be the right choice for Smith.
Talking of comparisons, who really is better – Dunk or Mings? As mentioned above, Brighton fans were left scratching their heads over how Mings is getting selected by Gareth Southgate ahead of Dunk. According to WhoScored, Dunk edges Mings on average ratings (6.85 and 6.80, respectively), but it is too close to reliably split them.
Dunk logs more tackles (1.4) and interceptions (2.1) per game, while Mings is miles ahead with blocks (2.4) and clearances (7.5). In terms of discipline, Mings has received one yellow card compared to Dunk’s four. This can be read in two ways – either Dunk is more willing to take risks, or Mings is a more composed defender. The fact is, both are completely different yet equally solid defenders who have a claim to be in the England picture.
The stats suggest that in this match, Dunk may be the busier defender. Brighton have managed eight goals this season from 11.8 shots per game, compared to Villa’s 13 goals from 13.4 shots per game. However three of Brighton’s eight goals were scored in their last game, which alludes to a major upturn in fortune. The fact it coincided with a formation shift and came against a team expected to finish in the top six backs this up.
Villa’s impressive win away to Norwich, albeit against a supposedly injury-ravaged team, shows Smith’s philosophy is finally starting to gain traction. They looked extremely good value for their performance – five goals from 3.68 xG, which is sustainable considering by the time Hourihane and Luiz scored their low-xG goals (0.05 and 0.04) the game was effectively already won. On a side note, Luiz’s two goals have both had an xG of 0.04 – he only scores belters.
It is worth noting that Brighton’s high press, utilised effectively in their last match, looks to directly counteract Smith’s playing style. This promises to be a real chess match of a game between two teams whose seasons so far are separated by a very fine line.
Aston Villa 3-2 Brighton – Brighton have learned where the back of the net is, and they will likely continue to improve in that respect. The question is, can Villa carry the form they showed in the last game forward?