Tactical Preview – Aston Villa vs Everton

In a preview of the matchup this Friday at Villa Park, we take a look at the newly promoted Aston Villa side that is currently sitting on 0 points after defeats away at Tottenham and at home to Bournemouth.  We walk through major transfers, data-based team performance, common tactics in the four major phases of the game, injuries, and make a prediction on what we believe will be the results of the game.

TRANSFERS OF NOTE

In:

  • Wesley, CF, Club Brugge, €25M
  • Tyrone Mings, CB, Bournemouth, €23M
  • Doulgas Luiz, DM, Manchester City, €17M
  • Matt Targett, LB, Southampton, €15M
  • Ezri Konsa, CB, Brentford, €13M
  • Marvelous Nakamba, DM, Club Brugge, €12M
  • Trezequet, LW/RW, Kasimpasa, €10M
  • Anwar El Ghazi, RW/LW, Lille, €9M
  • Tom Heaton, GK, Burnley, €9M
  • Bjorn Engels, CB, Reims, €8M
  • Jota, RW, Birmingham, €4.5M

Out:

  • Glenn Whelan, DM, Hearts, Free
  • Albert Adomah, RM, Nottingham Forest, Free

Aston Villa bought Wesley to replace Tammy Abraham who is back at Chelsea, although they are slightly different players.  They bought permanently two players that were on loan last season.  Anwar El Ghazi, who has continued to start at one of the wide attacking positions opposite newcomer Trezeguet, and Tyrone Mings, who has immediately paired up with newcomer Bjorn Engels at CB.  Douglas Luiz is a young, but talented DM that made a terrible play to concede a goal against Bournemouth last week only to bury a highlight film goal from 25 meters last in the game to make it interesting.  Targett and Konsa have been on the bench in both matches.  Tom Heaton has started in goal and Jota has come off the bench on the right.    

DATA ANALYSIS – Current and 2018/19 Season

Current Season.  In the first two matches this season, Aston Villa conceded 5 goals with an xGA of 4.21 as well as 40 shots against, both of which are worst in the league.  They are also winning only 51.8% of their defensive duels, which is 19th.  However, not everything is bad with the Aston Villa defense.  They are 6th in aerial duel success with Engels being outstanding and Tyrone Mings solid, and are 5th in interceptions.  Stylistically, they have middle of the road aggressiveness and pressing metrics, 2nd most blocked shots as well, and upon observation it’s reflective of a team that’s packed in it a bit – especially against Tottenham, mostly tried to play on the break, and mixed in some counterpressing with not great effectiveness.

That being said, Aston Villa has been effective generating chances.  They are 6th in shots, 4th in key passes, and are the 5th most fouled team in the PL.  They are also only 13th in touches inside the box and have a relatively slow passing rate, so much of the offense is coming from distance or via attacking duels.  They love to pick off passes and dribble out to get on the break. They are 12th in possession, but they were in very different situations in their first two games, so not sure that’s a valuable indicator.

2018/2019 Season.  Aston Villa was similar to the above in that they weren’t the best defensive team, but they generated a lot of offense.  In fact, their offense was outstanding and extremely productive.  Villa was 3rd in goals scored, 4th in shot attempts, and 3rd in shots on target.  Again, they were very good in taking players on and taking care of the ball.  They were indeed 2nd in 1 v. 1 attempts, 2nd in success rate, but they were also 5th in possession, 6th in touches in the box, 4th in passing completion %, 3rd in progressive runs, and 2nd in fewest ball losses in the league.  Very few through balls, long passes, and again, passes into the final third.  So they still have guys like McGinn, and El Ghazi beating players at a high rate and frequency with the dribble.  They still aren’t losing the ball a lot.  It might just be that the PL is a bit more difficult and punishing when it comes to defensive mistakes (just ask Fulham last season).

And indeed, Villa’s defending wasn’t the best last year in the Championship, either.  They sat back a bit, didn’t pressure a TON, and gave up some goals.  They were 13th in goals conceded, 16th in challenge intensity, 16th in PPDA (# of passes per defensive actions – measure of higher pressure), 22nd in interceptions, and 24th in # of defensive duels.  Not terrible, but with most of the same defensive players, Villa will likely have some struggles on the defensive end this season   

TACTICS

Aston Villa has been mostly a 4-1-4-1 team with Wesley high and a defensive mid.  Against Bournemouth last week it was Douglas Luiz at the 6 and against Tottenham it was Conor Hourihane.  Both are different players and it showed.  Against Tottenham, Villa scored early on the break against the run of play and aftewards played very defensively as opposed to the Bournemouth game where they gave up an early Penalty goal and another longer deflected shot to be down 2-0 after 12 minutes.

Figure 1:Aston Villa likely starting XI

The first two games were very different as Tottenham dominated the ball most of the match as Villa scored early, whereas Bournemouth conceded possession from about the 30th minute on as they were up 2-0.  Regardless, Aston Villa’s most effective attack is off the counter.  When they are in the final third, Grealish is their most creative player by quite a bit.  Wesley is a strong player with deceptive dribbling skills that is a treat in the box, although his movement inside the box isn’t the best and not sure he can replicate the scoring success in the final third that Tammy Abraham did last season. 

Villa takes a lot of shots from distance with McGinn being especially dangerous with a deadly left foot.  Douglas Luiz showed some excellent passing skills as well and had a wonderful goal from distance against Bournemouth, although he was uncontested and not closed down. 

In terms of service, El Mohamady is probably the second option to Grealish as he can serve up a lovely ball.  However, in the first two games, he seems hesitant to take the ball far forward and more comfortable serving it from distance.  El Ghazi and Trezeguet are decent wide options with some ability to change sides depending on the matchup, but not sure they are significant goal threats in the PL.

Too often against Bouremouth when Villa did have the ball they relied on the long pass to Wesley or seemed a bit too eager to push the ball up to the front 5 quickly.     

Villa likes to counter press and win the ball back quickly.  They’ll push their two center mids McGinn and Grealish up and I would expect them to man mark Gomes and Gbamin/Schneiderlin depending on who Silva plays often.  The wings will also push up, which can result in turnovers, but also result in chances on the break. 

McGinn is strong and disciplined, but not especially quick, while Grealish is very offensive minded, he’s a bit undisciplined, although very aggressive.  They can make things a bit chaotic in a similar manner to how Watford play, but these two are not Capoue and Doucoure.  The fullbacks can push higher once the ball is lost, but El Mohamady or Neil Taylor have not regularly been pushed high in attack to begin with.  Thus, there is not space behind them to exploit like there is against Watford.  Once the pressure is broken, however, Aston Villa drops back very quickly. 

Aston Villa were extremely disciplined against Tottenham once they got the lead and were frequently in a 4-5-1.  They were compact and put a lot of defenders around the ball, even when the ball was in possession on the wing.  The opportunities to attack were in the wide spaces on the opposite side of the field as the result of quick, longer passes to switch fields or in front of the fullback where advancing fullbacks for Tottenham had time to serve crosses into the box.  The below clip gives you an idea of the compact formation Villa was playing and how they back off the attacking fullback allowing time for a cross from a dangerous area of the pitch.

Eventually Tottenham figured this out and both of their first two goals originated from crosses in front of the fullback, Neil Taylor.  But as compact and as deep as Villa was, it took a lot of shot volume, and some eventual fortunate bounces (and quality from Tottenham) in order to finally get the opportunity to score.

Against Bournemouth it was quite a different scenario.  Villa counterpressed often and in the first half, were not effective.  Bournemouth passed through the often over aggressive front 5 and generated several high-quality chances off the break.  Aston Villa sat back a lot of the first half and STILL conceded possession and chances.  Douglas Luiz was simply not as disciplined as Hourihane sitting back in defense and eventually made a poor decision that was directly responsible for Bournemouth’s second goal.

Aston Villa is really effective at winning the ball and attacking quickly off the counter.  Grealish is frankly amazing at running with the ball at speed and finding himself space to either exploit himself or make a key pass to trigger the counter. The below clip gives you an idea of what he can do off a counter attack:

The wings stay wide and attack quickly. If Grealish can be contained, Villa seems a bit too content to quickly look for a long ball to Wesley, who often comes well back to receive it and is very strong on the ball, or a longer ball to El Ghazi who has height advantages over most fullbacks.  The fullbacks do not often spring forward, however, and the counter attack is normally the 4 midfielders and Wesley sprinting forward looking for goal. 

INJURIES / SUSPENSIONS

Aston Villa appears healthy, whereas Everton still has injury concerns to Fabian Delph and Lucas Digne, who was substituted last match in the second half, although has been training.  Leighton Baines is also a concern and would be the backup left back, with Delph being likely third choice. Andre Gomes was dealing with injury, yet played 90 minutes this past weekend so he should be good to go.  Morgan Schneiderlin is available since serving his red card suspension and while Gbamin is settling in, I could see Silva opting for Schneiderlin.  He can pass, he is experienced and won’t be rattled by a crazy Friday night Villa Park crowd, and he won’t be exposed by a super athletic opponent. 

ASTON VILLA – EVERTON BREAKDOWN

Aston Villa might be the cure for Everton’s early offensive struggles.  They counterpress a bit, but Everton with excellent ball playing central players like Yerry Mina, JPG, and Andre Gomes SHOULD be able to progress through it.  However, Everton cannot continue to hand the ball over to opponents.  They are 17th after two games in balls lost with Coleman, Digne, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin the worst culprits.  Everton are also 2nd in a 1 v. 1 attempts in the league and a very poor 18th in success rate (42.2%) with Gomes, Digne, and Richarlison all under 30%.  While I don’t expect that to continue on Friday as Villa isn’t that type of defence, if it doesn’t improve, Aston Villa are extremely dangerous on the counter.

I believe Everton will be successful in attacking with width against Villa.  I think they will be able to break the counter and create problems down the left side with the speed / tricks of Bernard on the break as well as the crossing of Lucas Digne. I can see Everton pushing El Mohamady back and preventing him from getting as involved in the attack as Villa would like.  I also can see many of chances created for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but the real question will be whether or not he can finish or at least lay off a couple balls for his teammates as Engel is very good in the air, although not very athletic.  I can see Gylfi Sigurdsson finally getting involved in the offense and Luiz is still getting used to the PL and is fairly undisciplined. 

Grealish will be a problem if Everton cannot take better care of the ball however.  It pains me a bit to write this, but Everton doesn’t have Gana Gueye to put these types of guys in his pocket, so Gbamin will be tested in the open field.  Wesley is also very strong and will come back for the ball.  Michael Keane will need to have a successful day against him in the center of the pitch and both him and Yerry Mina will have to be superior in the box. 

Prediction: I don’t believe Aston Villa’s defence will deal well with Everton’s pressure and I believe it will come early and often on Friday.  Tyrone Mings does not impress me with his distribution and while Engels is good on the ball, he is not athletic enough to deal with the Everton forwards in space and will likely be under more pressure than he’s used to.  Douglas Luiz is talented enough to help, but he’s still very young and Everton isn’t going to give him the time he had against Bouremouth. I believe Everton will find a way to get an early goal due to that pressure – maybe Gylfi Sigurdsson or Richarlison from the lop of the box from a Bernard layoff pass – and it will allow Everton to play a bit more off the counter than is usual.  However, unlike against Watford, Everton is more successful finding ways to play through the counter press and punish Aston Villa off the break especially when Calvert-Lewin makes way for Moise Kean in the second half. I can definitely see a fresh team giving Mings and Engels fits and believe he’s got a good chance at getting his first for the Toffees.

Even if Everton’s pressure does not generate a goal, in possession, I believe Everton is comfortable operating in the spaces that Aston Villa is not good at defending and will take better care of the ball.  I am concerned that Villa will sit back and Calvert-Lewin will miss a couple sitters to make it very interesting.  While that’s a real possibility, I cannot see Everton being anything but well prepared to deal with Villa’s counter.  Whether it’s tactical fouling – I can almost guarantee Gomes picks up a yellow fouling Grealish – or Gbamin showing us what a fantastic standing tackler he is, I see Everton slowing it down enough to not be punished by it. 

That being said, Aston Villa still is likely to generate chances, and although I expect another good performance from Jordan Pickford, I can see him getting beat by a Villa strike from distance and expect the Everton shutout streak to end.  However, I don’t believe it will be enough.

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