Coming into Saturday’s fixture against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Aston Villa lie a point behind their hosts in the Premier League table.
Both sides managed wins in the last round of fixtures; Villa beating Everton 2-0 at Villa Park while Palace damned Manchester United to a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford. Villa – the away side – may carry more form into the game however after a routine 6-1 Carabao Cup win over League Two side Crewe Alexandra while the Eagles fell on penalties to another League Two side in Colchester United.
For Villa, performances have outweighed results so far this season which has been a positive considering our sides massive personnel upheaval. Dean Smith’s men have given a decent account of themselves and in last Friday’s 2-0 win over Everton, proved we are equally adept at playing without the ball as we are with it.
From that win, I don’t expect many changes to occur. In my estimations Mahmoud Trezeguet is likeliest candidate to find himself replaced by Anwar El Ghazi who made an immediate impact scoring the second goal at the death.
Tuesday nights Carabao Cup tie produced some impressive performances from the likes of Frederic Guilbert who looks to be one of our most promising signings as well as the debut of Marvelous Nakamba. The Zimbabwean may have been up against cannon fodder in Crewe, but he looked sharp and integrated seamlessly in the holding midfield role. Nakamba displayed his break-up skills as well as some technical ability to retain and shift the ball into the right areas; I expect him to fill a spot on the bench on Saturday.
In the first three games of the season, it could be excused for thinking Crystal Palace have had the better time so far but from my observations, the opposite is true.
Palace have won, drawn and lost so far accumulating 4 points from a possible 9 whereas Villa lie a point behind after losing our opening two fixtures. From the three games, Palace have scored 2 goals to Villa’s 4 yet conceded three fewer.
In terms of xG (expected goals) both sides are marginally outperforming with Villa scoring 4 (xG = 3.9) with Palace’s 2 goals bettering their xG of 1.9. On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles have the advantage after conceding just 2 goals from an xGA (expected goals against) of 5.8 meaning either their defence has been superb or other teams have been wasteful. Hopefully for Villa on Saturday that stat is largely down to unproductive attacks.
Villa on the other hand have shipped 5 goals from an xGA of 4.9. This shows our defence is operating largely as expected considering the oppositions type of chances, but I think we can be relatively content in the knowledge that at least 3 goals conceded have come from individual and silly mistakes.
Both sides have played largely without the ball due to playing sides who will inevitably be fighting for places in the top-six and possibly Champions League places however with both sides securing wins in their last outing – having under 40% of possession each – the Villans and Eagles look more than adept at grinding results out of a game.
Head to Head
The two sides first met in Round 3 of the FA Cup on the 22nd February 1913. The result went Villa’s way with a 5-0 rout in a cup campaign that we would go on to win, beating Sunderland (the eventual First Division champions) 1-0 in front of 121,000 people at Wembley.
A much closer affair would still finish 4-3 in Villa’s favour the next time the two met nearly 50 years later in 1962 but the first league fixture – in Division Two – between the clubs would swing towards Palace, winning 1-0 in September 1967.
In more recent times, the shares have been relatively equal with the London side edging it in our last six meetings in the Premier League between Palace’s promotion in 2013 and Villa’s 2016 relegation. Palace have won 3; Villa 2 and a draw in those six fixtures with each side taking a victory each in the last two meetings.
Overall in this fixture, Villa have been the dominant force, winning 18 of the 43 meetings. Crystal Palace have won on 11 occasions while 14 games have ended in draws.
An Opposition’s View with ‘Hopkin Looking to Curl One’ (@HLTCO)
Q). Firstly, talk about your start to the season. Promising signs or underwhelming?
Prior to our victory over Manchester United last weekend people were really starting to fret and Tuesday night’s loss on penalties to Colchester in the cup hasn’t exactly helped matters. In essence, we’re a side who struggle to score goals unless given space in which to play and it’s proving difficult.
Q). Thoughts on the Man Utd game?
The Manchester United performance was typical of a game in which we’re allowed to play our preferred system and executed it to perfection. If you look to attack us and leave holes at the back, we’ll likely exploit it, just as they found out.
Q). I must know, what is happening with Zaha? How has he not left and how do you feel about him still being part of the club, considering he submitted a transfer request?
The Zaha saga is one that’s been running for years now. In truth, he’s backed himself into a corner by becoming such an important player in our overall set-up. He signed a five-year deal with no release clause in the summer of 2018 and is now annoyed that the club aren’t willing to let him leave for what’s been offered. The transfer request was horrible to see but for now, he remains our player and we’ll make the best of it.
Q). A question for us Villans – what do you think is wrong with Benteke? Is he fundamentally a flawed player or struggling with the system?
In Benteke’s first season with us he scored 17 goals, thanks largely to the fact that we played to his strengths. Now, we play a system which doesn’t deliver balls into his head and he struggles as a result.
Q). What formation and tactics will you likely adopt? What flaws in your team do you see Villa looking to target and what areas of Villa’s team do you think Palace will be looking to exploit?
The likelihood is that we’ll play 4-4-1-1 with Benteke and Ayew together at the head of the side. Personally, I’d rather see us play a formation which goes along the same lines as last weekend but as I touched on earlier, if you sit in, deny us space and keep things tight, we’ll inevitably struggle. My hope is that Dean Smith goes for it and leaves holes for us to run into.
Q). And lastly, how do see the game going and what is your score prediction?
I don’t think either side is tangibly better than the other, so I’ll go for a 1-1 draw with Palace conceding an equaliser as Villa push.
I think Villa will look to play on the front foot but must be cautious in leaving space for the likes of Wilfried Zaha and former Villa forwards Jordan Ayew and Christian Benteke to break with speed.
Wesley will face a less physical test than Yerry Mina in Gary Cahill and Martin Kelly but needs the support of his wingers and shuttling midfielders – whoever they may be – to overcome a decent full-back pairing and a combative midfield three.
If I were Dean Smith, playing down our left flank would be my preference as I think Joel Ward is weaker than the impressive Patrick Van Aanholt at left-back and may get less help from winger Zaha should he play on Palace’s right.
Without the ball, Villa can be punished with inside forwards exploiting the space between the defensive and midfield banks however a flat bank of three would correct this.
The game will be a tight one make no mistake and despite scoring only two goals, Crystal Palace still hold a threat to take seriously but Aston Villa hold the edge in my opinion with a solid centre-back partnership (*touch wood) and a much more dynamic midfield capable of retaining possession and breaking lines.
Score Prediction: Crystal Palace 0-2 Aston Villa
*Kick off is 3pm, Saturday 31 August 2019 @ Selhurst Park
By JACK CUDWORTH