THE BUILD-UP

The next challenge for Aston Villa is Wolverhampton Wanderers in game week 8 of the Premier League as they look to bounce back from their pre-international break loss to Spurs.

Both teams have had varied starts to the 21/22 campaign; Villa currently sit smack-bang in the middle of the league in 10th, whilst Wolves are a couple of places below with a point less (9) in 12th. Villa took 4 points from their midland’s rivals last season, and Dean Smith will be looking at taking all three as his side returns to a full Villa Park for the first time since the second half hit-and-run victory against Everton a month ago.

An additional time penalty from Anwar El Ghazi at Molineux was the only goal in both contests last season, showing this fixture is always a closely encountered affair. The last time there was a goal difference of over +1 in the Premier League, dates back to March 2004 when Villa decimated their opponents 4-0 away, thanks to goals from Thomas Hitzlsberger, Olof Melberg and a brace from Juan Pablo Angel.

El Ghazi and co. celebrating his last minute winner at Molineux last season.

Aston Villa will be hoping for the return of star forward Leon Bailey after he picked up a thigh strain whilst striking in the third against Everton. In the pre-match conference for Spurs, Smith stated “I’m hopeful that he (Bailey) will start training during the international break, and we will assess him then”, we are yet to hear anything about a return for the Jamaican but fingers crossed he can feature on Saturday.

The claret and blue faithful are yet to see all three of Bailey, Watkins and Ings on the pitch at the same time, so are bound to be excited at this mouthwatering prospect in the lead up to the game on the 16th.


FAN CAM


That being said, one of the topics on all Villa fans lips at the moment is that of the partnership of Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins. We are yet to see the two flourish as a duo in an attacking sense, however defensively, the pair are a match made in heaven. We saw this persistently against Tottenham Hotspur last time out as the strikers continually pressed the lily white’s backline and crucially tracked back when the defence was caught out. Newly appointed offensive coach, Aaron Danks, will be aiming to make the pairing a formidable one in front of goal after Watkins returns from international duties with England.

Brazil call on Luiz for World Cup qualifiers | AVFC

Villa are likely to be without Brazilian midfielder Douglas Luiz and No.1 Emi Martinez, as the South-American pair return to England just 36 hours before the game. The two will be able to train and will be available for selection in matches despite needing to isolate for 10 days, but it will be a touch-and-go for the two of them in regards to the upcoming tie at Villa Park. Martinez did play the Everton game after arriving back at Birmingham Airport and meeting with the team just 12 hours before kick-off at 5:30 pm later that day. Therefore, there is still a possibility they could play and it will be up to Dean Smith as to whether he deems the duo up to scratch to feature. Jed Steer and Marvelous Nakamba are expected to slot into the team if the Head Coach chooses to leave the South-Americans out.

Long-term absentees, Trezeguet and Keinan Davis will of course be sidelined, and Morgan Sanson is also likely to miss this one, as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury picked up in the Carabao Cup defeat against Chelsea. Villa fans wait eagerly to see the Frenchman feature once again in claret and blue after an injury-disrupted tenure at the club so far, but good news emerged early this week as the midfielder was back out on the grass, training at Bodymoor Heath.

Aside from that, however, Smith will have a full squad to pick from and it will be interesting to see how he approaches this game. Will Hause keep his place in the side, or will Smith opt for Axel Tuanzebe? If fit, does Bailey walk straight into the starting 11? Does the formation need a refresh after the lacklustre display at Tottenham? There is plenty to be considered heading into this weekend’s face-off, and it is expected that the 5-3-2 system, which has been successful for Villa at times this season, will be the way we start versus Wolves.


FORM GUIDE


Over the last couple of seasons, we have seen Matt Targett struggle against the likes of Adama Traore, and that extra defensive support will certainly help nullify Wolves’ attacking threat. This system has allowed Matty Cash to thrive in his wing-back role too, and Villa fans will be hoping the Number 2 can continue his superb form. On the attacking front though, Villa struggled to play their free-flowing football against Spurs, apart from the neat exchanges for Ollie Watkins’ goal, which will be a worry for the coaches. If things aren’t going our way early on, could we see Smith turn to the 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 systems that we saw earlier on this season/last year?

Whatever the case, the Villa faithful will be hoping for a far better performance than last time out, and hopefully, with time to focus and prepare during the international break, the boys will be raring to go for this midlands rivalry. A stat that will excite Villa fans heading into this home tie is that they are among the league leaders in terms of the fewest minutes spent trailing at home with just 6 minutes! This was of course when Ivan Toney broke the deadlock in the 1-1 draw back in August before Emi Buendia scored his first Villa game to tie the game.

Wolves boss Bruno Lage hails Hwang Hee-chan after striker's brace sinks  Newcastle | The Independent

As for Wolves, they are looking to make it three wins in a row in the league but expected to be without Francisco Trincao, as the man on loan from Barcelona is currently out with illness. Meanwhile, Jonny and Pedro Neto will of course miss out on long term injuries of their own. Star striker Raul Jimenez faces a rushed return to the midlands, like Douglas Luiz and Emi Martinez, as he returns late on Thursday night after playing for Mexico in the early hours, before reporting back to training on the Friday. Manager Bruno Lage will have the difficult decision of starting or resting the number 9, as Wolves aim to get the better of Dean Smith’s team. Villa fans will hope former winger Adama Traore has a quiet game, likewise with top scorer Hwang Hee-Chan who has made a lively start to his career at Molineux.

I believe it will be another close encounter between the two sides, especially given the decent form of Wolves of late, and the formidability of Villa at their home ground. This partnered with the typical cagey feel to a rivalry, I can’t see either team running away with this one. That being said, I think there will be a winner, and I can see Dean Smith’s Villan’s edging it 1-0, courtesy of a Danny Ings goal.

OFFICIALS

Referee: Michael Oliver. Assistants: Stuart Burt, Simon Bennett. Fourth official: Mike Dean. VAR:Jarred Gillett. Assistant VAR: Harry Lennard.


YOUTH FOCUS

Elsewhere at Villa, the Under 23’s were in action just before the international break in a Papa Johns Trophy fixture against League 1 outfit, Burton Albion. In an incredible game that saw six goals on the night, with three in each half, Villa was victorious after coming back from 2-1 down to win the game 4-2!

Cameron Archer scored a stunning hat-trick as a crowd consisting of over 500 travelling Villa fans saw the 19-year-old continue his tremendous season in front of goal. This was the young forward’s second hat-trick of the season, his first of course against Barrow in the second round of the Carabao Cup in August. This takes his tally to 11 goals for the 21/22 campaign, having netted four for the first team, and seven for the U23/U21’s.

Mark Delaney set out his side in a 4-3-3 formation, as followed:

The game started slowly and neither side created much within the first 15 minutes, but it was Burton who crafted the first chance and opened the scoring as Daniel Jebbison poked home from a corner that saw Conor Shaughnessy’s header rebound off the post and back to the midfielder, who couldn’t miss from 2 yards out. Shortly after, Burton was able to double their lead from another set-piece, where captain Kane Hemmings finished on the turn past Villa ‘keeper Olivier Zych. It appeared as if it would be a tough night for the claret and blue as Burton continued applying pressure, and if it wasn’t for a top save from Zych and a last-ditch tackle from Bogarde, Villa would surely have been down and out.

The Under 21’s resilience paid off, and their first real opening lead to a goal. After winning the ball in Burton’s final third, Taylor Jay-Hart shimmied the ball to PL2 Player of the Month winner Caleb Chukwuemeka who offloaded it down the right to Tristen Abldeen-Goodbridge. The winger brought the ball back inside and teed up hotshot Archer on the edge of the box, who after taking it past the onrushing defender, produced a powerful drive into the bottom right-hand corner, leaving Burton’s Ellery Balcombe no chance in net. Villa was incredibly lucky to have not gone in at the break two goals down as Shaughnessy amazingly missed from just three yards out. A let-off for the youngsters, but they still went in a goal down, and needing a big second-half performance to get something out of the game.

And a big second-half performance is what the they delivered!

Villa started the game on the front foot, and it took only six minutes for them to level the game through the man who assisted their first – Tristen Abldeen-Goodbridge. Tidy work down the Villa right, allowed Archer to slip Chukwuemeka in down the wing. The striker played a perfectly-timed ball into the box, with TAG arriving on the scene to stroke home into the lower-left corner of the goal. The equaliser welcomed cheers from the crowd, as the players celebrated together in the corner that the Villa support was stood. The pressure continued to mount on Burton Albion’s defence as Tim Iroegbunam picked the ball up in the middle of the park and laid it off to the overlapping Abldeen-Goodbridge. Once again, the forward was direct and brought the ball inside before playing it to Cameron Archer who made no mistake, rifling the ball home on the half-volley. A strike any forward would be proud of. Archer and co-ran toward the Villa faithful and met their applause with a series of knee sliders. Villa led 3-2.

Cameron Archer celebrating Villa’s third goal of the game.

Just as Burton appeared to be getting a foothold back in the game, captain Hayden Lindley came out the winning side of a firm challenge in the Villa half and began a threatening counter. The ball found its way to Archer on the halfway line who swiftly turned and played a ball through to Chukwuemeka. The number 46 struggled to accelerate past the Burton defenders but kept the ball on the right of the home side’s box, retaining possession well, and allowing his teammates to arrive in support. In an unorthodox 1-2 play, Caleb played it back into Archer’s path who superbly found the bottom corner with a side-footed effort. Again the young side made their way to the side of the pitch to celebrate, with the applause even greater and louder than last, in appreciation of number 35, Cameron Archer, for a fine hat-trick.

The closing stages saw chances for both teams, with the best of the bunch in Burton’s favour. Amadi Holloway unleashed a shot from distance, and if it wasn’t for top diving save from Villa’s 17-year-old Polish Goalkeeper, it would have been a nervy finish to an already spectacular game. The Under 21’s remained resolute and saw the game out, however, and earned another three points gifting them qualification to the knockout rounds of the competition.

On a night that will naturally have Cameron Archer’s name in the headlines, the whole team deserved the credit for digging deep and coming from behind against a League 1 side, thanks to an extraordinary second-half display. The future is certainly bright, and Mark Delaney’s youngsters are back in action this Saturday in a Second City Derby fixture that will kick-off just before the first team play Wolverhampton Wanderers. They continue their Papa Johns Trophy campaign on Tuesday 26th October, as they travel to Stadium MK intending to top the group and make it three wins from three.


INTERNATIONAL VILLANS

During the break from domestic football, many Villa stars have been busy representing their countries in qualification games for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. Let’s see which players have been in action and how they have fared.

Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins have been a part of Gareth Southgate’s England camp as they comfortably beat Andorra on Saturday and drew 1-1 with Hungary at Wembley on Tuesday night. Watkins played the final 10 minutes of the 5-0 win against Andorra replacing former Villa loanee Tammy Abraham, but struggled to get a touch on the ball in the closing stages of that one. The striker also came on in stoppage time and was presented with a half-chance to win the game, but Peter Gulacsi saved his effort comfortably. Our captain didn’t feature in the first game, but played the full 90 minutes in the other fixture, and looked as solid as ever on the left of a centre-back pairing with Manchester City’s John Stones.

Jacob Ramsey made his debut in a start for England Under 21’s and put in an impressive display as he played the entirety of a 2-2 draw, unfortunately, the midfielder did not play a minute in the other that saw Emile Smith-Rowe score the only goal of the game, but this will benefit the academy product immensely as he continues his fantastic start to the campaign. His brother Aaron played three times for England Under 19’s, firstly losing 3-1 to France, then scoring in a 3-1 win over Mexico, and finally featuring in a narrow loss to Belgium. Goalkeeper Filip Marschall started the latter.

Another English youngster Jaden Philogene-Bidace played in a 1-1 draw with Italy for the Under ’20s, and came off the bench in a thrashing of Czech Republic a few days later.

Carney Chukwumeka has expectedly missed the internationals with a suspected injury, lets hope this is just a precaution!

Elsewhere John McGinn saw plenty of action as he played the full 90 minutes at Hampden Park which saw his Scotland side dramatically beat Israel 3-2, in a 2nd vs 3rd placed battle in Group F of the World Cup Qualifiers. McGinn was all over the pitch as per usual and managed to bag the Scots’ first goal of the night with a sublime curling effort from the edge of the box. He then went on to play another full game away against the Faroe Islands, in another match that saw the Scots win late by a goal to nil.

The young Dutchmen in Lamare Bogarde and Sil Swinkels played two games for the Under 18’s, losing 1-0 to Sweden and winning 4-2 against Austria in a game that saw Bogarde captain the side. Goalkeeper Viljami Sinisalo also captained his Finland Under 23 side to a 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan, and a 3-1 win over Austria.

Down in South America, Emi Martinez kept two clean sheets and impressed in both games, as his Argentina side stalemated against Paraguay and beat Uruguay comfortably 3-0. Martinez was typically on top form and Lionel Messi had the following to say about his ‘keeper: “He’s gotten better since the Copa America and now we have one of the best goalkeepers in the world, no doubts.” – high praise from one of the best players in the world, and deserved! We are certainly lucky to have the shot-stopper.

Emi Martinez with superstar Lionel Messi during the Copa America Finals.

Elsewhere, Douglas Luiz was unused in both his games after receiving a late call-up to the Brazil team in place of Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro. This has caused some fury among Villa fans during the last week, who have labelled the call-up ‘pointless’ due to his lack of game time whilst with the national team and the snowball effect that has risked his inclusion for the Wolves match.

Over in Africa, Marvelous Nakamba played both games as his Zimbabwe team lost twice to Ghana, and Bertrand Traore, unfortunately, found himself sidelined through injury as Burkino Faso beat Djibouti by an aggregate score of 6-0 across both fixtures.

We will find out the extent of Traore’s injury and more thoughts from Dean Smith in Friday’s Press Conference. Lets hope the boys are up for it, and make the 40,000+ Villans go home happy after a rivalry win. Up the Villa.

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