THE BUILD-UP

Dean Smith will look to move on quickly from last Friday night’s disastrous defeat to Arsenal and hopes his side can get back to winning ways as they face a high-flying West Ham United side in round 10 of the Premier League.

Villa’s last win was the triumph at Old Trafford last month, courtesy of a Kortney Hause late winner and a Bruno Fernandes missed penalty. But this was four games ago, and the three losses since have sparked worry among the claret and blue fan base.

Performances of late, and some would say for most of the season, have been incredibly disappointing and is the biggest concern. Having played nine games, it doesn’t appear as if Smith knows exactly what system is best for his group of players. Some fixtures have started with a variance of a 4-back formation, and the previous have, of course, seen the 3-5-2 in action. This conundrum has been on the minds of Villa fans for the last week, and it seems likely that Smith will go back to the 4-2-3-1 system that we saw for a large part of last season.

In the Head Coach’s defence, he is yet to have a fully-fit squad to choose from, and with that, we can certainly look forward to Sunday’s game. This is because we could finally see the front three that we have desired for nearly three months now start:

Watkins – Ings – Bailey

After playing the second half of the Arsenal game, and with several full training sessions completed, we could see Leon Bailey start his first match for Aston Villa.

“he got a good 45 minutes against Arsenal … we will assess him tomorrow (Saturday) if he’s ready to start or not”.

– Dean Smith on Bailey’s chances of starting.

Hopefully, this prospect will help get the best out of the two English forwards who may partner him in attack (Ings and Watkins). As spoken about previously, we are yet to see these two come alive as a duo, so maybe the Jamaican is the key to unlocking an effective and threatening attack for the side!

Pictured: Leon Bailey, who is looking to make his first start for the club this weekend.

Bertrand Traore and Anwar El Ghazi are also options for this system; could we see either play on Sunday? AEG hasn’t started a Premier League game since the draw with Brentford and has only since appeared in the recent loss to Arsenal after replacing Danny Ings on 77 minutes. Meanwhile, Bertrand Traore has struggled with injuries all season and has only played 53 minutes of football in the league. Once he is back fit and playing, I believe he could contribute massively. Traore is a unique player who carries a lot of technique and quality, and with a season under his belt, I hope he can make a difference up front. Youngster Jaden Philogene-Bidace will miss the game, having picked up an illness over the last week or so.


FAN CAM


Of course, young Cameron Archer is not making it easy to keep his name out of contention after performing excellently once again for the U23’s. The 19-year-old picked up another two goals in a midweek victory over MK Dons, meaning Mark Delaney’s side topped their group in the Papa Johns Trophy as a result. Keinan Davis, coming back from a spell on the sidelines, has also been impressing for the youth side, grabbing a goal in the last two games he’s played and assisting a couple here and there too. Could the forward find his way back into the first team, or is the highly discussed prospect of a loan move his outcome come January?

Moving onto the midfield, for me, it should pick itself for the game (if we remain with the three), but it has been another hot topic among Villa fans for the last nine days. Here is what I would go with:

McGinn – Ramsey

Luiz

Of course, this means the dropping of record signing Emi Buendia, but I’m sure we can all agree his performances so far haven’t been up to scratch. We have certainly seen glimpses of an excellent player, and you only have to look back at his time with Norwich City to know that he is more than capable of showing his class at this level. However, after the immediate impact of Jacob Ramsey against Arsenal plus his excellent start to the campaign, I believe the young midfielder would bode well against a physical West Ham team, likewise with John McGinn and Douglas Luiz. Albeit the players who started the last game did not play well, we have seen what Luiz is capable of, and before the defeat in North London, McGinn was in some of the best form of his life. A no-brainer, in my opinion.

Like Bidace, Morgan Sanson will, unfortunately, miss the game with illness, as Villa fans STILL have to wait to see the Frenchman get a serious run in the team. I believe the battle in the middle of the pitch will be critical in this fixture, so could we see Marvelous Nakamba favoured instead? The Zimbabwean international, who this week has been linked with a January move to Newcastle, could feature in the pivot, allowing some of our more creative midfielders the freedom to move the ball quickly and generate some chances. Carney Chukwuemeka, who has been out of first-team action recently, made a comeback for the U23 side last Friday in a loss against Sunderland’s U23s. The No.33 turned 18-years-old last week, and Villa fans should expect to see him in the matchday squad on Sunday and hopefully see him with a new professional contract over the new few weeks!

Finally, let us talk about the defence. I would like to see a flat back four consisting of the players that helped keep 15 clean sheets last season. As seen below:

Targett – Mings – Konsa – Cash

Martinez

The back 5 of last season was the most consistent part of the side and picked itself week in, week out. Dean Smith has attempted to change things up and adjust systems to get the best out of the players he has, but it hasn’t been successful, so I believe going back to what we know is solid from last year is the way around the current issues.

For me, Ezri Konsa and Matty Cash are staples in the side and have been excellent all season, just as we have always known them to be. The only small doubts I have in the back four are Matt Targett and captain Tyrone Mings.

Everyone can see Targett has struggled in the side so far, especially in the 3-5-2, but the No. 3 was faultless at LB in the 20/21 season. Therefore I believe resorting back into 4-2-3-1 will help get him back to his best. I have seen some people put Ashley Young in their desired lineups at left-back, a man who hasn’t been featured since the Carabao Cup penalty shootout exit to Chelsea. Would Young, who missed one of the penalties in that game, be a better option over the out-of-form Matt Targett, or should last season’s Player of the Season winner remain?

Another widely-discussed topic is that of the left-sided centre-back position. Tyrone Mings, our captain, is likely to start, of course. Still, many fans believe he is too inconsistent and worries at the possibility of a defensive error, something that many deem to occur too often. Tuanzebe would be the man to miss out should Mings keep his place and the 3-5-2 system is scrapped. The loanee has struggled reasonably during his third spell, and like Targett, I think he finds it hard in a back 3. Kortney Hause is the other option who would be most likely to replace Mings. Hause last started against Tottenham a few games ago but was dropped for Tuanzebe against Wolves and Arsenal. Could we see the 26-year-old regain his place in defence and look to continue his fine form from the Man United game?

Pictured: Kortney Hause and teammates celebrate his winner at Old Trafford. Could he start on Sunday?

The one player who cannot be dropped, based on performance, is, of course, Emi Martinez. The No.1, despite conceding three, was as class as always against former team Arsenal, making some fine saves and significantly denying Aubameyang from 12 yards. The Argentine has saved 50% of penalties he has faced, 8 out of 16 – a stat any goalkeeper would be immensely proud of. Martinez has recently flown out to Argentina to visit his father, who had fallen ill in the week. Smith confirmed that the shot-stopper was back in the country and trained on Friday, though, so is not a doubt for the game. Let’s hope he can claim his 4th clean sheet of the season as Villa aim to shut out a confident West Ham side.

Regardless of the chosen players, the one change that I believe Smith almost has to make is the formation. As spoken about earlier, the 3-5-2 hasn’t worked consistently, and it needs to be eradicated immediately if we want to look at finding some form and picking up some much-needed points.

PREDICTED LINE-UP

LAST TIME OUT

I’ll make this brief.

Aston Villa fell to defeat for the third time in as many games as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side completely outclassed the midlands club. This loss ended their good form against Arsenal, after beating the North London side in the previous three attempts, and all without conceding!

The most disappointing thing to come from the game was the first half’s performance which saw us 2-0 down and without any attempts at Arsenal’s goal. Smith spoke before the game about how he wanted a reaction from his team after the bitter loss to Wolves the week before; however, this was not delivered, and if anything, we look significantly worse. Sloppy passes and individual mistakes summed up the first 45 for Villa, where the back 5 struggled to cope with the opposition coming forward, and when in possession, could not deal with Arsenal’s intense press. Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings were nowhere to be seen, all half due to the lack of support and poor service to the pair. A lack of creativity from Emi Buendia and a poor showing from John McGinn and midfield partner Douglas Luiz allowed the ball to pass the middle-third too easily, which saw the red and whites exploit passing lanes far too often, creating chance after chance. The only real positive, I suppose, was goalkeeper Emi Martinez’s display, denying the home side good opportunities, including a penalty save. It was a poor showing elsewhere, though, and the scoreline reflected an inexcusable half for the away side.

Pictured: Emi Buendia with his head in his hands following a disappointing perfomance at the Emirates Stadium.

Changes were most definitely needed at the break, both to the team and how we were trying to play, as it simply wasn’t working. Smith followed through and took Axel Tuanzebe off for winger Leon Bailey as he sent his team out trying to claw something back from the game.

Villa started a lot brighter, creating some chances and having their first few attempts at the Arsenal goal, but after a well-worked counter-attack, Villa found themselves 3-0 down and out of the game. From here, it mainly was about damage limitation. Crucially, after the third, there was a reaction and more of an intent to surge up the pitch and create more chances. It was just too little too late for Dean Smith’s side. Jacob Ramsey did find the net for his first Aston Villa goal with 10 minutes to go, but it was too high a mountain to climb at that point in the game, despite good chances appearing for Watkins and Bailey late on. A much better second-half, that is for sure, but nowhere near good enough as a collective to warrant a positive and confident feeling post-game.

“It hurts and I hope it hurts the players. We spoke in the dressing room – or I did – at length, and hopefully now we get a reaction this weekend and we can get back to winning ways.”

Dean Smith post-game.

A new week breeds a fresh start, however, and with the likely change information and lineup, surely there can still be a sense of optimism for this Sunday? We know what this group is capable of and that on our day, we can beat anyone. The players will be eager to forget the last few results and will get all three points in this next one.

THE OPPOSITION

Aston Villa is yet to beat West Ham since promotion to the Premier League, drawing both games in our first season back. The 19/20 season saw a goalless draw at Villa Park and a dramatic 1-1 at the London Stadium in the season’s final game, which saw us stay in the league by the skin of our teeth, thanks to a Jack Grealish opener.

Last years encounters both ended in losses, including a highly dramatic game in London that saw the hammers come out as victors in a pulsating 2-1 win. Ogbonna opened the scoring inside the first two minutes before Grealish equalised halfway through the first half. Jarrod Bowen would start the second half with his own goal before the drama unfolded, seeing Ollie Watkins miss a penalty and controversially having a goal disallowed through VAR.

The reverse fixture at Villa Park was far more one-sided, as the away team were dominant and came out as comfortable winners. Jesse Lingard caught the headlines as the loanee scored a brace on his West Ham debut.

Pictured: Jesse Lingard celebrates with his teammates after scoring a brace at Villa Park.

David Moyes’s side has had a real come-up since the start of last season – quite the story considering they too were involved in the relegation scrap during the 19/20 campaign. They recorded one of their best Premier League finishes last season, achieving 6th place and consequently qualifying for the Europa League for this season.

The fellow claret and blue side have picked up where they left off so far as they currently sit 4th in the table on 17 points, having only lost to Brentford and Man United all season.

Said Benrahma and Jarod Bowen have found their feet at this level. Alongside top scorer Michael Antonio who has hit the ground running with six goals already, only behind Mo Salah (10), they look a real threat going forward. Bowen found the net against us at the London Stadium last season, and the ex-Villa target has two goals and three assists in the league, making an impressive start.

A hard-working trio of Declan Rice, Pablo Fornals and Tomas Soucek occupy the midfield, and a game against these three always point to an excellent physical battle in the middle of the park. Rice has been a staple in the Irons’ side for the last few years, and it is no wonder why the vice-captain is linked with a big-money move away. He has very little reason to leave this West Ham side at the moment, though, as they are flying.

They are defensively solid, too, with new recruit Kurt Zouma settling nicely at his new club alongside centre-back partner Angelo Ogbonna. Ben Johnson has entered the fold recently replacing an injured Vladimir Coufal but looks the real deal in at right-back with his side yet to concede whilst he has been on the pitch. On the other side, Aaron Cresswell has made a positive start also, with the 31-year-old racking up a goal and three assists to his name. The left-back is United’s typical set-piece taker, something his team are incredibly effective from, proven through their four goals already scored from dead-ball scenarios, ranking them second in the division in that stat.

On the contrary, Villa have conceded six goals from set-pieces in the nine games they’ve played so far, ranking them second worst in that particular subject, only behind Crystal Palace (7). Set-piece coach Austin McPhee will have had it all to do in preparation for this one!

“They are in a really good moment, they are a very good team with a very good coach. “I expect a tough game, but it’s one that we are looking forward to.”

Dean Smith on this week’s opposition.
Pictured: Coaches Dean Smith and David Moyes go head to head this weekend.

It is clear to see why Dean Smith admires his fellow manager David Moyes, with his West Ham United side not only performing well in the league but also cup competitions and Europe. Their Carabao Cup run has been successful after beating both Man United 1-0 at Old Trafford courtesy of a Manuel Lanzini goal, and recently a penalty-shootout victory over Man City, helping them reach the last eight. Meanwhile, in the Europa League, the Hammers are dominating Group H with three wins against Genk, Rapid Vienna and Dinamo Zagreb, all without conceding a single goal. It is looking very likely, bar a total collapse in their remaining three fixtures, that they will qualify to the competition’s knockout stages.

Certainly a side to fear at the moment.

FINAL WORD

On what has been an undesirable last few games for Aston Villa and with a challenging run of games to come, starting with West Ham, it is crucial not to lose faith. Time and time again, as Villa fans, we have seen our team come out of tricky spells and kick on with a good run of form – all it takes is that one game to change your fortunes. Whilst it won’t be easy, let’s hope we can see that happen at Villa Park this weekend.

Villa will need to start the game a lot better than last time out, as falling behind against a David Moyes side is always a tough ask for any team. We have to do the basics right first and then impose ourselves onto the West Ham defence, getting our technical players on the ball often and allowing them to execute that perfect pass or deliver that bit of quality that can lead to a goal. The performance of the back five will be vital in this one, and they will each have to repeat last season’s solidarity and keep out the inform West Ham forwards, as well as their big men from set-pieces.

Game management from both Smith and the players will be critical also. If Bailey doesn’t start and we are behind, when do you bring him and/or others on? If we are backs to the walls in the last 10 minutes but a goal up, do you tighten up the midfield/defence with a change? This game will be testing for Dean Smith and his team, as fans are eager to change form and performance.

I believe Villa can get result from this game and am predicting a respectable 1-1 draw, with Ollie Watkins bagging his second goal of the season. Let’s hope the boys will do us all proud at a packed out Villa Park and get those 3 points!

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