THE BUILD-UP

Aston Villa face Brighton & Hove Albion in match-week twelve of the Premier League, a game that kick starts life under Steven Gerrard for the claret and blue side.

Graham Potter and his Brighton team sit in a respectable 7th position in the league after making an impressive start to the 2021/22 campaign. Tallying up 17 points after just eleven games sees them level on points with Manchester United and just three points off the top five. Villa are placed in a disappointing 16th position on just 10 points and only two points off the relegation zone, but are eagerly looking at bouncing back from five straight defeats.

The headlines in the build-up to this game primarily revolve around Steven Gerrard and the fact that it is his first game in charge of Aston Villa. It will certainly be interesting to see who makes his first lineup and how he chooses to have them playing. Will it resemble that of the system he played at Rangers, or does he have an alternative playing style in mind that are more suited to the new squad he has, and the new league?

It is fair to say we do not completely know what to expect in terms of starting lineup come Saturday afternoon, but Gerrard has spoken to the press in the week discussing his management methods and attitude towards his coaching role that get the best out of his players and leave no room for slack in training.

This can only be of a benefit for both the squad, making them work harder and allowing them to improve and progress both individually and as a unit, and the fans who demand hard-work and graft from their beloved side.

Steven Gerrard is seemingly excited to be a part of such a prestigious football club, and with this honour, is determined to help them succeed and steer them on the right track back to the success that the stands of Villa Park once witnessed.

 “…it’s an extremely proud moment for myself. It’s an honour to be the Head Coach of this football club.”

– Steven Gerrard’s opening lines in Thursday morning’s press conference.
( https://www.avfc.co.uk/news/2021/november/18/key-qoutes/ )
Pictured: Steven Gerrard posing as Aston Villa’s new Head Coach.

The general feeling in the weeks leading up to this game, is that of excitement, with many fans expressing their anticipation and that ‘I can’t wait’ feeling, as they return to Villa Park for the first time since that humbling defeat to West Ham three weeks ago.

They will, of course, be hoping for a change in form and a first game win under their new head coach, as they look to put an end to a dismal last five games that have all ended in defeat, and as a result, spelled the end of things for Dean Smith.

TEAM NEWS

Once again, many Aston Villa players have been involved in international football over the course of the last couple of weeks, continuing their Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying journeys with their respective nations. Let’s see how our international Villans have got on.

Starting with the captain, Tyrone Mings, who was a part of Gareth Southgate’s England camp that played against Albania and San Marino in their final two qualifying fixtures. Mings did not feature in the former, but played the full 90 minutes of the second game and registered a clean sheet and his first ever goal for England! A proud moment for the no.5, as his side made it through relatively comfortably as group winners.

North of the border, John McGinn once again travelled with his nation Scotland as they faced Moldova and Denmark. McGinn who is usually a staple in the Scots’ side, played 179 minutes of these two fixtures and put in some more impressive performances, registering an assist for Nathan Patterson’s opening goal at the Stadoinul Zimbru, in Moldova, before playing a key part in the 2-0 victory over Denmark. Scotland consequently advance as a seeded team in the play-offs.

Matty Cash had a whirlwind of a fortnight as he was called up to the Polish national team for the first time after pledging his allegiance with Polska late last month. The right-back tallied up a total of 73 minutes over the two fixtures against Andorra and Hungary, which ended in contrasting outcomes; a 4-1 win in the first and a 2-1 defeat in the next. This was enough to secure qualification to the play-offs as an unseeded side.

Pictured: Matty Cash speaking to the media following his Polska debut.

Goalkeeper Emi Martinez kept two more clean sheets as his Argentina side secured their qualification spot as runners-up in the group with a 1-0 win over Uruguay thanks to an Angel Di Maria goal, and a stalemate against group winners Brazil.

Marvelous Nakamba’s Zimbabwe side sadly finished bottom of their group in the African qualifiers after falling to defeat against South Africa and drawing to third-place Ethiopia. Nakamba played 86 minutes of the first fixture, but picked up a slight thigh strain that saw him taken off and kept him out of their final group game.

Leon Bailey’s Jamaica, who still have time to qualify with six games still to play, sit 6th in the North-American group, and with this set of fixtures took a point off El Salvador and USA, as both of those games finished one apiece.

Jacob Ramsey won the man of the match accolade as he played the full game against Czech Republic U21s as his side won 3-1, with JJ picking up an assist and putting in a superb performance. He was benched for the second game against Georgia, but played the final 25 minutes in a 3-2 defeat.

Many of Villa’s younger players were in action for their respective nation’s youth sides too, including Sil Swinkels, Carney Chukwuemeka, Jaden Philogene-Bidace, Aaron Ramsey and Viljami Sinisalo. Cameron Archer was also in action having been called up to the England U20 side for the first time and played the final 25 minutes as his side lost 2-0 to Portugal.

In terms of injury news, Aston Villa are expected to have Danny Ings back in contention to play for this weekend’s game, with the 29 year-old striker missing the previous two games due to illness.

Pictured: Danny Ings, who is hoping to be back in action this weekend.

Ings was spotted in pictures released from Bodymoor Heath earlier this week alongside Trezeguet, who featured in team training for the first time this season, after sustaining an ACL injury in April’s 2-1 defeat at Anfield. The Egyptian has only recently taken to the grass, and has been practicing on his own for the last couple of weeks as he continues his recovery.

Our international Villans, have all returned back to B6 without picking up any significant injuries, however Marvelous Nakamba seems to have picked up a thigh strain in his game against South Africa as mentioned. Leon Bailey hobbled off with cramp late on against USA too, but both are believed to be okay and available for selection.

Bertrand Traore missed this round of international fixtures for Burkino Faso due to his ongoing thigh issue that has kept him sidelined for a large part of this season, and Douglas Luiz is a doubt for this one with his persistent hamstring injury that has hindered him for the last few weeks or so.

It is also believed that Aston Villa fans will not see Morgan Sanson at Villa Park this weekend with the Frenchman not spotted in any training pictures and no new update emerging over the international break regarding his injury situation. That makes it 21 Premier League games since we last saw Sanson feature, for those wondering, it was in the 3-1 victory over Fulham FC – such a disappointing stat given the excitement around his transfer and the potential that the midfielder has.

Other than that though, Steven Gerrard will have a full squad to choose from, and as previously mentioned, it has been on the minds of most Villa fans this week as to who the former England international will choose in his first ever Aston Villa lineup. It is believed among media writers and reporters that he will stick with the 4-3-3 formation that we saw during his time at Rangers, with the expected lineup as followed:

THE OPPONENTS

Having endured a positive start to the 21/22 Premier League season so far, unsettling Leicester FC earlier on and holding a ruthless Liverpool FC side to a draw, Brighton & Hove Albion are definitely a team to keep an eye one.

Graham Potter is a man that many Villa fans would have liked to have seen appointed as new head coach due to the progress he has made during his two and a bit years at the Amex Stadium, and the eye-catching football he has played in that time. I am also an admirer of the former Swansea City boss, particularly of the football he plays, and his willingness to continue playing this system despite the level of opponent that he faces.

This system that we have seen since his appointment as Brighton boss in 2019, is that of a 3-5-2 with an emphasis on the use of wide centre-backs, over-lapping fullbacks, and a versatile midfield and attack that cause teams plenty of problems with their free-flowing movement, ability to play out from the back and desire to pin teams in and play in their half.

This approach hasn’t been as effective in recent games for the seaside team however, who currently find themselves in tough patch of form, with their last six games in the league ending in five draws and a defeat. This contrast in form has seen Brighton slip from as a high as second in the league to outside of the top six, but the team in blue and white still look full of confidence and just as threatening as they have been all season.

Pictured: Leandro Trossard taking a penalty against Newcastle United in Brighton and Hove Albion’s last league fixture.

Players such as Leandro Trossard and new recuit Marc Cucurella have impressed so far this campaign, but it is the whole squad and their team-based performances that have stood out for the Seagulls this season. Brighton’s top goal scorer is Neal Maupay who currently sits on four goals so far, and he will certainly be a threat for the Aston Villa defence, with his fine attacking movement.

This weekend’s away side will be without goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, after the Spaniard was sent off in the last fixture against Newcastle United for impeding striker Callum Wilson whilst through on goal. It is expected that Jason Steele, formerly of Sunderland FC, will be the man to replace him in net.

Steven Alzate and Danny Welbeck will also miss the game with long-term injuries of their own and defender Dan Burn and midfielder Enock Mwepu are doubts for the one.

FIXTURE HISTORY

Past meetings between the two have seen this weekend’s home side (Aston Villa) take more glory, having won 13 games out of the 27 competitive matches played. This fixture has typically always been closely contested however, and has produced a further nine draws and five Brighton victories, with the first game dating as far back as September 1910 in the FA Charity Shield, where the Seagulls defeated the Villans by a goal to nil.

This tight fixture has seen many memorable affairs, but none more so than that in October 1980, where Aston Villa were able to get the better of the blue and whites in a Division One league match that finished with a scoreline of 4-1. Goals from Des Bremner, that season’s top scorer Peter Withe, captain Dennis Mortimer and Gary Shaw, sealed a fine win at Villa Park. This victory was of course significant as it contributed towards a title winning season for the midlands side, and also saw them qualify for the European Cup which they would go on to win the following year!

Pictured: Dennis Mortimer posing with the 1980/81 League One trophy.

There have also been some memorable fixtures between Aston Villa and Brighton in more recent times, that have each provided plenty of drama and ‘limbs-inducing’ moments for the Villa faithful. One that instantly springs to mind is the 2-1 victory at Villa Park a couple years ago, where Matt Targett scored his first goal for the club in dramatic fashion, due to it coming in the 94th minute. These three points were of course vital to the team due to the ongoing fight with relegation the club faced that year.

I remember being in a random pub somewhere in Bath watching Sky Sports News as this goal went in, and going absolutely barmy in front of a table of Leeds United fans. If my memory serves me well, I would consequently get kicked out, but the celebrations were completely worthwhile and necessary (at least in my opinion).

Another fixture that is well remembered among Villa fans is that of the 1-1 draw at the Amex Stadium, also in the 19/20 season. In a game that was, for the most part, dominated by the Seagulls, a moment of magic between Douglas Luiz and Jack Grealish that saw a terrific, inch-perfect pass from the Brazilian and a seamless touch and finish from the former captain, it brought about some of the best set of celebrations you will ever witness. Villa fans went flying in that away end, and anyone who was a part of it would hold very fond memories of that day, I’m sure. Once again this point would prove significant, particularly because the club would finish a point ahead of Bournemouth FC at the end of the campaign.

As you can see Aston Villa vs Brighton is typically a well contested affair, that is renowned for providing us with good memories over the years. Lets hope this one is no different, especially given the circumstances at hand, and we can seal a much-needed win or a well-deserved point.

FINAL THOUGHTS/ PREDICTION

To finish off, I will give my opinion on the upcoming game, and provide a match prediction on the scoreline and how I think the game will play out.

Firstly, I think (and hope) it will be a day full of good feeling and positivity as a new era begins at the club. Gerrard and his staff will require a top tier atmopshere at Villa Park on Saturday, one that will tell them they are supported, trusted and welcomed by the supporters, and one that will give the players a necessary boost to start the new chapter off successfully.

In terms of the game, I think it will be a tough and cagey couple of opening exchanges, with the players having to adjust and get a feel to the new roles or positions they may have, or responsibilities they carry as part of a Steven Gerrard team. I believe the players will calibrate themselves quickly however, as Gerrard emphasised that his side will be ‘be prepared’ heading into the fixture, and with that I feel we can start to dictate play and get the possession-focused play-style going, that the new coach enjoys.

Of course Brighton have shown they are a very capable team and we certainly cannot underplay them as a good-footballing side, who too, want to be in possession of the ball more often then not. With that, I think the game will be played in equal spells on and off the ball, but given the home advantage, Villa will edge it ever so slightly.

I believe the game will end 0-0 come half-time however, with several chances opening up for each team over the course of the 45, but nothing ‘clear cut’ either way.

I can see the second-half starting well for the claret and blues, with Gerrard providing a measured team talk at the break, that will benefit his side and, partnered with the atmosphere of Villa Park, help them control the game. Chances will start to open up for the home team, with players such as Buendia or McGinn seeing a lot of the ball and carving open opportunities for the forward line to express themselves in.

I believe this relentless pressure and dominance will eventually lead to the opening goal, with Emi Buendia bagging on his return to the side. 1-0. Que a Villa Park eruption.

Like the Everton game earlier this season, I can only see the opening goal having a positive effect on the atmosphere, the confidence of the players and the run of the game. From here, we will assert ourselves and manage the remainder of the match effectively, with the defence remaining stable and solid and the rest of the team compact off the ball to ensure no gaps emerge for Brighton to exploit.

Despite the away side seeing most of the ball in the closing stages, I believe Villa can hold out and secure the victory. A victory that will be so important and have a substantial impact on the side and the fans, and will send a message to the rest of the league and the media that Steven Gerrard is as determined and ‘all in’ as he exclaims, and that his Aston Villa team are ready to climb up the league table.

So, Aston Villa 1-0 Brighton & Hove Albion, courtesy of Emi Buendia’s 2nd of the season, is how I see the game going. How do you think we will fair on Saturday?

I will conclude this piece with a notorious ‘Up The Villa’, and will additionally include Steven Gerrard’s message to the Villa faithful. A message that sums up his thoughts on the club, that can only get you excited for his reign;

“Be prepared to get behind us. I’ve played here on many occasions and the atmosphere’s been top. They really get behind the team and give them a huge lift, and I’ve felt that. It’s been tough to play against this team and this support. It’s a fresh start and I hope that Villa Park is rocking and roaring at the weekend. Myself, my staff and the players need to thrive off it and go and give them a performance to be proud of. There’s a motto at the club, ‘Be Prepared’, and we certainly will be.”

– Steven Gerrard on the Aston Villa fans, and what he wants from them this weekend, provided in his first press conference as the new boss.
( https://www.avfc.co.uk/news/2021/november/18/key-qoutes/ )
Pictured: Steven Gerrard at Villa Park.

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