Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion are set to renew rivalries, albeit in the semi-final of the Championship Playoff, at the Villa Park on Saturday.
Dean Smith has worked wonders at Aston Villa. Widely regarded as one of the best up-and-coming managers in the current scene as far as British coaches are concerned, Smith carried over his style of entertaining football from Brentford and a brilliant run of games from mid-season saw Aston Villa make it into the Playoffs vying for a spot in the Premier League.
After the departure of Darren Moore, James Shan take over the role in a caretaker capacity. The Englishman has since steered West Brom towards the Playoff spots, with six wins in the 10 games under his reign. Now the focus shifts to Villa Park, with West Brom having a realistic chance of getting back into the top-flight immediately.
The two teams have had their own share of magic this season. Aston Villa broke their 109-year-old winning streak under Smith while West Brom have somehow navigated a poor run of results at home to seal a place in the Playoffs.
While Shan and Smith have not gone head-to-head as of yet, West Brom did win their encounter at Villa Park in the regular Championship season in February. Before the two former Premier League teams take the field at Villa Park on Saturday, we take a closer look at the two teams.
Team News & Tactics
Orjan Nyland is sidelined for the Playoffs while James Chester is a doubt and is unlikely to make the starting eleven. Dean Smith is in a precarious position. Jed Steer has deputised well in Lovre Kalinic’s absence. But, Kalinic is now back and Smith will have to make the tough choice between reinstating Kalinic or going with the in-form Steer in goal.
Neil Taylor and Ahmad El Mohamady are set to renew their role on either side of the back four. Axel Tuanzebe has been in amazing form and will hope to end his season-long loan at Aston Villa with the same consistency that he has shown so far in his loan spell. Tyrone Mings should complete the back four.
Glenn Whelan will be at the base of the midfield acting as the link between defence and the four-man midfield ahead of him. Jack Grealish will be the creative outlet, with others looking to feed him the ball in the buildup. John McGinn will accompany him in central midfield.
Jonathan Kodija is in form and should command one of the two wide midfield spots while Anwar El Ghazi should assume the other spot. Tammy Abraham should lead Aston Villa’s attack against West Brom on Saturday.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Steer; El Mohamady, Tuanzebe, Mings, Taylor; Whelan; Kodija, McGinn, Grealish, El Ghazi; Abraham
West Bromwich Albion
Gareth Barry is out for the entire Playoff campaign after undergoing a knee surgery. Hal Robson-Kanu is in a similar boat, albeit due to the suspension which comes as a result of a red card against Derby County. Jake Livermore is not fit enough to start on Saturday, but could make the bench.
James Shan has preferred a three-man defensive line and will persist with it against Aston Villa. Ahmed Hegazi and Craig Dawson are experienced personnel that will play a crucial role in tackling Villa’s attacking threat and they will be accompanied by Kyle Bartley, who completes the back three.
Mason Holgate and Kieran Gibbs will likely reprise their roles as the wing-backs who will be responsible for providing width and helping the defence whenever necessary. Stefan Johansen and Rekeem Harper will be the central midfielders, with Jake Livermore set to be on the bench, especially with Johansen and Harper building a good chemistry between them.
The front three has been responsible for West Brom’s qualification to the Playoffs. Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle have been immense in front of goal and will be accompanied by Matt Phillips, especially with Jacob Murphy not being in the best of form in recent matches.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Johnstone; Hegazi, Dawson, Bartley; Holgate, Harper, Johansen, Gibbs; Phillips, Gayle, Rodriguez
1. Aston Villa have won five of their last six home matches in the regular Championship season, with the only loss coming in the most recent fixture against Norwich.
2. West Bromwich Albion, on the other hand, have won just one of their last five away league games coming into the Playoffs.
3. The last 10 league games at Villa Park have produced a total of 32 goals, with both teams scoring in six of those matches.
4. West Brom have had a player sent off in two of their last five away league fixtures.
5. Dwight Gayle has scored in only four of his last 10 Championship appearances, but has seven goals in the said fixtures.
Player to Watch
The on-loan Manchester United defender has been a consistent performer at the back for Aston Villa. Tuanzebe still needs a bit of work to improve his aerial presence, but his technical ability and defensive acumen has shined through at Villa Park this season. Now, with Manchester United set to go under a rebuild under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer,
Tuanzebe can make a case for himself to be included in the scheme of things with his performances for Aston Villa in the Playoffs. Solskjaer needs passionate men who can step up on big occasions and Tuanzebe can showcase the same by helping Villa be defensively solid in their bid for promotion.
Aston Villa 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Villa Park hasn’t exactly been the best hunting ground for Aston Villa this season. But, Dean Smith will be keen to address his defence, especially with the goal friendly West Brom coming to pay them a visit. West Brom are prone to being defensively fragile and have conceded 12 in their last 6 away fixtures, compared to Villa’s recent home record of conceding just 4 goals in their last 6 home games.
We expect Aston Villa to put on a clinical display, with their defence likely to absorb all the pressure. Dean Smith will rely on Grealish & co. to bring in an odd goal. We are going with a slim 1-0 win for Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday.