Tough, quality win at Leicester Sunday followed by a completely different test against Leeds tonight. Adding a bit of froth is the recent history between the two sides and the way the press has handled Marcelo Bielsa compared with Dean Smith.
So, what are we looking at? Leeds are a high-intensity team who like to man-mark. So job one is to match the intensity. And then take a couple days off as John McGinn has suggested.
Job two is to take advantage of the marking, and the gaps Leeds will leave. Phillips is a big loss, as he’d most likely be the one tasked with shutting down Grealish and/or Barkley. Now they’ve got a CB who’ll take that on. On Villa’s side, Luiz will need to have a good match. He’s got the legs, but he’ll have to be tuned in. Ditto for McGinn if he’s tucked in alongside. Trez? Likewise, he’ll be running all night, and that’ll be significant.
But while everyone expects a wide-open and perhaps high-scoring affair, you never know. Both sides could be cagey and look to the counter. Of the two, I’d expect Villa to be the more “cautious,” look to contain and frustrate, watch the deep runs, and then make Leeds pay. Think Liverpool. But Leeds will be thinking Liverpool, too. They’ll know we can punish them. The question is whether they want to come and trade goals thinking they’ll end up on top.
For me, the x-factor is that Villa have shown they’re less naive now than they were coming up, and with Konsa and Mings really clicking, we have a fast, athletic CB pairing. Cash is fast and tireless, good on the ball, and solid in defending. Targett, less quick, but he has been getting stuck in more and anticipating better. Behind it all, Emi Martinez is inspiring a lot of confidence. If Villa are as disciplined and professional as they were at Leicester, I’m hoping we won’t be caught out too often. So when I say “cautious,” I’m really talking about looking to manage the game. It’s getting Leeds to be more naive that counts, and whether they’ll take the bait.
Aggressive man-marking can make it tough to play, but it’s a double-edged sword, and Grealish finds ways, like he did against Castagne, to wriggle free and adapt. When that happens, there’s space as he starts drawing players to him. Barkley, strong on the ball and showing good distribution, will mean Jack has a solid outlet/partner, and that Leeds have more than one creative avenue to worry about. Ollie’s pace, movement, and work-rate are plusses as well. Traoré might also have something to say against a tiring defense.
Remember: Leeds may have scored 9, but they’ve conceded 9. Not exactly a defensive juggernaut, but they’ve tightened things up in their last three matches, and seemingly at the expense of goals.
Anyway, it’s going to be interesting. Win streaks always end, but I don’t think Villa will be complacent. There’s enough spice to the fixture to prevent that.
No idea how it turns out, but it’s fun being excited and feeling like the team know what they’re doing.
Team news? No surprise, Villa are unchanged. Davis replaces El Ghazi on the bench.
Over to you.