Dean Smith and his staff have endured a relatively fruitful start to his tenure, winning three matches out of five and playing what should be considered positive football. However, for a boyhood Aston Villa fan, the importance of the derby has to outweigh the importance of the last 5 combined.
Birmingham City will “travel” to Villa Park this weekend to face Aston Villa and kick off the first of this season’s Second City Derby fixtures. Both squads are in relatively good form and see themselves right in the thick of the mix of teams fighting to remain relevant in this year’s Championship table. So not only is this a huge match in terms of the rivalry involved, but this serves as a great opportunity for one of the Birmingham clubs to place themselves to directly hinder the other’s chances at potential promotion.
So, how does the new skipper Dean Smith approach this, his first (and hopefully far from the last) derby day with Aston Villa? Really, apart from some of the injury concerns for a couple of players there is only one way that this game can and should be approached:
Go for it.
I think anyone that has watched a match since Smith’s takeover realize that the optimistic “go for it” philosophy has featured prominently, none more than the full second half display against a strong Derby side. This week should be no different.
Assuming the injuries continue to plague Neil Taylor, James Chester, and John McGinn, Smith may have no option but to employ an all-out-attack, with a lineup to follow suit. The back 4 minus the two Welshmen would probably include not-so-fan-favorite-at-CB Mile Jedinak, as well as Ahmed Elmohamady ( with Alan Hutton presumably shifting to LB). Those three coupled with Axel Tuanzebe is closer to the defensive side that was having trouble with conceding goals earlier in the campaign. Pushing Hutton/Elmo up the wings in attempt to keep Birmingham City on the back foot should be the top priority.
I think playing the more aggressive Birkir Bjarnason in the middle of the midfield is the best option, as he will help more with the high press, despite potentially losing out on some possession/deeper defensive coverage. The influence from the wingers should allow Jack Grealish and Connor Hourihane to pinch inward and assist with mild defensive duties in the midfield as well.
With this, an abundance of wingers should see usage as they will be tasked with marauding all over the final third of the pitch, staying aggressive for the entirety of the match. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing (and am hopeful of seeing) Bolasie – Abraham – Adomah to start the match, wear themselves out pressing, and see the likes of Kodjia – Hogan – El Ghazi finishing the game on the pitch.
Smith should be approaching this game with a very aggressive mentality, and not so much be concerned about potentially giving up a goal. City have been relatively inviting on defense compared to the rest of the league, often allowing aggressive teams a bunch of possession (West Brom 62%, Norwich 71%, Sheff United 63%, Leeds 72%, Derby 70%), which in theory allows for more chances on goal. (City were out-shot by a combined 20 shots in those 5 matches). I see no reason why that should change this match.
Villa : Take the 70% possession and extra 4 shots that you’re going to be given and go for it.