Aston Villa will make the short trip south this Sunday to face Birmingham City in the second fixture of the Second City Derby. Both teams will be hungry for the 3 points as they chase their ever fleeting hopes of finishing in the EFL’s top 6.
After winning the first leg 4-2 at Villa Park, Dean Smith’s Aston Villa will surely come into this match with confidence, believing that more goals can be scored against their Birmingham rivals. However, defending might be another story. The club is down to its second choice at nearly every position along the back 4, with no immediate return in sight for the likes of Alan Hutton, James Chester, Axel Tuanzebe, or Tommy Elphick. These things said, here are some matchups to watch for in this Sunday’s fixture.
Birmingham’s Strikers vs. Aston Villa CBs
The first of these fixtures this year saw Aston Villa start James Chester and Axel Tuanzebe alongside each other on the back line. They were okay that match, with only one of the two Birmingham goals being directly related to a problem for either of the two defenders mentioned. This match should see Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause play for Dean Smith’s starting XI. The question then, is how these two will handle the likes of the physical Lukas Jutkiewicz, and the more pacey, positioning-centric poacher Che Adams. I anticipate that Birmingham will look to have Jutkiewicz try to bully the smaller Hause, and force Mings into situations where he will have to help, presumably freeing up space for Adams. The Villa back line must stay disciplined and not get caught out in these traps. If Jutkiewicz muscles his way in for a goal, so be it.
Jed Steer Commanding the Box
The man between the sticks for Aston Villa will presumably be Jed Steer, who has performed admirably in the absences of Ørjan Nyland and Lovre Kalanic. Steer has looked more decisive and confident than the latter two goalkeepers, coming out for crosses, and chasing down balls at the edge of the box. The addition of Mings in the CB position has certainly only served to benefit whomever is in goal for Aston Villa, as was made evident during the previous match against Derby County in which the opposition managed 0 shots on goal. Hopefully Steer can continue his confident ways, and help in keeping the defense organized, allowing Mings/Hause to focus on the task at hand.
Aston Villa’s Midfield Trio
This might be the biggest lineup decision Dean Smith will have to make this weekend, now that John McGinn is back from suspension. The group of Jack Grealish, Connor Hourihane, and Glenn Whelan were excellent against Derby County. It would be difficult for Smith to make the call to drop Whelan or Hourihane for McGinn, given their previous performance. Who starts this match should tell you all you need to know about the gameplan for the match. I think if its Whelan and Hourihane, that would indicate that Villa will actually be a bit more aggressive on the high press, allowing Whelan to stay back a bit, and act as an extra line of defense near the back. If McGinn starts, I actually anticipate that the team will sit back a bit further with McGinn and Hourihane/Whelan, letting them snatch the ball in the Aston Villa half, launching venomous counter-attacks.
This game will surely have some goals in it. Hopefully Aston Villa can maintain control of the center of the pitch, and force Birmingham into attacks from wider positions. That should make it more difficult for them to score through their strike pairing. That control of the center of the pitch would also enable Villa to launch their attacks on the most direct line to Centre Forward Tammy Abraham. Time to take the city. UTV