Fresh off a two-win week, Aston Villa are set to play host to Premier League newcomers Brentford on Saturday afternoon.
The Villans toppled Newcastle, 2-0, for their first win of the season last Saturday before pummeling League Two Barrow, 6-0, in the second round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday evening.
Brentford, a side that’s taken four points from two top-flight matches to start the season, proves a greater challenge for Villa, a club still searching for its identity.
The Bees earned a shock 2-0 win at home over Arsenal in the Premier League’s opening match on August 13, with goals courtesy of Sergi Canos and Christian Nørgaard. They settled for a scoreless draw with London rivals Crystal Palace in Matchweek 2.
Villa manager Dean Smith joined from Brentford in 2018 and knows his former club will be a tough test for his current side.
"“Their progress has been there for all to see over the last seven or eight years. Under the ownership of Matthew Benham, it’s been nothing but remarkable. The signings that they’ve made, the transfer money that they’ve made and their progression now to becoming a Premier League club with a fantastic new stadium.”Dean Smith on Brentford"
The key man for Brentford is forward Ivan Toney, who bagged a record-breaking 31 goals in the Championship last season to secure the division’s Golden Boot. Toney is yet to score this season and is primed for a breakthrough.
Frenchman Bryan Mbeumo plays alongside Toney, providing a multi-faceted threat. He’ll likely drift wide right to cut in on his preferred left foot. Ashley Young or Matt Targett will have their hands full at left back.
Villa’s win over Newcastle last week came off the back of Danny Ings’ incredible overhead kick. Villa looked much better than the previous week at Watford but are still far off the mark.
The 6-0 win at Barrow on Tuesday was positive, but Brentford is a different beast. Look for in-form winger Anwar El Ghazi, who scored twice and set up two in that match, to carry a boatload of confidence into Saturday.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank served as Smith’s assistant before the latter’s departure. The two will be eager to secure three points in a showdown between two of the Premier League’s most progressive managers.
Brentford won 1-0 when the sides last met in the Championship on February 13, 2019. Smith’s side would lose 2-0 at West Brom three days later before going unbeaten in 12-straight games en route to promotion.
The last time Villa met Brentford in the top flight was February 1, 1947.
The Villans were 2-0 winners away from home on that day but are winless in their last six matches against Brentford, with their last victory coming on February 4, 1953, in an FA Cup tie.
Aston Villa vs. Brentford Team News: Villa to stick with 4-3-3 formation?
Villa are far from full health, with Leon Bailey, Bertrand Traore, Morgan Sanson, and Keinan Davis all set to miss out on Saturday.
Ollie Watkins could factor if deemed fit on Friday. The forward arrived from Brentford last summer after scoring 25 goals in the Championship in 2019/20. He’s missed the first two games of the Premier League season with a bruised knee.
With options limited, Smith will likely stick with the 4-3-3 he deployed in the win over Newcastle. If available, Watkins will start from the bench with Ings, El Ghazi, and Emi Buendia reprising their roles in the front three.
Jacob Ramsey had a great showing last week in an advanced midfield role alongside John McGinn. Douglas Luiz returned to the starting XI and impressed in the No. 6 role. Expect those three to retain their places as Smith seeks to build off of last week’s success.
Smith has a decision to make at left back, with Young the likely candidate to start vs. Brentford. Targett’s struggles are well documented and he played the full 90 minutes at Barrow on Tuesday. He put in a good shift but is far from his best.
Hat-trick hero Cameron Archer impressed at Barrow on Tuesday, having shown great goal-scoring versatility in his first senior start. With injuries affecting the depth of Smith’s bench, look for Archer to be available as a substitute.
Brentford will play three in the back with threatening wing backs Rico Henry and Canos expected to occupy on the left and right flanks, respectively. Both provide regular service for the imposing Toney in the middle.
Nørgaard headlines a three-man midfield that will provide a real test for Villa’s own midfield three. It’ll be key for El Ghazi, Ings, and Buendia to find tight channels between the compact midfield and defensive blocks of Brentford.
Aston Villa projected Starting XI: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Young; Douglas Luiz, McGinn, J. Ramsey; Buendia, Ings, El Ghazi
Brentford projected Starting XI: Raya; Ajer, Jansson, Pinnock; Canos, Nørgaard, Onyeka, Janelt; Mbeumo, Toney
Date/time: Saturday, August 28 at 3:00 PM BST/10:00 AM EST
Ground: Villa Park
Referee: Peter Bankes
TV/Streaming UK: None
TV/Streaming US: CNBC