It hasn’t been a great time for Villa recently, has it?
Despite a vital win against Norwich on Boxing Day, we have lost 5 out of our last 6 matches. Our last game, against Watford, saw one of our most abject performances in recent times, causing us to lose 3-0 against a team who had 10 men for over 30 second half minutes and heaping the concerns of relegation on to us further.
But today marks the start of the January transfer window and a chance for Villa to bolster the squad ahead of our relegation fight.
We’ve already been linked with the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Domagoj Vida and Michy Batshuayi and I’m sure the people in charge of transfers at the club are already working hard to try and secure targets.
So a win against Burnley, coupled with a few shrewd signings could be the revival that Villa needs.
In the reverse fixture against the Clarets, Villa went ahead twice, through El Ghazi and McGinn respectively but were twice pegged back, culminating in a 2-2 draw.
This week’s view from across the dugout comes from The Athletic UK’s Burnley journalist Andy Jones (@adjones_journo)
Q) Burnley have been largely inconsistent this season but have picked up vital wins along the way and currently find themselves in 13th place on 24 points. How do you rate your season so far?
It’s certainly been a lot better than the first half of last season. I think Burnley have to be relatively happy with the position they are in and the points tally that they have. Their home form against teams in and around them has been very good this season with the exception of the Crystal Palace defeat and they have picked up a couple of vital victories on the road as well at Watford and Bournemouth. At the same time, there have been some bad defeats in there as well but mainly to the teams in the top six. Creativity has been a little bit of a problem of late but the second half against Manchester United was an improvement. In a way, it has been consistently inconsistent this season in terms of results. Burnley have suffered three defeats in a row twice but bounced back from both of them with back-to-back wins and clean sheets. They’ve lost two in a row currently so they will be hoping that trend stops against Aston Villa.
Q) From the outside looking in, Burnley have seemed less sound defensively this year, having shipped 32 goals. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? If so, why do you think that is?
It is a bit of an odd one really. Defensively in the first half of last season, Burnley were really poor. They shipped 41 goals in the first 20 games so there has been an improvement in that department. I think it is fair to say they haven’t been as good defensively as they were in the second half of last season but when you break it down, they have seven clean sheets already this season. They only achieved eight in the whole of last season. The problem has been against the ‘top six’ sides and also individual errors, like Charlie Taylor’s against Manchester United which have proven costly. They have conceded 20 goals in their six games against those sides which is really poor, but therefore if you look at the other 14 games played, they have only conceded 12 goals which is good. After the defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham, defensively Burnley have been much better.
Q) Despite the amount of goals conceded, James Tarkowski has been in impressive form this year. How important is he for Burnley? Could he sneak into the England setup, with the centre of defence proving to be a problemed position?
James Tarkowski is a massive part of the Burnley team and his partnership with Ben Mee has been crucial to what Sean Dyche’s side have achieved. That has been seen in recent weeks with their performances, even in defeats when they have been excellent and stopped virtually everything. Against Newcastle and Bournemouth, they were instrumental in neither of those sides having a shot on target. Questions were asked about them after the Tottenham game, but they have responded brilliantly.
I think in regard to England you can never say never but I think injuries are probably the main reason why he would be getting back into the squad. When you look at this season, especially considering how well he started it, the fact that players including Tyrone Mings and Fikayo Tomori were being called-up (and that’s not to say they didn’t deserve the call-up) gives you an indication that he is not really in Gareth Southgate’s plans unfortunately.
Q) Villa have started to tail off and, after a recent run of poor results, we find ourselves in 18th place. Do you think we have a chance of staying up? What could Dean Smith learn from Sean Dyche, a person who has turned Burnley into an established Premier League side?
I have been a little surprised by Villa struggles recently but I think that can happen when you lose an influential player like Tyrone Mings who, from what I have seen so far, is a big player for Villa. I think the Premier League is so tight this year that there are still a lot of clubs who could go down. A string of good results or a run of bad results can shoot you up the table or see you plummet down the table very quickly. John McGinn also going down injured is a massive miss for Aston Villa in my opinion as I think he is an excellent player.
In terms of what Smith could learn, I think it is building that solid foundation of a strong defence and going from there, getting on the right side of the tight games and focussing on every little detail of the game. Dyche, of course, could rely on the experience he had from his first attempt in the Premier League when Burnley were relegated in 2014-15 and he learnt a lot from that in terms of what was required to stay in the league at his next attempt. It is two different scenarios because of the way Burnley financially were restricted, whereas Villa have spent a big amount of money, but they have plenty of good players.
Q) Our previous fixture finished 2-2, a fixture in which Villa led twice but were pegged back both times. What did you make of the game?
I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was quite an interesting tactical battle. Villa were definitely the more dominant side in the first half, and I was very impressed with Jack Grealish and McGinn who picked up really clever pockets of space in between the lines of the Burnley midfield and defence. However, when Burnley switched to a 4-3-3 at half-time, partly due to an injury to Jack Cork, the game became much more even. It meant that Ashley Westwood, who sat at the base of the three-man midfield, could pick up Grealish and McGinn, limiting their space and reducing their influence, but it is difficult to do that for an entire half and both still had good moments, McGinn scoring of course. Burnley were much more creative in the second half themselves and scored two good goals from crosses from their fullbacks who they managed to get much further up the pitch in the second half. Hopefully it will be another entertaining contest and an interesting tactical battle.
Q) And finally, could we get a score prediction for the game? How do you think it will play out?
With Burnley being so strong against teams around them at home, I think I’m going to go 1-0 to Burnley. It will be a much tighter affair than the one earlier in the season because there is now much more at stake. It is the type of game Burnley over the last few years have managed to edge and pick up three points. It is a difficult one to call though and I am intrigued to see the line-up Dyche selects given the impact of the performances off the bench from Jay Rodriguez and Johann Berg Gudmundsson who added impetus to a flat Burnley attack against Manchester United.
We’ve been in terrible form and we aren’t currently playing well at all. We are conceding too many, we don’t look threatening enough at the business end of the pitch (Grealish aside) and we look a bit too soft in many areas of the team.
But, with all that being said – new year; new team (hopefully). The rumours of a return for Tyrone Mings could not come at a better time, with our backline in need of a leader. And with the immense quality of Jack Grealish, we always have a chance.
So, as 2020 begins, it’s time to be optimistic and get behind the boys (who won’t be playing) in claret and blue. I’m going for a tight 2-1 Villa win.
By Danny James.