Aston Villa v Bolton | Friday 2nd November 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Seventeenth meets 19th in the Championship on Friday night, with under-performing Aston Villa entertaining an out of form Bolton. Both sides are in need of points.
Dean Smith’s overseen one win and two defeats since departing Brentford a few weeks ago, but returning to Villa Park may afford the Claret & Blue some comfort knowing they’ve only lost once there all season. As for Phil Parkinson’s side, who knew that following back-to-back victories over Reading and Birmingham in August that the Trotters would only win once more until now.
We can count on one hand the amount of times Aston Villa have won a match this season. Things started so well this season under Steve Bruce, winning their first three in all competitions. It was their seventh of the campaign when the first setback arrived, coming at the hands of cup specialists Burton in the EFL Cup.
Bad form ultimately saw Bruce dismissed, with boyhood Villa fan Smith installed in the role.
This still isn’t Dean Smith’s Villa
The one plus point for Smith going into this match is that he will have had more time on the training ground. He only had days to prepare for the clashes with Swansea, Norwich and QPR, so a full week of preparation may stand them in good stead. After all, the style of play he implemented at both Walsall and Brentford did not occur over night.
Villa undoubtedly have the quality to play in this manner but hard hours are needed for that to come to fruition. He likes his side to dominate the ball, and only Leeds have managed to achieve this more than his former side Brentford have done.
Villa sit fifth in the league possession stats, but the key is now actually adding more end product to this. Villa are 10th when it comes to average shots per-game (13.1), whilst Brentford are much higher in fourth spot. This is an area he will be looking to work on.
With the likes of Tammy Abraham, Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan, Jack Grealish, Albert Adomah, Conor Hourihane and Yannick Bolasie on their roster it really should not be a problem. It is arguably their defence though where bigger problems are.
Only five teams in the league have scored more than Villa’s 22, but they can say only Reading, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End have let in more than the 23 they have done.
Shot-shy Trotters must improve
Matters are not going much better for Bolton in recent times either. We too can count on one hand the amount of times they have been victories this season in all competitions. They started the campaign in blistering fashion, securing three wins from their first four in the Championship, including an opening day win at West Brom.
However, following the 1-0 three-pointer over Birmingham in late August, only once more have they emerged on the right side of a result. That actually came against in-form Derby in late September.
A lack of goals is clearly their issue. They have the joint-worst attack in the division, with Ipswich and Rotherham. The main contributing factor to Bolton’s lack of fortunes in front of goal is ultimately down to not testing the opposing goalkeeper enough.
They is no real hard luck story when it comes to them peppering the goal and not having much luck, they simply are not doing enough on this front. They are averaging only 9.8 shots on goal this season. That may not necessarily seem too bad, but the reality is it is. Only Ipswich have a smaller figure than this.
When we focus on the shots on target column, Bolton are reaching only 2.8 on average. With that being the case, it is no surprise at all that they’ve only managed to score twice in their last eight matches. Of their 11 goals in the league, Northern Ireland international Josh Magennis is responsible for four of those.
Keep Magennis quiet, and Villa will fancy their chances of a shutout.
If you don’t buy a ticket…..
We’ve already touched upon the fact that Aston Villa are offering a threat in attack in relation to shots on goal. Bolton clearly are not. This is an avenue that we have to try and explore on the betting front.
We like counting things on one hand and another thing we can add to that category is the amount of times Villa have failed to score this season. Only twice has this happened, once being in the mentioned EFL Cup loss to Burton. The other time came last Friday in the loss at QPR, a game which they certainly created enough openings to warrant that not being the case.
With Smith having that extra time on the training pitch to install some of his methods, you have to fancy this trend to continue. The addition of John Terry, a top defender in his day, to the coaching staff won’t suddenly see them become a different side.
Although having said that, Smith’s first match in charge was a 1-0 home win over Swansea. They did ride their luck late on then, however.
Team news and tactics will also be a key contributor to this game when it comes to Bolton. Parkinson has been tinkering with his XI on a regular basis this season, and also the formation too. A three-man defence with wing backs is not ruled out. If anything, it is probably the likely way they’ll go to try and keep this Villa forward line quiet.
Whilst form is poor on a grander scale, Bolton are pretty stubborn away from home, unlike past seasons at this level. Only Leeds, Middlesbrough and Stoke have defeated them, so this is no home banker, despite the odds.
However, Bolton aren’t offering enough going forward to be too confident of them threatening the Villa goal. With that being the case, there are a few options we can and will explore. Aston Villa to win ‘to nil’ is a market where we can get odds-against. 13/10 (Coral) offers good value taking into account the shooting statistics of the two respective sides.
Villa may have only won with a clean sheet 13% of the time this season, it at least increases to 29% focusing specifically on home games, and one of those came in Smith’s only home match at the helm. Bolton have lost ‘to nil’ 40% of the time.
Scoring just twice in their last eight reflects Bolton's state of affairs at present, plus they are likely to employ quite a defensive formation here. Also, Bolton failing to score/Under 0.5 Goals pays 21/20 (Coral) and given their track record of late, that simply has to be considered, regardless of Villa’s fairly leaky defence across the campaign.
Grealish very much the main man
Smith recently said that he believes he can make Grealish an even better player. That is some thought for the rest of the Championship. He is already one of the brightest prospects in English football and calls for him to come into Gareth Southgate’s reckoning continue to voice louder and louder.
The facts back that up. He remains by far the most fouled player in the league. Seventy-four times have the opposition brought him down to try and keep him quiet. In second spot is Eberechi Eze of QPR, with 46. That massive difference from first to second is no coincidence, and Parkinson will undoubtedly look to dish out some instructions to try and deny him time on the ball.
Only QPR, Nottingham Forest, Wigan, Birmingham and Norwich have made more fouls than Bolton in the Championship this season. Still, this won’t be anything Grealish won’t be used to by now. Even when in the Premier League he seemed to be a target.
Following the last match at QPR last Friday, Smith called for officials to offer him more protection. It will be interesting to see how the referee focuses on this particular battle.
Whilst Grealish receives plenty of plaudits for his creativity, he remains a big goal threat as well. Villa collectively have the joint-sixth best attack in the league in relation to goals scored, yet their top scorer has only netted four (Abraham and Kodjia). This proves that the goals are being spread out.
Grealish is yet to score this season, which serves as a huge surprise. Clearly this is something which won’t continue for much longer based on his shooting figures.
Grealish is not shirking the chance to fire shots away. He is at least reaching an average of 2.3 shots per goal, which is more than any of his other teammates. Despite being on the wrong side of the result at QPR, he still produced a star display, also hitting the post with a long range free kick.
He should see lots of the ball here against a defensive opponent, and he has the ability to cause problems for Bolton. Grealish simply to score anytime is 12/5 (Betway).
If Smith continues with a lone striker and Bolton do indeed field a three-man defence, it may keep that man quiet. Grealish certainly will be a marked man at times, but again, he’ll be used to this and has the ability to find space in congested areas.