Aston Villa v West Brom: Baggies to come unstuck at Villa Park

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CHAMPIONSHIP specialist James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his thoughts on Saturday's play-off semi-final first leg showdown between Aston Villa and West Brom.

Aston Villa v West Brom | Saturday 11th May 2019, 12:30 | Sky Sports

There is no love lost between these two fierce West Midlands rivals. Both take on one another for the third time this season as the Championship Play-Offs begin at Saturday lunchtime. The bookies place Aston Villa as the favourites to progress over the two legs, so it is important they make home advantage count prior to the trip to The Hawthorns on Tuesday.

It is unclear as to who is perhaps under the most pressure going into this contest. Both teams have ultimately made managerial changes earlier in the campaign, with the clear aim being on restoring their Premier League status. Boyhood Villa boss Dean Smith has overseen a superb response at the helm, whilst James Shan steadied the ship somewhat following the dismissal of Darren Moore.

You’re looking at odds-on quotes of Aston Villa taking a lead into next week’s second leg. Whilst that is understandable on the basis of them being at home and recently going on a 10-match winning streak, there is ultimately no value on that. At the end of the day, only four points separated these two in the league campaign.

Also, it is West Brom who finished higher up and also have the second leg at home. Not to mention the fact they won at Villa Park as recently as February. Still, Villa are arguably the best side in the division when at their best, especially with the likes of Jack Grealish and John McGinn pulling the strings.

Team news

Shan has seemingly settled on a 3-5-2 formation, despite switching to a 3-4-3 for their final day loss at Derby. Chris Brunt was rested for that encounter and will come back into the heart of the midfield, with Jacob Murphy making way. The temptation to stick with a front three was somewhat reduced given the fact Hal Robson-Kanu is banned.

Saturday’s hosts rested Grealish and McGinn for their defeat to champions Norwich, along with one or two others, such as Tammy Abraham. With the slight chance of James Chester also being involved, it means each side is likely to be at full strength, and therefore no excuses can be made.

Form against the big guns

I’m not one to be completely sold on the fact that being in great form going into the play-offs is the be-all and end-all. Essentially, the past 46 games now mean nothing, and a new very quick cup competition takes over. For all that mistakes can be made in leg one, they can potentially be rectified in leg two. However, I think determining the form of the two sides in the bigger games over those 46 matches is worthy of paying attention towards.

Something I came across was that Aston Villa failed to win any of the eight league games played against teams above them in the table, including both clashes with the Baggies. However, they claimed 26 out of a possible 30 points versus teams positioned sixth to 10th. Keep in mind Smith has been in the job since October.

As for West Brom, they hammered Leeds at home, plus they won away at both Norwich and Sheffield United, and of course Villa a few months ago. They did however lose both meetings to Derby and Middlesbrough. Again, remember that Shan has only overseen their last 10 (W6-D1-L3). However, for all that West Brom had the joint-fourth best Championship away record, they’ve won once of their last six on the road, including defeats at Leeds, Derby, Bristol City and Millwall.

The home loss to West Brom earlier in the year served as something of a catalyst for Villa really getting their act together. This was during a spell of one win in 11 in all competitions, but after that setback they would draw at Stoke before winning 10 in succession to really gain control of a play-off position. Whilst they lost to Norwich last time out, they rested many key men and possibly deserved a point from that encounter.

Villa fancied

We are edging towards siding with Smith’s men in this first match-up. I do get the feeling that West Brom might play a bit of a defensive game, with an eye on the return leg on home soil. Shan seemingly used the Derby match as something of a dress rehearsal ahead of the play-offs, so a 3-1 loss would have been a bit of a worry. However, a new mini-season now starts, and anything goes in this end of season lottery.

A rested Grealish, McGinn and Abraham will return at the right time to really give West Brom something to think about defensively. Both teams scored 80+ but conceded 60+ across the 46-game league campaign, but these play-off battles are often more tight than anything else, even more so when it’s a local derby.

For all that goals are often associated with matches involving Aston Villa, they haven’t necessarily been as high-scoring as you’d think in recent times. Over their last 24 in league and cup, just six have contained a minimum of four goals. Roughly a third of their league games, and also West Brom’s have ended over, so the odds suggest we shouldn’t expect too many goals at the weekend.

More onus is on Villa to take the game to West Brom, and the fact they’ve not beat them this season will mean they have that additional motivational factor too. I do agree West Brom can almost approach this as underdogs, despite finishing above Villa in the league season. After all, they do have Shan at the helm and he won’t necessarily be judged too badly if they don’t go on to win promotion.

Aston Villa to win and Under 3.5 Goals looks a worthwhile 17/10 (Betway) chance to keep us involved in this intriguing meeting.

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Aston Villa v West Brom – Aston Villa to win and Under 3.5 Goals (17/10 Betway)

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