Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Teetering a mere three points above the drop zone, Albion have failed to secure a single win in the Premier League since the 3-0 triumph at St. James Park in September.
Nevertheless, Brighton’s underlying statistics perhaps suggest that their fortunes may change after the second international break. According to OPTA stats, no Premier League side has conceded fewer shots in the box this season (with only 24 in 8 games), and Potter’s troops are fifth in the division for expected goals conceded.
Lewis Dunk is also due to return from a three-match suspension against Aston Villa this weekend, which will only bolster the manager’s defensive options.
However, Brighton’s next four fixtures are all scheduled against sides currently in the top six; after a trip to Villa Park, Albion will face Liverpool, Southampton and top-of-the-league Leicester City, which justifies the urgency for accumulating points sooner rather than later.
How Villa should shape up:
Dean Smith has operated with the same system since the arrival of Ross Barkley at Villa Park, opting for a 4-2-3-1 against most opponents. Intense in transition, Aston Villa look to use the mobility and defensive awareness of their holding midfielders, John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, to win the ball back and thread progressive passes through to Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley and Trezeguet on the counterattack.
Therefore, Aston Villa have had a lot of joy against sides who dominate possession, gaining a reputation as this season’s giant killer after the 7-2 and 3-0 wins against Liverpool and Arsenal respectively.
Whilst it is likely that Potter continues to adopt his possession-based brand of football and look to work the ball into Villa’s final third, the Seagulls’ boss must be wary of their counterattacking potential in transition.
Who should make Potter’s starting line-up?
Despite his bizarre benching a few weeks ago, Mathew Ryan remains the favourite to start between the posts behind Potter’s conventional back three. The manager will be pleased to pass the armband to Lewis Dunk once again; the captain’s height and physicality should prove instrumental in neutralising the threat of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa from set pieces. His tall defensive partner Adam Webster, who is yet to miss a minute in the Premier League this season, is expected to start alongside him.
The third centre-half spot is perhaps the trickiest to predict. The versatile trio of Joël Veltman, Dan Burn and Ben White have all accompanied Dunk and Webster at the back this season, and all three featured against Burnley, Spurs and West Brom. Burn played at left-back in the stalemate against Burnley, but Potter may be tempted to recall the more attack-minded Solly March, if he intends to focus Brighton’s advances down the left-hand side.
As arguably Aston Villa’s greatest weapon, Jack Grealish operates predominantly at left-wing, and with Tariq Lamptey likely to surge forward for Albion and support their attack, Brighton could be left vulnerable if space is left in behind. The threat Lamptey has posed so far this year from wide areas will encourage Potter to attack predominantly down the right and exploit Matt Targett in isolation.
Therefore, Brighton should consider playing White in defensive midfield, as the youngster possesses the pace and defensive awareness to protect the space behind Lamptey and track the Villa captain. With Burn at left wing-back and White in midfield, it is likely that Veltman will make his fourth successive start at the heart of the defence for Potter this weekend.
As John McGinn and Douglas Luiz are tasked with pushing forward and pressing the ball in midfield, Aston Villa tend to leave gaps between their back four and midfield, which Potter should be eager to exploit. This strengthens the appeal of Adam Lallana, who possesses the creativity to thread passes into the box and create big chances.
Seasoned goalscorer and summer signing Danny Welbeck made his first start for the Seagulls against Burnley before the international break, and is likely to lead the line for Brighton as their main focal point. Although the goals have dried up for Neal Maupay in recent weeks, he should partner the former international, dropping in as a false nine to disrupt the Villa defence.
In the unlikely event that Leandro Trossard, who picked up an adductor injury prior to the break, is back to full fitness, Potter may even consider benching Maupay for a second time in three matches, in an attempt to change Albion’s fortunes in front of goal.
Aston Villa’s predicted starting line-up: Emiliano Martínez, Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett, Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, Trézéguet, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins (4-2-3-1)
Brighton’s predicted starting line-up: Mathew Ryan, Tariq Lamptey, Joël Veltman, Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster, Dan Burn, Ben White, Yves Bissouma, Adam Lallana, Neal Maupay, Danny Welbeck (5-3-2)
Article originally published on: Brighton & Hove Independent