Aston Villa take on Everton this Saturday and Dean Smith has several key decisions to make with regards to his starting XI.
Villa will be looking to secure three vital points as we try to get back to winning ways following our defeat to Chelsea last time out, which came after a draw at home with Brentford.
It won’t be easy against an in-form Everton side who have started the new campaign well, but we have the quality and depth to certainly cause them problems and put on a good performance in front of the Villa faithful.
3-5-2 or 4-3-3 for Villa vs Everton?
As per his press conference on Friday, Smith remained coy on the possible formation he’ll play after the relative success of the 3-5-2 against Chelsea.
The Villa boss seemingly hinted that he opted for that system to match up with the Blues, and when asked if he would play three at the back again this weekend, he suggested he might play three, four or even six at the back.
Given we’re at home though and will want to get on the front foot, dominate the midfield and press high up the pitch while also trying to nullify Everton’s front three, it would come as no surprise if we revert back to a 4-3-3.
Emiliano Martinez will be a late call but is expected to take his place back in the side at the expense of Jed Steer, while a four-man defence of Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Matt Targett is arguably the most likely option.
Douglas Luiz, John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey seem like the obvious three-man midfield if we go with a 4-3-3, as they offer us the right balance of defensive protection, technical quality, tenacity and attacking threat to be effective in both phases of the game.
The biggest decision comes in the final third.
Leon Bailey is now pushing for a starting berth after coming off the bench at Chelsea, while Bertrand Traore is in a similar position and the pair showed with just short appearances what they bring in terms of their dribbling and direct running.
It remains to be seen if Emiliano Buendia is fit enough and ready to start, while Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins will both want to start and lead the line for Villa.
Bailey is arguably a certainty now given he’s in good condition and Smith is surely excited about letting him loose in front of a sold-out Villa Park. Ings and Watkins are perhaps best placed to complete the XI in terms of training all week and being fitter out of the options noted above, but how Smith finds the right balance remains to be seen.
He has already said on multiple occasions that he will not be pushing Watkins out wide and believes he and Ings can work together. The latter disappointed at Chelsea as he struggled to get into the game, but perhaps a fluid front three along with Ramsey drifting out to the left allows our two strikers to link up and cause problems for the Everton defence.
It feels like we’d have a better balance with one of them, with Bailey and Buendia ideally flanking them. However, that’s the good headache that Smith has now, and it will be fascinating to see what he goes with.
Probable Villa XI vs Everton: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey; Bailey, Ings, Watkins.