Aston Villa’s midfield could prove to be the defining factor against West Ham

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This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more… 

Aston Villa’s start to life in the Premier League has been far from easy – an opening day defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, who made the Champions League final; three losses in four; VAR controversy.

So the international break probably came at just the right time, allowing Dean Smith and his men time to step back and see what is going so wrong.

It’s hard to put the finger on exactly what the problem is; against Spurs they held their own for the best part of an hour before crumbling; the scoreline certainly flattered Mauricio Pochettino’s men. They should have also picked up a point against Crystal Palace after referee Kevin Friend wrongly disallowed their injury-time equaliser.

Next up is West Ham on Monday night which is a chance to put the rest of the league on notice – that Villa aren’t here to mess around and that they certainly aren’t another ‘Fulham‘. There were glimpses against Everton; it needs to happen again – but how?

On the Chalkboard

One of the keys to success for Smith’s side will be how well their midfield can get on top of the game – Jack Grealish and John McGinn are likely to be instrumental in gaining all three points.

According to WhoScored, one of the Hammers’ biggest weaknesses is defending against through ball attacks whilst the same website lists one of Villa’s major strengths as creating chances using through balls.

That should be music to Wesley’s ears, provided the midfield pair are up to the test of providing him. His strike against Everton springs to mind when thinking about how they’ll breach Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna.

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McGinn, returning from Scotland duty this week, averages the second-most through balls per game at 0.3 – but that sort of output is going to need to be increased to have success against this West Ham backline.

Grealish, on the other hand, is averaging 2 key passes per game, the most in the Villa squad, with McGinn close behind at 1.5 per match, via WhoScored.

Around 42% of goals conceded by Manuel Pellegrini’s men have come from through balls, so it is certainly something that needs to be exploited.

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