After only a couple months of the season, Tottenham Hotspur already have their second meeting of the season with Aston Villa. By now you should be pretty familiar with the Villians, but just in case you're not we sat down with Aaron Campeau from SB Nation's awesome Aston Villa blog 7500 to Holte to talk about the two teams' first Premier League meeting of the season.
Edward F.: Let's get straight on to the burning question that's on everyone's mind- pantsing. Just an innocuous bit of accidental horseplay, or serious grounds for a penalty appeal?
Aaron Campeau: Well, whether or not you think it should have been a penalty, I think we can all agree that it was hilarious. At the time I was mildly annoyed that it wasn't given, but considering the way the rest of the game went I can't imagine that it would have mattered.
EF: I talked to Jack Grimse a little bit the last time Spurs played Villa on Paul Lambert's youth policy and the number of promising fledglings coming through the ranks right now- one name he picked out, which I would certainly agree with, is Fabian Delph, who looks to have finally cracked the Villa first team after what seemed like two decades in the reserve squad/loan spell wilderness. Are you irked that Delph is yet to be called up for England on current form? Could he do a job for the Three Lions in the run up to Brazil 2014?
AC: I really do think Delph has played well enough to merit serious consideration for a national team callup, and he's been playing at a high level for long enough for me to believe that he's actually turned a corner and has begun to fulfill his potential. With that being said, it would be disingenuous for me to say that his not being called up as of yet bothers me all that much. The more exposure Delph gets the more likely he is to begin attracting the interest of other clubs, and given how long it's taken him to develop into a good player I'm not really prepared to lose him any time soon. I'd likely feel a bit differently if I had a strong rooting interest in the England team, but as an American I'm more interested in Villa's fortunes than I am in the Three Lions being as strong as possible.
EF: We know a fair bit about the Delphs, as well as the Bentekes, the Bowerys, the Lowrys of this world, by now- but are there any names in the Villa reserve and youth sides who the good readers of CFC might not know so much about? Someone who's yet to emerge from the fringes yet, but may make a huge impact in the years to come?
AC: Villa's performance in winning the NextGen Series last season gave us the rare chance to see the club's youngsters performing in a competitive environment against high-level competition. The entire squad played wonderfully, but Mikey Drennan and Graham Burke really stood out, scoring seven goals apiece. Janoi Donacien was brilliant as well, tallying five times which is a pretty tremendous mark for a defender. Samir Carruthers is another Villa youngster that showed well at NextGen, and he's also had a few first-team runouts the past few season; he's likely to start featuring more regularly in the months to come.
Jack Grealish is a very promising academy player who seems to have a lot of "next big thing" buzz. And a bit closer to the first-team, Gary Gardner looks like he could be a very useful player right now but he's got to get-and stay-healthy first.
EF: Let's move ahead to the weekend tie. As far as I can read, it's still not certain that Villa will be able to line up with Benteke, the main spearhead of the side's offensive efforts, in the XI. How do you retool this Villa side's attack to threaten Spurs' defence in the absence of the big fella?
AC: While Benteke is clearly the most special player Villa's seen in years and the side is significantly more dangerous when he's on the pitch, the approach is largely the same when he's not. Villa's best scoring opportunities are always going to come on the counter and off of set pieces; the team is significantly more dangerous on the break with Benteke leading the line, but Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann are still very capable of giving the opposition major headaches in their own right. Libor Kozak is nowhere near as athletic or dynamic in the run of play as Benteke, but he's an absolute handful on set pieces and can take a pretty serious beating, which is quite important considering how much time he's likely to spend with his back to goal.
EF: And on to the rest of the side. Who else is a lock on the teamsheet? And where are the other key battles subsequently taking place in this game for you?
AC: Delph, Brad Guzan, Gabby Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, Ron Vlaar and Antonio Luna have been ever-present this season, while Karim El Ahmadi seems to have worked his way back into Paul Lambert's plans after falling off the radar towards the end of last season. The key for Villa is, as always, to have enough success on the counter to present a credible threat at goal. Villa's good enough on the break that they're still capable of breaking through teams that are concerned with stopping it, but they get into trouble when the opposition feels comfortable pouring forward in significant numbers. The backline has been significantly improved this season, but they're still prone to some pretty horrendous mistakes when they're under a lot of pressure.
EF: Obviously, Spurs were rattled by Big Sam's tactical switches in our last League game, ultimately going down to a humiliating 3-0 loss. Are there any broad tactical lessons that you think Paul Lambert will have taken away from that game and apply this Sunday, or do you see him going down the 'squad-optimist' path and just playing his favoured side in the normal way?
AC: Paul Lambert has shown himself to be quite content with changing things up a bit based on the opposition, but it's always a variation on a theme; very high-pressure in midfield, deep back-line, transition quickly. I've no doubt Lambert watched the game and will have been given some ideas from Big Sam's setup, but I'd imagine that any change in Villa's standard approach is likely to be subtle. What Villa's been doing since they turned the corner towards the end of last season has largely worked; I'd guess it would take a sustained run of bad results to force him to change things too drastically.
EF: To divert on to a tangent briefly, I notice Alan Hutton is still on your books. Hypothetically, which other squad players, or what amount of money, would you throw into a deal for another club to take him off your hands?
AC: It's frustrating, because it looked as though Mallorca were going to take him on another loan, and I'd guess Villa would be more than happy to give him away if they'd wanted to make it a permanent deal. The club is definitely trying to ship him out on loan before the window closes, but there haven't been any takers. Even Alex McLeish sent him back before his loan with Nottingham Forest was up, which doesn't speak well of his standing in the game.
Frankly, as much as I'd like him gone I wouldn't give up anything of value to make him go away. He's just so tremendously unpleasant that I get a small measure of joy happiness from the knowledge that he's angry about his current situation. If someone wants to take him for free, great. Otherwise, he can just sit there and not try to break people's legs.
EF: Finally, can I trouble you for a score prediction?
AC: I'm really enjoying this season so far, and a big part of that is that I genuinely have absolutely no idea what is going on almost all of the time. This team is just so completely unpredictable that trying to figure them out is a fool's errand; it wouldn't surprise me if they ground out a 1-1 draw, it wouldn't surprise me if they pulled off an upset in a frenetic end-to-end game, and it wouldn't surprise me if they get pasted in the same manner they did the last time these two sides played. But that's all a bunch of dithering; I'll go with my gut and say 2-1 to Spurs.