It seems like so long ago now. The last time Tottenham Hotspur played Aston Villa was the opening week of the 2019-20 Premier League season. Things were different then. Tottenham were full of promise and potential under manager Mauricio Pochettino, two months removed from a Champions League final. New signing Tanguy Ndombele wowed the crowd at Spurs’ new stadium, scoring a debut goal to level the score against the newly-promoted Villa. Harry Kane was not only healthy, but was scoring goals, finishing twice in the closing minutes to give Spurs a 3-1 victory.
I recall the feeling in the writer’s room after that much was one of somewhat muted optimism. Much of the match felt a bit turgid, but we praised the play of Harry Winks playing alongside Ndombele in midfield, and while few chances were created until near the end Spurs had the vast majority of possession and really turned things around in the 2nd half.
It’s hard to say when precisely the wheels fell off of the season, but it can’t have been much after this match. And so there’s a sense of poetic irony that Tottenham travel to Villa Park on Sunday at a point where, with a new manager and a handful of new players, Spurs’ Premier League campaign feels like it’s starting to turn around.
Aston Villa are not a great team this season. At present, they’re a single point above the relegation zone with a goal differential of -15. Understat also has them 15th in the league in xG, mostly on the backs of striker Wesley and the goal scoring ability of Jack Grealish. Those two, along with forward Anwar Al Ghazi, have scored exactly half of Villa’s 16 goals this season. Grealish is a fine player — it’s why Spurs spent so much time trying to sign him in the Summer of Austerity™ — and he will be key to Villa’s chances of securing a result against Spurs on Sunday. But the man who scored against Tottenham in week 1, John McGinn, is set to miss the match due to injury and that will hurt them.
It’s defensively where Villa are still a mess. They’re dead last in xGA, and that represents a fairly substantial over-performance of their metrics. Villa give up a TON of shots — 17.6/game according to WhoScored, and keeper Tom Heaton has been busy, making an average of 3.4 saves/game, 10th in the league. Now that Tottenham seems to have a somewhat functional offense with Giovani Lo Celso and Steven Bergwijn looking good an Son Heung-Min starting to find his scoring form again, even without a recognized striker Tottenham should be strong favorites to win away.
How will Tottenham line up at Villa?
It’s always a little difficult to predict a lineup after a mini-break. Giovani Lo Celso missed the last league match with a knock in training, but is likely to be back in the frame to play. Tanguy Ndombele has been impressive in late substitution stints, but would he be able to start? Ben Davies has been back in full training for a couple of weeks now and Sunday would seem like a good opportunity to work him back into the lineup. Options abound.
A win Sunday combined with Chelsea dropping points to Manchester United will make Chelsea’s visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium very interesting indeed next weekend, but Spurs also have a Champions League fixture on Tuesday against RB Leipzig to consider. It’s for this reason why I think Ben Davies will get the nod at left back over Japhet Tanganga; crazy as it is to say, considering the length of Davies’ absence it’s not insane to think that Jose Mourinho may prefer the 20-year old’s form in an important Champions League tie at this point.
Freshness shouldn’t be a concern after a mini-winter break so I wouldn’t expect too much rotation, though depending on the match I can see Mourinho subbing in players like Erik Lamela, Ryan Sessegnon and Ndombele to give the starters a bit more of a rest.
This is my predicted lineup for Tottenham’s trip to the midlands to face Aston Villa. What’s yours?