We asked Chris Bland to preview three of Sunday’s biggest fixtures; Bournemouth vs. Watford, Aston Villa vs. Manchester City and Roma vs. Juventus. He hasn’t let us down! Read on to see what he’s gone for.
Bournemouth vs. Watford
Two of the Premier League’s bottom three meet on the South Coast on Sunday afternoon, as a resurgent Watford take on Bournemouth, who will be desperate to bounce back from a resounding 4-0 defeat last time out in the league to West Ham.
Both sides had contrasting fortunes in the FA Cup, all be it with the managers opting for different strategies, as a youthful Hornets gave away a 3-0 lead at home to League One strugglers, as well as ending the game with ten men after Roberto Pererya’s red card.
Fortunately for Nigel Pearson, the midfielder’s red card was overturned, as they go head into the game with the injuries piling up. Pearson has had to contend with injuries in the defence since joining, and added to the list could be Craig Cathcart, as well as midfielder Will Hughes, and as a result Eddie Howe will be hoping his side are well placed to capitalise on the stretched squad.
Bournemouth have been on a dismal run themselves, seeing them drop into the bottom three, but they were given some respite in a 4-0 thumping against Luton Town in the FA Cup, which saw Dominic Solanke finally net for the Cherries, and they will be hoping it’s the confidence the young striker requires to kick start his career since moving from Liverpool last January.
From a tactical point of view, the game is well suited for the likes of Harry Wilson for Bournemouth, especially with Watford short on numbers in the midfield with Tom Cleverley, Nathaniel Chalobah and potentially Will Hughes all missing. The pace of Callum Wilson in behind will mean Pearson will favour a deep defensive line and look to exploit the counter attack with Gerard Dealofeu and Ismaila Sarr, relying on Troy Deeney’s powerful hold up play against a Bournemouth defence that showed its fragility to this style against Sebastien Haller last weekend.
Taking the underlying defensive statistics of both sides do make for worrying reading as well, all be it Watford’s have improved under Pearson. Bournemouth’s 32 goals conceded this season have come with an xGa of 33.27, whilst Watford’s 34 against have come at 34.02, and this highlights that the fact that both defences are riddled with weaknesses.
The tricky attackers from Watford will be confident of capitalising on the Bournemouth backline, particularly at right full back where both Jack Stacey and Adam Smith are missing, whilst as touched upon before, Watford are without a number of midfielders, and are currently being forced to string together a makeshift defence.
As a result, I’d expect this to be a game where both attacks come out on top, and it does make it a tough one to call. Although Bournemouth are low on confidence and on a torrid run of form, last weekend’s comprehensive victory, coupled with goals for both strikers, are signs of promise. Watford are showing a more clinical edge going forward, and their attack is equally well suited to trouble the Bournemouth in this encounter, and as a result I’m going to sit on the fence and opt for a draw.
Aston Villa vs. Manchester City
Manchester City travel to Villa Park looking for a fifth consecutive victory in all competitions, and coming up against an Aston Villa side riddled with injuries to key men, it’s extremely hard to see past Pep Guardiola’s side.
Aston Villa do come into the game on the back of an impressive draw with Leicester City in the Carabao Cup Semi Final on Wednesday, where they put in a resilient defensive performance before being let down by Douglas Luiz’s lapse in concentration, being punished by Kelechi Iheanacho. Defending deep and narrow, they managed to restrict Leicester to mostly trying their luck from distance, however they are coming up against a Manchester City attack that is looking back to its best, and in particular the ever-key Kevin De Bruyne in the centre.
Plagued by defensive woes throughout the season, City look like they are close to finding the solution to their problems, with Guardiola experimenting with a back three and showing much greater restraint and control on games when poised at 0-0, and their most recent defeat over Christmas came as a result of being reduced to ten men early in the first half, and even then they held out for long periods before individual errors let them down.
They come up against an attack that is missing their focal point and top goal scorer other than Jack Grealish in Wesley, and although Villa did adapt to this well on Wednesday, they were found out by the second half by Leicester. Hamza Choudhury was introduced to nullify Grealish in the false nine position, and with Rodri expected to fulfil this role from the off, Villa could struggle to find an outlet throughout and be subject to a barrage of City pressure.
The underlying statistics don’t make for pretty reading either for Villa fans. Manchester City are performing in line with expectations, netting 56 goals at an xG of 55.57, whilst Villa themselves have conceded 37 goals, with an xGa of 42.56. Putting one of the leakiest defences in the Premier League up against the most potent attack points in only one direction, and coupling this with Villa’s injury woes, a City win is the only conclusion I can come to.
Verdict: Manchester City
Roma vs. Juventus
Sunday’s offering finishes with a cracker from Rome, as second place Juventus face fourth place Roma, although the two sides are separated by ten points at the top of the league. With leaders Inter Milan facing Atalanta on Saturday, the pressure could be on Maurizio Sarri’s men to keep pace with the leaders, but Atalanta are by no means an easy test for Antonio Conte’s side, and a win for Atalanta would intensify the battle for the Top 4 and have Roma looking over their shoulder.
Roma come into the game on the back of a disappointing defeat against Torino, where despite mustering over thirty shots, they lacked any real cutting edge, and deservedly went down to a defeat which has proved a set back in their chase of local rivals Lazio ahead of them in the table.
Paulo Fonseca’s side are in the midst of an injury crises, as they have been for what feels like an eternity, but they are able to field a near-full strength side, with only the bench looking sparse. However, their lack of a plan B was obvious against Torino last weekend, and if chasing the game against Sarri’s side, they may struggle to offer anything outside their normal attacking play.
Juventus are showing signs that they are coming to terms with Sarri’s unique playing style, with the only side in recent weeks able to get an edge on the Champions being Lazio, all be it twice in the space of three weeks. However, it was in particular the wide attacking play, coupled with the imperious form of Lazio’s attackers that brought Juve back down to earth, and Sarri will be confident of returning to winning ways once again, especially after a resounding win over Cagliari last time out, which saw Cristiano Ronaldo net a hat trick.
The underlying statistics behind both sides show they are performing to a very similar attacking and defensive output, and this makes it an increasingly hard game to call. Juve’s narrow attack is well suited to cause Roma problems, whilst wingers Nicolo Zaniolo and Diego Perotti often leave their full backs left susceptible to attacks with a lack of defensive work, and Sarri will be reliant upon his own flying full backs to provide width and trouble the Roma backline, whilst overrunning the Roma midfield, with Pellegrini being expected to contribute defensively.
Roma themselves will be keen to capitalise on the narrow Juve attack themselves, and Juve have shown themselves vulnerable to the counter at times this season, and as a result its hard to see the teams settling with a game which sees one another cancel each other out, which was the case when Roma took on league leaders Inter Milan earlier in the season.
Taking this into account, a high scoring affair is expected, and the attacking talents at both manager’s disposal is impressive. However, of the two, I believe Juventus should have enough to turn over Fonseca’s side on Sunday night, and keep the pressure up on league leaders Inter Milan.