BILLY BUNTER

Weblog: The football punter

Fast-starting Villa can make early impression

If Premier League matches were played over 45 minutes Aston Villa would be in the hunt for a Champions League spot – it’s what happens in the second 45 that has left them fretting over relegation rather than a return to Europe.

Dean Smith’s fast starters are fifth in the half-time table and have trailed at the interval in just five of their 21 matches.

After the break, though, it has been a very different story.

The Villans are 17th in the second-half table with 26 goals conceded.

Villa were also rock bottom in a table of games against the the top ten as it was going into this weekend, with a record of played ten, lost nine and drawn one. The solitary point came from a 2-2 draw with Manchester United.

All the other sides around them have had their stellar moments against the Premier League’s elite – Norwich beat Manchester City, Watford overcame of Manchester United and Bournemouth won at Chelsea – but Villa just can’t seem to break through that barrier.

Without a central striker it is likely to be even harder, though Smith must have been delighted with how competitive his side were in Wednesday’s 1-1 EFL Cup semi-final draw at Leicester.

That game means they have had 24 fewer hours to rest than City, who won 3-1 at United in their first leg the night before.

City are the division’s highest away scorers and in good form but if we have learned anything about Villa it’s that they can compete before tending to fade. They are a huge price to win, but a better bet might be Villa to score in the first half.

The key to pretty much everything they do is Jack Grealish, statistically the top flight’s most prolific and best dribbler, who can isolate and beat defenders and create chances for others.

They need more discipline when they attack as a team because if they lose the ball – which they do a lot – they get found out, especially by sides such as City who can attack with pace.

City themselves haven’t failed to find the net in their last 20 away games and they last drew a blank on the road in the Premier League 13 months ago.

The Draw-City half-time full-time result would also reflect Villa's competitiveness in the first half of games and City’s tendency to overpower opponents.

The Football Site

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Match in Focus

17:30 Sa 25Jan BT1

Hull v Chelsea

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Chelsea have won their last seven meetings with Hull
Expert verdict
Chelsea beat Nottingham Forest 2-0 in the FA Cup third round and a similar scoreline could follow at the KCOM Stadium. Inconsistent Hull managed only three shots on target en route to losing their last two Championship outings and the youthful Blues look a class above their hosts.