Tottenham have a talent advantage over Aston Villa, but Spurs have to be very wary of the midfield battle on Sunday if they want to emerge victorious.
Tottenham desperately wanted to purchase Jack Grealish this summer but were unsucceessful. Now it will be imperative for Spurs to shut him down on Sunday if they want to earn three points at Villa Park.
In fairness to the rest of Villa’s squad, their entire midfield is capable of posing big problems for Jose Mourinho’s squad. While Grealish is the highest rated regulars on the season per Whoscored.com it’s not as if the rest of the group is bereft of talent.
Grealish will miss the presence of John McGinn though. His ankle injury will prevent him from featuring in the crucial match. Even so, Grealish has enough talent around him to control the midfield if Tottenham aren’t able to make him uncomfortable.
The key for Mourinho will be to pick the right midfield three. It seems clear that Giovani Lo Celso will regain his place in the starting XI if he’s deemed fit. Harry Winks also seems like a good bet to start on Sunday.
Winks’ sense of industry and movement in the midfield should be crucial for Spurs. He isn’t a classic defensive midfielder who bothers the opposition with his size and strength, but he makes up for those deficiencies with his work rate. Look for Winks to be charged with the task of closing down on Grealish the moment he touches the ball.
The big question is who the third man of Mourinho’s midfield might be on Sunday. If Tanguy Ndombele were fit he’d be an excellent choice. Unfortunately, Mourinho’s arrival hasn’t been a breath of fresh air for the French midfielder. If he doesn’t improve his fitness quickly his career at Tottenham may end before it truly starts.
January signing Gedson Fernandes could be in line for another start. He’s not a great technical player, but his willingness to run all over the pitch could help Spurs establish a firm foothold in the midfield against Villa.
The last, and least inspiring option, would be to give Eric Dier yet another chance to regain his place in the starting lineup. Mourinho might go with that option, but its chances of success are minimal. Starting Dier would be a great way to get Grealish and company off to a great start.
The good news for Tottenham supporters is that Spurs don’t need to dominate the midfield. Forcing a stalemate in the middle of the park should be enough to secure a much-needed win. Keeping Grealish will, however, be the key to a win for Mourinho and company.