English Premier League

Brighton v Aston Villa: Wounded Villa can bounce back

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery
Villa boss Unai Emery is on course for Champions League qualification

Aston Villa lost to Olympiakos in their Europa Conference League semi-final, but Kevin Hatchard thinks they can recover against limping Brighton.

Brighton v Aston Villa
Sunday 05 May, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Bruised Seagulls losing altitude

On the face of it, Brighton have had an amazing campaign. They reached the knockout phase of a major European competition, beating mighty Ajax along the way. Anyone who supported Albion at the old Withdean Stadium, or who wondered if the club could even go out of business, is still pinching themselves on a regular basis.

But recent successes under the shrewd stewardship of Tony Bloom have raised the expectation levels, and there's no doubt that it has been a disappointing end to the campaign. A run of four league wins in 19 has ruined hopes of another European qualification, and last weekend's 3-0 drubbing at south coast rivals Bournemouth was a low point.

Coach Roberto De Zerbi has been public in his misgivings about the strength of the squad, and his disappointment at how the season has turned out.

It appears those loud pronouncements played into Liverpool's thinking in a negative way when drawing up their managerial shortlist, while Bayern are perhaps only still considering the Italian because their top three choices have all turned them down. There is no doubting De Zerbi's tactical acumen, but his PR game perhaps needs work.

Brighton have been smashed 3-0 by Arsenal and 4-0 by Manchester City in their last two home games, and they have only won four of their last 12 at the Amex.

The goals have really dried up home and away - BHAFC have scored a feeble three goals across their last nine matches in the league, and they scored just one goal across two legs of their Europa League last-16 tie against Roma.

The Seagulls have been hit hard by injury. Solly March, Jack Hinshelwood, Pervis Estupinan and Kaoru Mitoma have been ruled out long-term, while James Milner, Tariq Lamptey, Jan Paul van Hecke and Evan Ferguson could all miss out.

Greek tragedy mustn't occupy Villa minds

It's been an incredible season for Aston Villa, and the fact that Unai Emery is seen as a coach even mighty Bayern Munich wouldn't be able to tempt is a sign of how things are going in the West Midlands. Emery has a sporting director he knows and trusts, he has influence over all aspects of the club, and he has supportive owners with deep pockets.

Tottenham's recent implosion - they have lost three Premier League games in a row - has given Villa the whip hand in the race for the final Champions League spot.

Spurs are now seven points behind with a game in hand, but their wretched display at Chelsea in midweek (they lost 2-0, and barely laid a glove on the hosts) suggests they won't be capable of overhauling Emery's men from here.

However, there will be a tang of regret if Villa don't also win the Europa Conference League, which they have been favourites to win for quite some time.

Hopes of yet another European trophy for Emery (he won three Europa Leagues with Sevilla, and another with Villarreal) were severely dented on Thursday, as Olympiakos produced an energetic and clinical display is a 4-2 win at Villa Park. Villa are certainly capable of turning the tie around in Greece, but they can't afford to be distracted by that challenge this weekend.

Villa's squad has been stretched by injuries, so it's not clear how much rotation there can actually be. Robin Olsen is likely to continue in goal, with Emi Martinez injured. Tyrone Mings, Emi Buendia, Jacob Ramsey and Boubacar Kamara are out for the rest of the season. Youri Tielemans has a groin injury, and may not be risked ahead of the trip to Greece.

Back visitors with a bit of insurance

Villa have all the motivation here, as they know a win takes them very close to sealing Champions League qualification, and I think we can back them Draw No Bet at 1.8810/11. Brighton are in awful form, they have a glut of injuries, and they were smashed 6-1 at Villa Park in the reverse fixture.

Villa have won three of their last six Premier League matches, and on the road they have won four of the last six in the top division.

Back Aston Villa Draw No Bet at 1.8810/11

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Battler Baleba can land the Bet Builder

Young Brighton midfielder Carlos Baleba has been a regular starter of late, and has been in the starting XI in seven of the last eight Premier League games. In those, he has committed 13 fouls and been fouled 16 times.

Keep an eye on the team news, and if he starts, back Baleba to commit a foul and be fouled at least twice, which gives you a combined price on the Bet Builder of 2.47/5.

Back Carlos Baleba to commit 1+ fouls and be fouled 2+ times at 2.47/5

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