Aston Villa are having an amazing season so far and go into the weekend third in the Premier League and only two points behind leaders Liverpool.
They seem to be totally unaffected by the Thursday-Sunday schedule of playing in Europe and won their Europa Conference League group by a point.
Villa have only lost three league games this season, and only one since the start of September, have a 100% home record of eight wins, as part of a run of 15 consecutive home Premier League victories, and are unbeaten in their last eight matches in all competitions – five of those being league games.
Our old friend Ollie Watkins is the fifth top scorer in the Premier League this season with eight goals and six assists, and his ex-Bees team-mate Ezri Konsa received his first England call-up this season.
In fact, their only slip-up so far came in the Carabao Cup, where they went out at their first hurdle – beaten 2-1 at home by Everton in round three.
All this after being beaten 5-1 at Newcastle on the opening day of the season. Their only other defeats have come at Liverpool (3-0) and Nottingham Forest (2-0).
This is Villa’s fifth season back in the Premier League, after winning promotion via the play-offs in 2019. They finished in the bottom half of the table in the first three, including an 11th-place finish two years ago, which was their best in the top flight since 2010/11, but surpassed that last season by coming seventh.
Apart from their three seasons in the Championship from 2016, Villa had only been outside the top division for one season after 1975 following eight years in the old Division Two and Three as the 1960s became the 70s.
This weekend is the first of a run of five when Brentford are not playing on the Saturday. Our only Saturday game in that time is the one at Crystal Palace on 30 December.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Unai Emery replaced Steven Gerrard as Villa head coach in October last year.
Emery left Spanish side Villarreal to move to the Midlands after winning the Europa League with them by beating Manchester United in the 2021 final.
The Europa League has become a favourite competition for Emery, who also won it three years in a row with Sevilla.
This is not his first job in England as he had an 18-month spell at Arsenal, who he also led to the Europa League final, this time losing to Chelsea.
Among the other clubs he has managed are Valencia, Spartak Moscow and Paris St Germain, where he won the treble of league and both domestic cup competitions in 2017/18.
His playing career was spent mostly in Spain’s second division, before it was ended early by a knee injury.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Brentford have a good recent record against Aston Villa, with our defeat last October our first against them in nine games from 2016.
In our Premier League debut season, we took four points off them, although last term we only earned one.
Our trip to Villa Park at the end of August 2021 was only our third Premier League game and just the 13th league meeting between the sides.
Ivan Toney gave us a seventh-minute lead with his first Premier League goal, after Pontus Jansson played a Sergi Canos cross into his path, but Emiliano Buendia equalised with a fierce shot from the edge of the penalty area six minutes later, and the match finished 1-1.
In the return at the start of January, Danny Ings gave Villa an early lead but Yoane Wissa equalised just before the break and Mads Roerslev scored his first Bees goal in the 83rd minute to clinch a 2-1 win.
Our trip to Villa Park last season was slightly different. They had sacked Steven Gerrard following a Thursday night defeat at Fulham before facing us on the Sunday. And they came out at a packed Villa Park fired up and blew us away with three goals in the first 14 minutes.
Leon Bailey opened the scoring and then Danny Ings struck twice, the second from the penalty spot. Ollie Watkins completed the scoring just before the hour mark as Villa cruised to a 4-0 victory.
The return in late April ultimately proved decisive in deciding European qualification as we were denied victory by a late goal.
Ivan Toney had put us ahead in the 65th minute with his 19th Premier League goal of the season, but Douglas Luiz equalised from close range in the 87th minute as it finished 1-1.
We finished the campaign two points behind Villa, but if we had held on to win, our final positions could well have been reversed.
We had the better of our Championship matches at the end of the last decade.
In 2016/17, we drew 1-1 at Villa Park after John Egan hit a late equaliser to cancel out Jonathan Kodjia’s early opener, while two goals from Lasse Vibe and one from Nico Yennaris gave us a 3-0 win in the return. While the match was taking place, Scott Hogan was signing for Villa and Sergi Canos was joining Brentford.
In the following season’s first meeting, the Bees earned a 0-0 draw at Villa Park in a match we could have won.
Villa keeper Sam Johnstone was the home side’s hero – twice denying Ollie Watkins, while Nico Yennaris, Yoann Barbet and Neal Maupay all went close.
The Boxing Day return was moved to an evening game as it was shown live on Sky, and a goal in each half from Romaine Sawyers and Lasse Vibe – either side of an equalising header from Josh Onomah – gave us a 2-1 win, our second successive festive victory, and extended Villa’s winless run to five matches.
Villa snatched a last-gasp point in our first meeting in 2018/19 on a Wednesday night in August, as a see-saw game ended 2-2.
Neal Maupay put us ahead midway through the first half but Jonathan Kodjia equalised before the break. Maupay restored our lead in the 82nd minute, and we seemed on course for a rare away win before Kodjia struck in the fifth minute of injury-time.
The Griffin Park return the following February was settled by a last-gasp Neal Maupay goal to give us a 1-0 win – again in front of the Sky TV cameras.
Q – Villa have arguably been the team of the season so far – how have they achieved this?
A – They’ve done it without a wild level of spending, so I think much of the credit must go to Unai Emery, although he has tried his best to deflect it. Well-drilled and with apparently relentless energy, they have harried opponents when they haven’t had the ball, and attacked with verve once they’ve won it back. And at either end of the field, arguably in the most important positions of all, they’ve had (as Brentford fans will no doubt have noticed) a striker in prime form, and the man now officially acclaimed as the world’s leading goalkeeper of the moment. They’re in a sweet spot, especially at home.
Q – What did Unai Emery do to turn around the club’s fortunes?
A – I think unless you’re on the inside day-to-day, it’s hard to say for sure. We can look at tactical choices, and you can compare individual players now with their performances 18 months ago and see that they have clearly been improved. My observation from the outside would be that he has brought them two things: seemingly inexhaustible energy on a personal level, which he is managing to transmit to the players; and a sunny who-says-we-can’t-do-that outlook.
You can trace that back to about the end of January in his public comments, I think. Having taken several early steps towards the first objective of securing Villa’s Premier League status – remember they were 16th on the date he officially took charge, 1 November 2022 – it seemed that Villa were set for a mid-table finish, equidistant between the European places and the bottom three. Emery was the first voice I heard raise the idea that the next target was Europe, and although they were a long way behind, why not aim for it? It was unusual to hear a manager running towards an ambition, rather than playing it down.
He’s taking a slightly different public approach at the moment amid the gossip about a challenge for the title, but he set the momentum off in the first place, and it did the club the power of good. Sometimes his tactics are pretty high-stakes stuff – Villa’s defensive line to catch teams offside, for example – but Emery’s numbers keep coming up, so why change a winning line?
Q – Given the side’s current form, what are the expectations now for the rest of the season?
A – Stratospheric. Conscious of that, Emery is sticking to his line from the start of the season – that there are seven clubs essentially better equipped to finish in the top four than his – but the ball is rolling now, and even faster after the two extraordinary games at Villa Park last week, against Manchester City and Arsenal. Those two games were considered the real test of whether they were more than hopefuls, and a win in either would have confirmed Villa as genuinely at the Premier League’s top table. To win both, in wildly contrasting circumstances, was dream stuff.
The performance against Manchester City was arguably Villa’s finest in many years. To beat Arsenal less than 72 hours later demanded every player’s maximum effort and defensive skill, and perhaps a measure of luck. You could hardly blame any fan for being a believer after that. On top of all that, Villa’s first European campaign since 2010 offers great promise – in a tournament won by West Ham last year, it’s hard to see a stronger-looking contender in the field.
Q – How much impact is the Thursday-Sunday playing scenario having?
A – So far, not as much as it could, or perhaps as much as was expected at the start of the season. Villa’s squad has strength but arguably not the depth of their new direct rivals in the Premier League’s top-bracket, that carries them through their European campaigns every season. Thursday’s draw in Bosnia-Herzegovina ensured that Villa won their group despite losing the opening game, and therefore progress straight to the last 16 of the Europa Conference League, by-passing the play-off round in February. That will help, but expect Villa to seek new recruits in January.
Their weakest Sunday performance in recent months, at Nottingham Forest on 5 November, came at the end of a week that didn’t include a European game, although Villa were fully extended by Bournemouth the last time they played on Sunday after a Thursday game, escaping with a point.
Q – Ex-Bee Ollie Watkins has become crucial for Villa – how has he improved as a player since joining?
A – It feels as though there have already been three phases to his Villa career: the electric start under Dean Smith in the lockdown season, sparked by the hat-trick against Liverpool; a relative lull under Steven Gerrard, when he appeared to lose confidence and for a while his starting place; and then a resurgence under Emery.
At 27, he is now into perhaps his prime years, putting all his learning into practice, and clearly thinks deeply about his work – by all accounts he is still the keenest to listen and learn, and Emery praises him warmly. Only he could really tell you, but perhaps he is simply at ease with the idea of being the main man at a big club now, with a manager who leaves him in no doubt that he has the trust of the boss, not to mention the fans. An admirable player.
Q – Villa’s other ex-Bee Ezri Konsa is now also an England player – how is he doing?
A – One measure of Konsa’s progress is that it is possible to go through games without really noticing him, because he defends with so little fuss. Another is that he has earned himself a place in the England squad while playing at least some of the time for his club in a different position, as Emery has often used him at right-back with increasingly positive results.
The form of Diego Carlos and Pau Torres has allowed, or perhaps encouraged, him to develop that second string. Able to switch his defensive mode from elegant to aggressive as the situation demands, he is also a trusted, dependable presence. Like Watkins, he has signed a new long-term contract with Villa this season, to popular acclaim.
Q – What are your memories of past meetings between the teams?
A – As you know, Villa haven’t won in your part of London in modern times, and I think the only one of those games I have seen was in January 2022, when they felt they really ought to have done. Having taken the lead and controlled much of the game until Brentford equalised, they lost to a goal by Mads Roerslev, which I notice he has never yet repeated.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Villa formation and line-up please?
A – Several players are missing – most notably Lucas Digne and Douglas Luiz, suspended.
Konsa, Carlos, Torres, Moreno;
Bailey (if fit), Kamara, Ramsey, McGinn;
Tielemans (or Diaby if not fit);
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME IF YOU CAN’T BE THERE
If you can’t get to the Brentford Community Stadium for Sunday’s 2.00pm kick-off and want Brentford commentary, audio coverage is available via Buzz Box for free.
Coverage starts half an hour before kick-off and is advert-free, with Mark Burridge and Jonathan Douglas.
There is also live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra.
PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS
For Villa fans coming to the Gtech Community Stadium, there are plenty of pub options pre and post-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).
The pub areas are split into two zones. There is the area around Brentford’s old Griffin Park stadium. The pubs there are still very busy on match day frequented by Bees locals before heading down the road to the stadium at Kew Bridge which is only 15 mins walk.
Then there is the area in and around the stadium in Kew Bridge.
It is possible, if you have a good early start, to savour a few pubs in and around Griffin Park and Brentford zone before heading off to the pubs in the Kew zone or even vice versa if you so fancy.
Pubs in Griffin Park/Brentford zone
When at Griffin Park, Brentford was well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground. Three are still operating.
The Griffin is closest to the old away end and has always been very popular with both home and away fans and has its regulars who still make the journey down to the new stadium from there on matchday. The New Inn is on the other side which used to also be popular with away fans before the move. The Brook pub is the other option if you want to savour a pub in and around what is left of our old home. Worth a peep if you want to reminisce about old Brentford.
About five minutes’ walk away from the old ground are two pubs which are enormously popular. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is a “lively but comfortable” pub on matchday. Incredibly friendly and cosy, it has always been popular with a selection of away fans who fancied having a beer a few minutes further walk away from the ground without having to queue six persons deep. After the move to the new ground, The Globe has retained many of lot its regulars from the Griffin Park days and with screens throughout the pub and in its sheltered beer garden, it shows both Premier League and EFL football before and after each match.
Meanwhile around the corner, The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) is another incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs about one minute walk from The Globe. Again with a TV screen for live sports and a lovely beer garden, this is another pub frequented by “away fans in the know”.
The other pub worth checking out in the Griffin Park region is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road, if you like your real ales.
There are plenty of other pubs in and around Brentford High Street including real ale pub Magpie and Crown (Brentford High Street) and the cosy Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) near the river.
For a Griffin Park area pub crawl before heading over to Kew we recommend the following: Take the Piccadilly line to Northfields station. Turn left and walk for 2 mins and you will come to The Plough (Northfields Ave). Then walk to The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & then The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before hitting The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) and then The Black Dog (2 mins from The Griffin). You can also try and do the other three pubs on the corner whilst down here if you fancy.
Then you can then either walk (15 minutes from The Globe/The Nelson and The Griffin/Black Dog ) or take a train from Brentford station (which is five minutes walk away from both The Globe/The Nelson and The Griffin/Black Dog) or a bus (237/267) to Kew Bridge.
Trains run at 24 and 54 minutes past the hour to Kew Bridge from Brentford and take 2 mins.
Pubs in the Kew Bridge zone
Right next to Kew Bridge station, you will find the Express Tavern – an ale pub with a retro feel. The pub has been refurbished in readiness for the new football season and needless to say, is popular before the match due to its close proximity to the stadium.
Across the road by the river is One Over the Ait – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge. This pub is situated on the location of the now-demolished Oxford & Cambridge pub where Brentford Football Club was founded in 1889.
Across Kew Bridge and the River Thames, there are two pubs on Kew Green – the Cricketers and the Greyhound – very close to the pier where Brentford fans have embarked on their away journeys by water to F*lham, Orient, Charlton, West Ham and even Southend.
North of the river along hoity-toity Strand on the Green, you will find The Steam Packet, in an old Cafe Rouge, and The Bell. A bit further down are The City Barge and the Bulls Head – two pubs side-by-side in which you would often see Ant and Dec hanging out.
There is also The Pilot which you can get to coming out of the BACK entrance of Gunnersbury station and we believe the old John Bull pub at the front of the station has been refurbed as The Gunnersbury but we have never been there so can’t give it a or a
Transport to Brentford and Kew Bridge
The simplest on paper to get to Brentford FC from town is to get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) and then take the Overground train to Kew Bridge, which is right by the stadium. Brentford is one stop further on if you are on an ‘Original Griffin Park Pub’ mission.
With trains from Waterloo being only twice an hour (22 and 52) and taking 28 minutes, we normally recommend people jump on the tube from Kings Cross or Euston and head to Northfields or South Ealing on the Piccadilly Line as it is quicker (including the time getting across London and waiting at Waterloo) and trains are more frequent.
It is only 40 mins max station by tube to station meaning you could be in a Brentford pub within an hour of embarking your train at Kings Cross, Euston or Liverpool Street.
The other station option is Gunnersbury. You can walk to the stadium from Gunnersbury tube station (District line) in 25 minutes or take a bus (H91, 237, 267, 110), but note that it is closed for entry for one hour after the match.
For the Brentford/Griffin Park pubs you can get the Piccadilly line tube to Northfields station from King’s Cross or Euston (35 minutes) then walk down to The Plough, The Globe, The Lord Nelson and The Griffin and other pubs from there.
The new stadium is around 25 minutes’ walk from South Ealing station – if you don’t fancy Gunnersbury – or you can get on the 65 bus from across the road which will drop you almost outside in 15 minutes.
You can also pick up the 65 bus from Ealing Broadway (district and central line) which will take you to the new stadium in 25 minutes.
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.