Aston Villa kicked off the weekend with a 12:30 match-up against Manchester United at Old Trafford, a ground that has not been most favourable to Villa in recent history. Despite this, the team dug deep and were rewarded with an 88th-minute goal courtesy of stand-in centre back, Kortney Hause.
This was a performance long in the making but it wasn’t, however, a massive shock to most. Over the past 3 games, we have seen a very different Villa side to the one that started the season. This, in my opinion, has been due to several tactical tweaks made by the manager, Dean Smith since his side drew 1-1 with Brentford. I will take a closer look at how these changes have galvanized the team and drastically improved performances.
A new formation
A sluggish start to the campaign by Villa’s standards forced Smith to shake things up in order to improve on recent results. On matchday 4 the boys travelled to face title hopefuls, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge with a renewed sense of purpose. Ultimately, the blues ran out 3-0 winners but the performance from the team did not warrant such a scoreline.
Smith had opted to switch to a 3-at-the-back system with Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Axel Tuanzebe holding while Matty Cash and Matt Targett adopted the wingback positions. A midfield 3 of Jacob Ramsey, John McGinn and Douglas Luiz looked to provide more security for the Villa backline as opposed to the previously preferred midfield 2. A strike force of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings was trialled in an attempt to establish how their qualities would complement each other.
Despite the loss, the Villans had much to be happy about as the boys caused a Chelsea team filled with Champions League quality to sweat on many occasions. Individual mistakes cost Villa dearly, but it was clear to see that this new system was working well.
The last 2 Premier League games have seen the Villans dispatch Everton and Manchester United respectively, scoring 4 and keeping a clean sheet in both matches. The team performance against Everton was a long time in the making as goals from Cash and summer signing and Jamaican football sensation, Leon Bailey, saw the Claret and Blues take the victory at Villa Park.
Despite a narrow midweek League Cup defeat to Chelsea, the team dusted themselves down and got to work again to put things right for Saturday’s early kick-off against Manchester United at Old Trafford. A fantastic team performance capped off by a late Kortney Hause header saw the lads claim a 1-0 away victory at a ground in which wins are difficult to come by for many teams.
Huge credit must be given to Smith for this tactical change as it has allowed many players to flourish and express themselves playing the style of football that suits them. The wingback role has enabled Cash to get forward much more in order to play balls into the box and even have a go if space opens up for him. His energy levels are well suited to this role and will be key to getting the best out of him.
Playing with a midfield 3 has also stemmed the flow of balls travelling through the middle of the park as Villa had previously been guilty of allowing the opposition too much room to manoeuvre. Young Ramsey has been fantastic since his introduction into the starting eleven, with his excellent ball-carrying ability and tracking back greatly benefitting the team. A player who, no doubt, has a massive future at this football club. While a front 2 of Watkins and Ings is currently a work in progress, I believe that when they click, their differences in play style will greatly complement each other.
Having recruited well over the summer, Smith also has the ability to bring on game-changers if the result isn’t going as planned. Having millions of pounds worth of talent on the bench, including the likes of Emi Buendia, Bertrand Traore and Leon Bailey coupled with highly-rated talents like Carney Chukwuemeka, Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Cameron Archer, is something Villa could only dream of having several seasons ago.
Impact of Austin MacPhee
Something that is also important to note is the impact of the newly appointed set-piece coach, Austin MacPhee. Following a backroom staff reshuffle, MacPhee was brought in to improve Villa’s performances from set pieces. Since his appointment in the summer, no team in the Premier League has scored more goals created from set-pieces than Aston Villa, a stat that has been drastically improved from last season. The only goal of the game in the victory over Manchester United came from a corner, with MacPhee barking orders on the sidelines.
MacPhee’s appointment cannot be underestimated as Villa have become much more of a threat from set-pieces and are continually trialling new routines. One thing is for sure, I cannot wait to see what next weekend brings!