When Villa fans turned up at Portman Road last Saturday, few would have been expecting to see a change in formation.
Despite showing a weakness in keeping hold of a lead, Villa’s attacking play has looked scintillating and almost every time the Villans go forward the attack looks as if it will end in a goal.
Of course, it is understandable that the manager, Roberto Di Matteo, would want to try to strengthen at the back in an effort to make sure that his players do not concede the goals which have made it impossible to pick up the points that their all round play has deserved.
Many have slated Di Matteo for his decisions regarding substitutions and tactics within games. On Saturday, his choice to change to five at the back did the job he wanted. The team picked up its third clean sheet of the season and ended a run of three matches without stopping the opposition from scoring.
This did in turn cause a lack of threat in front of goal, with the side not registering a single shot on target in ninety minutes.
It seems that Di Matteo now needs to find a way of combining the irresistible attacking power that has been shown at Villa Park this season in the 4-2-3-1 formation with the defensive solidity that was seen in the draw with Ipswich Town.
Next up in the relentless Championship campaign is one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes for the neutral, and the mildly obsessed Geordies, so what better time to make it all click than when Newcastle United visit Villa Park on Saturday evening?
With the Magpies looking most vulnerable on the counter attack this season, as proven by Wolverhampton Wanderers, Huddersfield Town and Fulham, it may be worth Di Matteo persisting with the 5-3-2 formation for a second week in a row. Keeping it tight and using the pace of Kodjia and Ayew could be a good ploy to topple the promotion favourites.
Nathan Baker started the game against Ipswich Town as the third centre-half but, after picking up yet another injury, he was replaced by Micah Richards. With Baker set to miss the game against Newcastle United, that could force Di Matteo into having to keep the 4-2-3-1 formation which has seen the Villa boys go unbeaten at Villa Park so far this season.
Richards did not play too badly when he replaced Baker but, with the former England international way down Di Matteo’s pecking order, the Italian may see no choice but to revert to four defenders. This may leave the Villans a lot more open at the back, although it would mean more of the end-to-end football that has been on offer at Villa Park this season.
With the influential duo of Ross McCormack and Rudy Gestede also set to miss Saturday’s game, that attacking ability shown so far this season is severely hindered. It could mean a Villa Park debut for the exciting Albert Adomah, who will be hoping to show exactly why Di Matteo was right to sign him up.
The key area for Villa is in the midfield. For too long now, the side has been lightweight to say the least. The combination of Ashley Westwood and Gary Gardner does not work while Mile Jedinak hasn’t had the most inspiring start to his Villa career so the return of Aaron Tshibola could be a blessing.
Despite being sent off in the U23s’ defeat to West Bromwich Albion on Monday, Tshibola will be available to Di Matteo on Saturday. He proved in Aston Villa’s only win so far this season – against Rotherham United – that he is the dynamic, box-to-box midfielder that the club has been searching for for a while.
His presence could help Jedinak to improve on his performances so far, with Tshibola adding legs to the midfield.
It seems that there are reasons for and against both formations, with one meaning a more secure defence and another offering a more successful attack. Di Matteo’s job isn’t as easy as some fans make out. Come Saturday evening, Di Matteo will choose the side he believes can perform best.