After winning at Old Trafford it was no surprise to see Dean Smith select the same starting eleven, sticking with the 3-5-2 formation that has produced some good results (and positive performances) in recent weeks.
Just as the line-up was easy to predict it felt like Aston Villa’s preferred routes to goal were easily anticipated by Tottenham.
For the first thirty minutes Aston Villa rarely looked to build play from the back instead preferring to play long balls up towards Ings and Watkins. This tactic worked fairly well against Manchester United (although it did leave them open on transition) but here the quality of the balls forward – especially from Cash and Ming’s – were poor. Villa’s midfield also struggled to pick up the second balls.
In the example below you can see both Dier and Romero are ready for the long pass from Cash with the former intercepting well.
When Villa did manage to get controlled possession of the ball, the quality of their passing was disappointing, especially from Douglas Luiz (whose use of the ball has been good in previous matches).
Above, Luiz has a good opportunity to play the ball into McGinn, with Targett free on the outside, but Luiz overhits & miss directs the pass. And it was a similar story in the example below. Luiz initially does well to win the tackle but he then rushes the pass. If the Brazilian had taken more care then it could have been a promising transition for Aston Villa.
This sloppiness in possession lasted for the majority of the match, with defenders too eager to play long balls and players further forwards overhitting their passes or failing to properly control the ball. This led to numerous attacks breaking down (like the below overhit pass from Ramsey, early in the second half) whenever Aston Villa were in promising situations.
When Villa did try and play short they often played themselves into trouble and this is an area they must improve upon in order to add more variety to their play.
Here Martinez overhits a pass to Hause which eventually leads to a half chance for Son at the far post. Konsa defended this situation very well and overall I thought he was Aston Villa’s best player (probably alongside with McGinn).
Even Villa’s goal was a series of tackles/stretches before the ball eventually found its way to Targett.
The one positive in possession was the relationship between McGinn and Targett. McGinn often used his body (bottom..) well to let the ball run across him, onto his left foot, and switch the play.
A McGinn switch to Targett led to a good chance for Ings, in the second half, but – as with the rest of his team mates – his touch let him down and he ended up taking the shot on the spin and with his weaker left foot.
A key route to goal for Aston Villa so far this season has been via set pieces but in this match Tottenham defended the box well (especially Eric Dier) and the delivery (again from Luiz) was often disappointing.
The near post delivery, which Villa have relied on this season, was often under hit and Tottenham defended this area well.
It was a little disappointing that there wasn’t more variety to their set pieces, although they did try a short corner, which led to an edge of the box shot for McGinn.
They also worked one nice throw in combination between Watkins and Ings in the second half.
Not only did Aston Villa struggle in possession but they struggled to press and remain compact as a team. It was a similar story against Manchester United but the Red Devils failed to turn their territorial dominance into clear cut chances.
From the first minute against Tottenham Aston Villa pressed high with Ming’s pushing forwards into midfield. Again the press was man to man in midfield with the wing backs pressing Tottenham’s full backs.
Villa were unable to press as aggressively as they normally do due to the positioning of Tottenham’s full backs and defensive midfielders.
When Tottenham had the ball in deep positions, both Royal and Reguilon (who I thought had a good game) stayed deep which caused Targett and Cash problems. If they both press high it left the CBs exposed. And if they didn’t press then Tottenham had an easy out ball. This is one of the problems of going man for man in midfield and why teams often use their outside midfielder to press the oppositions full back (especially on one side of the pitch).
Below is a good example. Cash isn’t pressing high but he also isn’t protecting Konsa, thus ending up in no mans land.
What Tottenham also did well was tilt their midfield slightly to the left hand side. This meant that McGinn was dragged over towards Aston Villa’s right hand side which in turn dragged Ramsey central. This opened up a passing lane into Lucas Moura. The space in front of Ming’s was an area that Tottenham exploited throughout the match.
Another example here of Ming’s being dragged out of position, creating space for runners in behind.
And again. The position of Hojbjerg ,to the left, has dragged over McGinn and Ramsey is marking Skipp, centrally. This created a big space for Lucas Moura.
With Lucas Moura dragging Ming’s out of position and Kane coming short (dragging Hause short) there was space to exploit behind Aston Villa’s fragmented defence for Son or for a midfielder to run into.
Aston Villa were very vulnerable to an up, back and through. Below, Son is disappointed not to receive the through ball.
And again below. Kane drags Hause short and Son, Ndombele and Moura break free.
There were numerous example where, if Tottenham spotted the right pass, or made the right run, then they were in behind Aston Villa’s defence.
Tottenham’s two goals
For the first goal, McGinn plays a pass that is too short for Ming’s (another poor pass from Villa).
Which caused the Aston Villa captain to dive in and expose his two central defensive partners (a story of the first half).
Next time I think Ming’s will take the foul and a yellow card.
The second goal was a result of Tottenham having 3v2 down the sides. Skipp dropped to the left hand side (as Tottenham’s DMs had been doing) and Ndombele and Reguilon outnumbered Cash and McGinn. This caused Konsa to step out, creating space for Son, in behind.
When Aston Villa did press Tottenham high they still failed to prevent them from attacking as they struggled to defend long balls (with the back three often isolated 3v3).
Another example here.
Aston Villa lacked quality. Their passing was often over hit or misplaced when they did get into promising positions. Tottenham defended the long balls well – both the initial challenge and picking up the second balls – and Aston Villa struggled to vary their attacks.
Aston Villa did have a good spell of dominance either side of half time resulting in long throws and corner kicks. The delivery of these were disappointing.
This is the challenge for Aston Villa in their current shape. If a team defends long balls and the box well then they need to find another way to attack. The McGinn to Targett switch looked promising but Aston Villa need to find ways of advancing through the thirds from Martinez and the CBs.
Out of Possession:
Aston Villa pressed high but this caused them problems (as it did against Manchester United). Targett and Cash pressed Royal and Reguilon early on with Villa man to man in midfield. This left the CBs exposed and created opportunities for Kane and Son to exploit. The man to man approach in midfield also exposed Mings who struggled when stepping forwards to defend.
The 3-5-2 is a difficult formation to press in as it leaves the team very exposed on the opposite side of the pitch. Villa might be better getting Ings and Watkins to initially block passes into the midfielders rather than pressing the CBs. This will enable the team to stay more compact.
To continue to progress Aston Villa need to add a bit more variety to their game.
They could pick and choose which opposition they press aggressively against and adjust how they press (McGinn could press the oppositions left back, keeping the back 5 in tact).
They also need to vary their attacks with less reliance on long balls and set pieces.
Despite a disappointing performance Aston Villa remained in the game throughout and again didn’t conceded too many clear cut chances.
Once Dean Smith switched to a back 4 Aston Villa conceded two clear cut chances immediately and this will be a worry if the manager is thinking of reverting back to the 4-3-3.