Pre-season has thrown some surprises at us so far, but these are the things we’ve learned from Aston Villa’s games against Telford, Kidderminster, Walsall, Burton and West Ham.
Words by Mark Jirobe (@VillaMarkPGH) // Follow us on Twitter @claretandview
There’s many things that could be said about the defence and tactical approach that Aston Villa could utilise this season.
Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce has employed a 3-5-2 formation for most of the preseason so far, and seems to want to push his team towards playing that formation going forward. If Aston Villa are to utilise wing-backs, Villa supporters could see some members of the squad playing in positions that they are not used to. In the friendly against West Ham, Steve Bruce came out of the gate yet again with a 3-5-2 formation, with Albert Adomah as left wing-back and James Bree as the right wing-back.
Tommy Elphick, James Chester and Alan Hutton lined up as the menacing three at the back. Even for a preseason friendly, Aston Villa supporters were hoping for a positive result but it was not meant to be. As pre-season friendlies are meant to be nothing more than fitness building and for managers to try out different tactics, Villa didn’t exactly look out of sorts against Premier League competition and their stiffest competition in preseason thus far.
Aston Villa hasn’t had the best results when utilising a 3-5-2 formation in the past, going all the way back to former Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert using it sparingly in the 2012-2013 campaign. At the present day, Aston Villa just may have the squad to do very well at such a formation. There is a lot of speed and natural tactical awareness in the squad that would maintain possession and be ready for a counter-attack when the situation would arise due to some great passers of the ball.
Midfield players such as Conor Hourihane, Glenn Whelan, and Henri Lansbury also have the ability to control the midfield areas while trying to get the ball into promising positions on the flank. Jack Grealish, if he stays a Villa player, will undoubtedly be the creative outlet right behind or even next to a striker in this formation as we have seen in the build-up to the new season.
The opinion in the change of tactic seems to be split right down the middle with Aston Villa supporters. On one hand, many supporters are not in favour of Villa playing with a single striker, but they’re not exactly comfortable with the idea of only having three defenders on the pitch either. On the other hand, select supporters believe there are no natural wing-backs in the current first-team squad and that could be a big ask for natural fullbacks.
There have definitely been glimpses of faults with Bruce’s 3-5-2 to this point, but there have also been positives as well. Aston Villa have a very large number of midfielders who are all pretty well-rounded to play the formation. Glenn Whelan yet again proved this preseason that while he is not the most glamorous footballer you’ve ever seen, he can definitely disrupt the opposition midfield and quickly get the ball to a more creative outlet. This specific formation definitely calls for a defensive minded player who does not mind putting in the hard yards for the betterment of the team as a whole.
Unlike an earlier preseason friendly against Burton Albion, Aston Villa had trouble playing and retaining the ball in the wide positions of the pitch up against West Ham. James Bree was seen a few times being dispossessed off of the ball while bombing forward on the right side of the pitch. Adomah was trying his hardest to get the ball forward with his speed, but was ultimately collapsed upon in numbers by West Ham. The absence of Richie De Laet starting was definitely felt in the friendly against the Hammers. De Laet is having an extraordinary preseason for Villa and may even delay James Bree’s inclusion into the first-team even further if De Laet can keep his form at a top level.
Steve Bruce gets a lot of berating by the Claret & Blue faithful over playing ‘negative football’ but it seems he has taken that criticism on board and is trying to play a more attractive style of football. And it just may work. Especially if certain ageing players are sold out of the squad and he has to depend on younger players such as James Bree, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Mitch Clark and Callum O’Hare once he returns from injury. While these and other younger players lack experience in getting top-level football, Aston Villa’s U23 team has been sensational over the past few seasons. The 3-5-2 tactic may not be a popular decision to most Aston Villa supporters, but a change of tactic for the upcoming campaign seems to be one thing all Villa fans can agree on.