Aston Villa have had mixed displays in the Premier League with Dean Smith’s 4-3-3 – so which formations could change the sides luck in front of goal?
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So far this season Aston Villa have used one formation, 4-3-3, but with mixed success. Being the formation that drove the side to promotion last season, it is easy to see why Dean Smith is looking to utilise it again, but without a goal in the last two games, is the game away at Arsenal – or a game after it – an opportunity to experiment something else and find our Plan B?
With the wingers being largely ineffective so far this season, this formation brings in another defensive midfielder and gives the attacking midfielders more freedom to support Wesley in the final third. The big Brazilian has looked isolated for the majority of the season so far, lacking service and support in his pursuit for goals. Against Everton he led the line phenomenally, holding the ball up excellently and bringing others into play, but since then he has struggled to have any impact on games and is in desperate need of more bodies around him.
Playing 4-2-3-1 would see Luiz and Nakamba playing together in front of the already solid back five, giving Grealish, McGinn, Wesley and one other attacking player (Trezeguet, Hourihane, Lansbury etc.) the opportunity to stay high and receive the ball in more dangerous areas. Getting runners in and around Wesley would certainly see him become more involved in games, and would see the number of goalscoring chances increase. The only issue is the midfield could be left quite open if the likes of Grealish and McGinn are asked to stay in more attacking roles.
This formation isn’t too dissimilar to the 4-3-3 that Aston Villa have been playing anyway, but here the wingers would instead be wide midfielders. Their defensive duties would be slightly more emphasised, but one player, maybe Grealish, Jota, Davis, would be situated in close company to Wesley upfront. This would give him the ability to link up with someone rather than be forced to constantly hold the ball up and wait for support. The wide midfielders would still join attacks, their starting positions would just be a bit deeper, so there would be at least a couple of options for Wesley every time he gets the ball.
With this formation however, Villa would potentially lose a midfield player, with Grealish labelling himself an 8 rather than a 10 earlier in the season. Therefore it would possibly to be the captain and McGinn as the two central midfielders, meaning the defensive midfielders would miss out. This may hinder the defensive stability we have shown thus far, so it would be a risk, but in order to get more bodies in and around not only Wesley but the final third of the pitch, this may be worth a try.
This formation could implement wide midfielders or just slightly wider central midfielders, but either way, the midfield would be packed out, the defensive side of the game wouldn’t be disrupted and Wesley would have another body to feed off. Like the 4-3-3 currently being favoured by Dean Smith, this formation would only have room for one holding midfielder but would allow (if the narrower version of the formation is used) another centre-mid to come in. That could be Lansbury, Hourihane, or even someone like Jota coming further in-field and playing closer to the other three central midfielders.
Should this formation be used, Grealish is likely to be utilised as the attacking midfielder, being able to link up well with the two up top, but this may make it much more difficult for him to get on the ball as regularly as he does usually. He would also have less room to create his chances in, staying higher up the pitch and working largely in the final third as opposed to picking the ball up deeper and dictating the game from there. On top of this, this formation is best utilised when the two strikers can play off each other and cause the defence different problems. However, the only other fit striker at the moment is Keinan Davis, a very similar player to Wesley, so for this to work, it would probably have to be someone like Trezeguet or El Ghazi playing alongside Wesley as the second striker as opposed to another body to hold the ball up.
This formation is basically a 4-3-3, just narrower. The wingers become wide forwards, playing closer to Wesley and offering more in the way of support. However, their defensive duties would also be reduced and this may see the full-backs regularly exposed. This would probably see McGinn and Grealish, as the outside centre-mids, being dragged a bit wider and being forced to help out the full-backs a lot more. That would leave the holding midfielder alone with whoever has tucked in out of Grealish and McGinn and may leave the midfield exposed to being overrun. If this was played against Arsenal, Villa may struggle as their wingers are such powerful assets to them and would be used at every opportunity, leaving Villa’s midfield stretched, so this one may not be the best to experiment this weekend.
Although, this formation could become similar to a 4-1-2-1-2 in the way it plays, with one of the forwards dropping slightly deeper, leaving two players to occupy the defence. The difference in this formation is that the player playing closet to the strikers would be the likes of Jota and Trezeguet as opposed to Grealish, meaning he could influence the game more from midfield, having more touches and seeing the bigger picture on the pitch. Similar to the 4-3-3, this isn’t likely to be the formation used, but it could add a slightly different twist to the formation that Arsenal will presumably be expecting us to play, having seen us use it in all six competitive matches so far this season.