Aston Villa’s new look system looks stronger in defence – holding a strong Leicester side, bar a mistake from a midfielder.
Words: Harry Trend | @HazaTrand
Aston Villa were in a rut ahead of their trip to Burnley on New Year’s Day, with one win from a possible six – and even that was an unconvincing 1-0 affair against lowly Norwich City. A solid Burnley wouldn’t succumb to a flimsy Aston Villa, would they? But that’s exactly what happened, and the Villans were rewarded for their first-half dominance – going two up – and leaving Turf Moor with all three points despite a late Burnley fightback.
On Wednesday, this set-up, a 3-5-2 again, was the key to Aston Villa earning a draw, and very nearly winning, away at Leicester. The Villans did invite too much pressure on themselves as the game grew, but at times Leicester found themselves having to attempt to thread a pass through the eye of a needle with a number of claret and blue shirts behind the ball.
Aston Villa have conceded far too many goals this season through defensive errors, so naturally, putting an extra man in the backline makes sense – and there aren’t many players in the league that you would want to marshal a back three more than Tyrone Mings.
At the King Power Stadium, Aston Villa’s number 40 was constantly organising his peers, and even late on Mings physically moved Indiana Vassilev in an attempt to ensure he was in the right place. The credit falls at Smith’s door for utilising Mings as the spare defender, allowing him to be free to clear loose balls and win headers without the burden of man-marking.
Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause are good players, and have little experience in the top tier – but both have benefitted from being in a back three as opposed to a more exposed two.
With Aston Villa in a relegation battle, there isn’t always the time to play expansive football. Against the Foxes, Aston Villa’s defensive trio pumped the ball long when they needed to – and arguably, the only time they didn’t ledd to Leicester’s equaliser – as Ezri Konsa played a free-kick short to Douglas Luiz, who was pounced upon by Hamza Chowdhury in a move that was finished with Kelechi Iheanacho’s strike.
Leicester’s counter-attack was a key reason why Aston Villa fell to a 4-1 defeat to the Foxes in early December at Villa Park – but on Wednesday the Villans were so deep that Leicester were limited in their opportunities to catch us on the break. At times, the wingbacks gave Aston Villa an overload on the flanks, with more options available to the player in possession. Ultimately, Frederic Guilbert doesn’t score that goal in a 4-3-3.
With Manchester City up next for Aston Villa, Dean Smith’s side will need to keep as tight as possible and work as hard as they did at the King Power. Moments like Anwar El Ghazi’s foul on Youri Tielemans to stop the Foxes counter aren’t pretty – but they may need to be repeated against the Citizens.
In an ideal world, Aston Villa would possess a proven striker to lead the line – but against a team of City’s calibre, having an unrecognised frontman isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jack Grealish, El Ghazi and Trezeguet all played the role of Aston Villa’s main attacker on Wednesday – but also dropped deep to defend. Picking the right moments to attack will be crucial.
Manchester City are the Premier League’s highest goal scorers this campaign with 56, but they have also conceded 24 goals. That’s more than Sheffield United and Crystal Palace. The odds are stacked against Aston Villa – but the outcome of the game isn’t as predictable as some may think.