Aston Villa: On to European spots?
Finishing 14th this season, and 11th last season, many fans might forget that this is only Aston Villa’s 3rd season back in the Premier League. After the tense 19/20 season, where Villa avoided the drop on the last day of the season, the Villains have been flourishing in the Premier League. Even after star player and club captain Jack Grealish’s 100 million pound move to City, Villa still finished a respectable 14th place this season, and are looking to achieve greater heights next season. With a good base of talent at their disposal, and an inventive, youthful manager in Steven Gerrard, how will Aston Villa fare in the coming season.
This season, Gerrard favoured a 4–3–3 formation, with one defensive midfielder, and two inverted wingers, almost acting like double tens, creating an effective box shape in the middle of the pitch.
Villa favour a more direct style of play, getting the ball quickly from defence to attack, often bypassing the centre-backs and either utilising Digne’s dribbling ability to progress the ball past the first line of defence, or have Luiz drop into the defensive line to move the ball upfield. In the attacking third, Villa mostly utilised crossing from their wide players in Digne, with Cash playing slightly more passively than Digne, who constantly marauds up the left flank on the overlap. Villa also make use of their double 10s, often feeding through balls in behind for Watkins or the other 10. Such a playstyle allows for a high amount of shots generated, with multiple players pushing the backline back, allowing the ball-carrier to have multiple options, including a shot on goal. In terms of defence, Villa play a relatively balanced midblock, using their box-like defensive shape, consisting of the double 10s and the 2 central midfielders to push play wide, where they then use the touchline as a 12th man to begin their pressing. However, committing so many players to such a passive form of pressing leaves Villa extremely vulnerable to counter-attacks, especially with the fullbacks pushing up to cover for the space vacated by the inside winger. This then results in Villa conceding a high amount of fouls in extremely dangerous areas, with 31% of Villa’s goals conceded this season coming solely from set-pieces.
So how do Villa’s players fit into this game plan? Starting from the goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez is an extremely reliable keeper, capable at sweeping up Villa’s aggressive mid-block, able to save shots at close range and win one-on-ones with opposition attackers. In the backline, Lucas Digne is an aggressive fullback, capable in overlapping down the left and whipping in crosses into the opposition box, whilst performing well defensively. Cash is a more passive player, known for his expert defensive ability. However, a common trend throughout the whole back-line, bar Digne, is that they are rather weak at progressing the ball, with Konsa ranking in the bottom 5% of centre-backs at number of passes, and Cash being extremely weak at delivering long-balls. Hence, the role of progression mostly falls on the shoulders of Digne or Luiz. Luiz is a reliable defensive midfielder, able to drop deep to progress as well as shield the defensive line and cover for Digne’s overlapping runs. He is also a major threat on set-pieces and ranks in the top 96% for passes from free-kicks. Ramsey is a good midfielder, adept at defending, whilst also being able to carry the ball to start an attack, shown by his high volume of carries into the opposition penalty area. McGinn is absolutely critical to the team, with his dribbling ability and immaculate passing technique helping the team to progress the ball and create chances, whilst also being adept at defending from the front and drawing foudl from the opposition. Coutinho, famed for his time at Liverpool, has had an enjoyable season dressed in claret, playing as a inside winger alongside Buendia, with his main strength being his dribbling ability and technical skill. Buendia, on the other hand relies on his passing ability, with 2.13 key passes per 90, whilst also contributing in terms of his pressing, shown by his 2,46 tackles per game, ranking in the top 3% for wingers. Watkins plays as the sole forward up front, tasked with carrying the ball at his feet and running in behind for through balls, often dropping deep to assist his team in progression, whilst also being a good presser, using his curved runs to show opposition players outside.
One burning concern is the lack of depth in this team, especially at left-back, with Matt Targett leaving to Newcastle and veteran Ashley Young being released on a free. Villa will have to find a deputy for Digne, with Calvin Bassey rumoured to join from Rangers.
On the whole, this Villa team is extremely talented, and I can see them finishing in a higher position than they are this year. With intelligent recruitment and a bit of luck, Villa could come near a spot for the Europa Conference League, and get back to their winning ways in their prime.
All data is taken from Statsbomb via FBRef and Sofascore
Thanks for reading this piece! Feel free to comment on what I should improve on as I’m still a beginner writer! Next piece on Brentford will be the last post of this series and I will move on to more situational analysis of recent events!