By Richard Wakefield
Not a single shot on target was registered in Villa’s last outing as they fell to defeat against former manager Paul Lambert’s Wolves. The disappointing performance from Villa has certainly lost Villa traction in the pursuit of a potential play-off place for Steve Bruce.
The only shining beacon in yet another gloomy season is Villa’s home form as they remain the only Championship team to be unbeaten. An over achieving Preston North End are the next team to step in to Villa Park and Aston Villa will be the winners according to the bookies, but the visitors with their decent away form will feel that they can break Villa’s unbeaten run.
Preston will also have the opportunity to be the first team to accomplish the double over Villa in the season.
Although the chances of promotion may be dwindling, imminent transfers could be just what Villa need pull off the seemingly unlikely, but a win against Preston is desperately needed for even the optimists to believe.
Here’s three ways of making sure it happens…
Previously in ‘Three Ways’ it was suggested that Bacuna be thrusted in to the starting XI and for QPR, Bruce did name Bacuna on the team sheet with some success. A win against the Hoops meant Bacuna has started every game since and he has even scored in Villa’s win versus Burton.
Whether it is due to Bruce believing Bacuna is Villa’s best left-midfielder or Villa’s lack of options in that position, he is now being regularly picked there and it just isn’t working. Bacuna’s best spell at Villa was under Tim Sherwood when playing as an attacking full-back providing the service to fuel Benteke’s monstrous goal-scoring form.
This formula was one of the very few things Sherwood got right at Villa and Bruce really should capitalise on this. Bruce’s insistence on fielding Agbonlahor and McCormack up top will hinder Villa as it did against Wolves, but it can be argued that the service just wasn’t their last week.
Bacuna dropping back into defence and most importantly being put on his favoured right side could work wonders when it comes providing Villa’s front men with the service to prove that they have what it takes to lead the line. A casualty will come as a result of this change, but Hutton’s crossing hasn’t been setting the league on fire this season, or last season, or ever.
It seems like every week Villa face a former player or academy graduate and Saturday will be no different. Daniel Johnson and Callum Robinson were NextGen Series winners but couldn’t break in to the first team under Paul Lambert. Since leaving Villa Park, both of them have featured prominently for Preston and have put in the performances to deserve it.
Robinson and Johnson are the top and third top goal scorers for Preston respectively and unfortunately for Villa, they look to continue this form. Callum Robinson specifically will be a key danger, three goal contributions in his last three games shows that he may be able to fulfil the potential he showed at Villa.
Robinson’s ability with the ball at his feet will be the biggest threat as his dribbling skills will open up space for Preston’s other pacey attackers like Aiden McGeady and Daryl Horgan. Robinson was deployed just behind the striker in Preston’s win over Brighton so a defensive midfielder (probably Jedinak) to stop his distribution would go a long way in suppressing Preston’s attack; even if it does mean Bruce switches to a three man midfield.
Eye for Goal
Recent performances under Bruce have been well below par and the lack of attempts on goal are one of the key issues that need addressing. This problem splits itself in two a combination of two causes, no service and poor strikers.
As previously mentioned, Gabby and McCormack will more than likely be starting despite their torrid form in front of goal recently but this will always be a self fulfilling prophecy if they never have a shot on goal.
Preston have the third lowest average possession in the Championship which should immediately give Villa the advantage, if Villa can capitalise on this and play at least one creative player in the hole behind the strikers to allow the attackers an opportunity to position themselves correctly to get an easy chance on goal.
Whether it be McCormack dropping deeper or Grealish being deployed as the focal point of attacks, this change in attacking style could be exactly what Villa needs to turn their miserable low scoring defeats, into something more positive.
If Villa will be privy to more possession then it might be worth getting both McCormack and Grealish on the pitch together and playing in unison to open up the Preston defence and create more opportunities on goal.
Follow Richard on Twitter here: @_RichardAVFC