Although fans have suggested, quite rightly, that Lowton and Antonio Luna look as if they could benefit from some protection, this also raises issues with a switch to 4-4-2. For a start, if, say, Gabby and Tonev were Villa’s first-choice wingers, how much protection are the fullbacks really going to get? Gabby was Villa’s threat at Carrow Road, and asking him to cover the fullback all game would drag him further back down the pitch, going some way to removing this threat.
And, to be blunt,do Villa really have good enough midfield players to get away with only playing two central midfielders? More and more teams are playing with three players in the middle of the park, and Villa’s midfield sometimes seems to get overrun with three, let alone two.
Even if a more defensive-minded player such as Yacouba Sylla played alongside Delph in a 4-4-2, the reality would be that both central midfielders would spend large parts of most games pinned back to protect the defence while the wingers attempted to get forward.
Ashley Westwood was fantastic last season, but there have been grumblings from fans about his performances this season. His play definitely has not been quite up to the standard he set in his first campaign at Villa, but perhaps the main shortcoming to Westwood’s game is the lack of protection he offers the defence, despite playing from relatively deep. If he was playing alongside Delph in a two-man midfield, Fabian would find himself doing all the dirty work.
However, if Westwood is removed from the starting XI on a long-term basis, Villa will have lost probably their best passer of the ball, and the man who often has a hand in the first stages of Villa’s moves, chances and goals. There may well have been a case for dropping the ex-Crewe man, but for me Villa’s strongest XI contains him – he just needs to refocus and sharpen up.
One of the best things about Delph this season has been his dynamism. He’s at his best when winning the ball and driving forward, something he is only able to do if he knows he has adequate midfield cover. Westwood does not possess any particularly strong defensive abilities, so if he and Delph both start in central midfield, a more defensive-minded player has to as well.
Karim El Ahmadi has made it difficult for Paul Lambert to justify naming a midfield three without him in it so far this season. Having drifted around the edges of the Villa first team for most of last season, the Moroccan has played a key part so far this time around. It was the combination of him, Delph and Westwood which drove Villa on to impressive performances against Arsenal and Chelsea in the opening week, and though he was dropped for the home defeat to Liverpool, Villa were greatly improved after his introduction with just over an hour gone. [Page 3]