Aston Villa look ahead to the 2014/15 season with a list of new objectives in mind.
Last season was not a vintage one from a Villa fans’ point of view and Paul Lambert himself stated that the team was a million miles from where he wanted it to be. The main failing of Paul Lambert’s 2013/14 team was a perceptible lack of ideas when in possession, particularly at home.
Aston Villa have not won three consecutive home games since October 2007.
Too often there has been an insufficient response from management in respect of the team’s failings at home and Lambert commented on the anomaly during the Christmas period, “If you over analyse it can be dangerous, because all you’re doing is concentrating on your negatives.”
However, in January the manager was more explicit with his analysis:
“We don’t have a specialist attacking midfielder – I call them number 10’s. Players who are prepared to take a chance and take risks are important. If you can get somebody like that in your side, they can make things happen.”
Fans frustration with team performances were felt by most people connected with the club. Departing Chief Executive Paul Faulkner was overheard at Swansea lamenting, “It won’t be like this next season”, whilst club ambassador Ian Taylor remarked, “We need to be doing much better here.”
So what can we expect this season from the new management team of Lambert and Keane?
The early summer transfers have given an indication that the Villa manager wants his 2014/15 side to have more possession of the ball.
Lambert has now signed Joe Cole on a free, brought Charles N’Zogbia back into the squad and is rumoured to be interested in players such as Ki Sueng-Yueng, Victor Moses and Christian Atsu. In addition, Lambert has promoted Jack Grealish to the first team squad along with Samir Carruthers and Callum Robinson. According to Joe Cole, Lambert assured him that Villa would be looking to play more football this season. This is welcome news to fans, but what sort of changes will take place?
New Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal is likely to adopt the 5-3-2 system he implemented this summer at the World Cup which saw un-fancied Holland reach the semi-finals. Louis Van Gaal is an admirer of the former great Dutch coach Rinus Michels and LVG adopted the 5-3-2 system following the loss of Strootman pre-tournament. Van Gaal explained, “I played this system because I believe that we are not good enough to beat Spain with our normal 4-3-3 formation.”
Paul Lambert has limited funds this summer and it is likely that Villa will be playing against stronger teams more often than not in the 2014/15 Premier League season. Will Lambert choose to adopt the 5-3-2 formation regularly?
Van Gaal’s Holland team played with three main centre-backs; De Vrij, Vlaar and Martins Indi with wing-backs Janmaat and Blind. In front of the back five, the central-midfield profile was very important for Van Gaal’s side in maintaining the balance of the team. De Jong and a deep-lying playmaker such as Clasie or De Guzman were tasked with shuffling into pockets of space left by the wing-backs who were expected to provide width and help create opportunities in attack.
In front of De Jong and De Guzman, playmaker Wesley Sneijder drifted behind Holland’s two forwards Van Persie and Robben.
The New Boys
Paul Lambert’s acquisition of Kieran Richardson and Senderos are perhaps the biggest indication that he intends to employ a 5-3-2 system next season. Alan Hutton and Kieran Richardson are not the best defensively as full-backs but both players enjoy playing in the final third of the pitch and providing width.
Kieran Richardson claimed three assists and four goals last season and Alan Hutton made 13 key passes in 9 matches for Bolton, including an assist. It could also be argued that Richardson and Hutton are physically more robust than Lowton and Bennett (as Shane Long might testify) and physical strength was something Villa lacked at times last season in the full back areas.
Philip Senderos, however, is not the most physical centre-back and he struggled badly in battles against Didier Drogba when he was an Arsenal player. However, Senderos does have a reasonable passing game as you’d expect from an ex-Arsenal player with 87% pass success rate last season and is able to help build play from the back. Jores Okore also isn’t the biggest centre-back and lost a defensive duel in pre-season against Alex Fisher which enabled Mansfield to score. However, Okore is fast, athletic and has a good range of passing which makes him very suitable to play De Vrij’s role as right centre-back in a back-three.
Addressing the Midfield Achilles Heel
Paul Lambert is apparently looking to bring in a new defensive midfielder according to newspaper reports and there are rumours that the player Lambert would like to sign is Ki Sueng-Yeung. Ki is not a player who can be likened to Nigel De Jong, as De Jong’s major attribute is his physicality. Ki played mostly as a deep-lying playmaker when on loan at Sunderland and for Swansea he enjoyed long periods of possession with the ball in a three-man midfield. Could Lambert be looking to bring in Ki plus an additional defensive midfielder?
In terms of creativity, Joe Cole claims to have been promised the number 10 role by Lambert, which was the major reason behind his decision to sign for Villa. Cole would be able to play behind the two strikers in a 5-3-2 system or in a 4-3-3 system providing that Lambert signs a strong defensive midfielder, or plays Jores Okore as a defensive midfielder (which his skill set appears to suit).
Expanding on the 5-3-2 Villa Experiment of Last Season
The potential difficulties when implementing a 5-3-2 system is that the key to its success is movement, movement, movement…something Villa have struggled to do successfully in recent seasons. Players need to know when to shuffle across and which spaces to fill. In addition, the team would need to avoid being forced back in the penalty area like we saw against Manchester City at home last season.
Furthermore, a 5-3-2 formation can also be susceptible to balls over the top if centre-backs are slow. Senderos is not as fast as Okore, so Lambert would need to organise the team to cover for any weaknesses of his players.
Flexibility will be key however next season, and it is positive to see Villa target a new winger (Victor Moses, Atsu rumoured) as well as the introduction of Grealish, N’Zogbia and Carruthers who can play in 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 systems.
A 5-3-2 system would allow Lambert to play his preferred system of two strikers up front, but equally, Lambert could choose to play Grealish or N’Zogbia off Benteke in a freer role like Arjen Robben performed for Holland or busy youngster Callum Robinson.
Alternatively, Lambert has talented box-to-box midfielders at his disposal such as Gary Gardner and Fabian Delph and he would therefore be likely to switch between various systems during the season. Van Gaal’s 4-3-3 was dependant on Strootman contributing in defence and attack alongside De Jong. Gardner and Delph would both require a mobile and strong defensive midfielder (with a similar profile to De Jong, Matic, Fernando) to function adequately in a 4-3-3 system.
The most important thing for Paul Lambert in the 2014/15 season is to have available options to change the dynamic of the team from the bench. Last season the only possibility was to throw on another tall striker or Marc Albrighton as Sylla and Tonev could not be relied upon to make an impact.
Furthermore, the failure to sign an attacking midfielder last summer was the main reason Villa were forced to become so predictable. A midfield trivote of Delph, El Ahmadi and Westwood were especially bland, mainly because they are all very similar players. They were also visibly tired by March having played so many games without a break.
This season Villa need to entertain, enjoy having possession of the ball and feel comfortable when playing at Villa Park. UTV.