Aston Villa’s biggest ‘dip’ in form came in the following match against Newcastle where the team struggled to track the movement of Hatem Ben Arfa. Some of Villa’s individual performances also played a part in the defeat, with Antonio Luna in particular struggling. On the day, Villa were simply over-powered by Newcastle’s midfield for much of the game and Lambert’s substitutions came too late on to really make much difference to the match. Lambert made substitutions against Newcastle on 67 minutes and 88 minutes, which is a pretty typical time in the game when the manager looks across at his bench. In fact, it is rare to see Lambert make substitutions before the 65th minute, and in terms of using the bench, the current Villa manager has a pretty conservative approach.
Often, for Lambert, a midfielder will be replaced by a striker, and a wide player will also be brought on the provide crosses for the two strikers in the middle. In this respect, Lambert is similar to Martin O’Neill with his use of the bench to revert to a 4-4-2 formation in the final twenty minutes of a match. O’Neill used this tactic with John Carew and Emile Heskey, but O’Neill had a much better roster of wingers to provide service such as Ashley Young.
Paul Lambert took his squad to his happy hunting ground of Carrow Road after the Newcastle game, as Villa maintained their impressive away form against the Canaries. In this match, Villa played a 4-4-2 formation with Gabby running off the back off Kozak and Weimann on the left. Villa enjoyed a sprightly opening twenty minutes of the game but faded later in the match. The match was perhaps most notable for Alex Tonev’s shoot on sight policy and Brad Guzan’s heroics.
Villa were then knocked out of the League Cup by Tottenham, which always looked a difficult match on paper. The fixture looked no less difficult when Andre Villas-Boas sold everyone a dummy by saying that he would be playing his ‘kids’. Lambert’s use of his squad against Tottenham was no real surprise after Villa’s congested schedule of games in the early part of the season and due to the injury to Christian Benteke.
Albrighton, Tonev and Kozak replaced the injured Benteke, Gabby and Weimann. However, aside from one rasping shot by Tonev and glimpses of class from Albrighton, the new front three packed far less punch than Villa’s usual attacking trio. Furthermore, in contrast to earlier performances, Villa’s pressing game was ragged against Spurs with Karim El Ahmadi often dragged out of position in the same way that Brett Holman used to be. One player would press whilst others would stay back, which contrasted with the team ethic shown in the match against Arsenal. In addition, individual mistakes from Jed Steer and Jordan Bowery also helped contribute to a frustrating 4 – 0 defeat. Beyond the scoreline, Lewis Holtby caused particularly pain to Lambert by exploiting spaces in between the lines and helping himself to three assists.
The problems created by Holtby and Ben Arfa must have caused alarm to Lambert, who then opted for a 5-3-2 formation against Manchester City as Villa packed the centre of the pitch, where City prefer to play. Lambert sought to mitigate against the risk of players such as Samir Nasri and used the same formation which earned Villa three points at Anfield last season. Pellegrini seemed to miss a trick in the first half of the game by not playing a genuine winger, when the only space Villa allowed City was in the wide areas. Following a backs-to-the-wall performance in the first half, Villa found more space in the second half as City took risks to win.
However, having 33% possession at home is not something that Lambert will aspire to. In addition, Kozák does not seem to be a player who is quick enough to play on the counter attack and pace is something that Kozák will find difficult to improve. The Czech striker also had a pass success rate of 52% against City and between them, Weimann and Kozak only had one shot at goal all game (Weimann’s winner). The result and the spirit against City was admirable, but the lack of width and lack of touches in the attacking third of the pitch shows that 5-3-2 isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing formation Lambert has used as manager.
Many fans would value substance over style for three points, but against Hull a more daring approach was required. Lambert reverted back to a 4-3-3 formation but the team were unusually limp on the day. Delph, Clark and El Ahmadi aside, Villa struggled to pass well or take chances when they arrived. Kozák failed to take his chance to dominate and the big striker had just two shots against Hull, neither of which found their target. Click for Part 3 (final part)