A question of 5-3-2, knickers and young lions
This weekend saw Paul Lambert’s young Villa team inflict a coupon-busting defeat on high-flying Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini’s star-studded squad arrived at Villa park fresh from strolling through a derby demolition of their city rivals Manchester United. It was understandable that Villa fans felt nervous by the arrival of an in form City team, but anxiety was drowned by jubilation at full time when Andreas Weimann flicked the ball past an on-rushing Joe Hart in a barnstorming 3-2 victory. Villa’s inspiring victory against City enabled the squad to recover from a mid-week drubbing by Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs as Villa sadly exited the League Cup. Here’s what we learnt this week….
Leo the Lion
Following a nervous debut against Liverpool, where the youngster struggled to make an impact, Leandro Bacuna has gradually forced his way into the reckoning in the last few matches. The shock result against City owed largely to the tireless running of Bacuna and Luna in the wing-back positions.
One of Antonio Luna’s motto’s is ‘to work hard‘ and the sevillanos defender certainly practises what he preaches. The wing-backs between them made eight tackles and also chipped in with a couple of clearances and interceptions. Bacuna’s all-action display saw him contribute in the final third of the pitch with a precise free kick, and a defence splitting assist. The 22-year-old Dutch utility player had three shots in total, but his contribution in the final third of the pitch was largely due to his unrelenting athleticism to get forward and help Weimann and Kozak.
Paul Lambert referred specifically to Bacuna’s versatility when he signed him and Bacuna has already played in three different positions for Villa so far this season: attacking midfield, right back and right wing-back. Bacuna’s versatility is reminiscent of James Milner in many ways, and Lambert’s ‘Mr. Fix it‘ has certainly now put pressure on Matthew Lowton to regain his place in the side. Bacuna arrived in England hoping to emulate Frank Lampard, and with a free kick and assist against a quality City side the young pretender certainly made the sort of impact Lampard would be proud of.
Paul Lambert brought back one of his favourite formations against Manchester City this weekend, which he had used with varying levels of success last season. Lambert used the formation previously during a period of defensive weakness when Villa were conceding a lot of goals, and it is likely therefore, that after the thrashing by Spurs, Lambert chose to make the team more sturdy. Against Liverpool last season, Villa’s injuries forced Lambert into packing the defence with Clark, Baker and Herd together with Lowton and Lichaj.
With 33% possession against Manchester City, Lambert’s formation enabled Villa to have two compressed low defensive blocks which prevented City playing through the middle with their superior movement and passing. On the break, Weimann could naturally use his pace through the middle, and whilst Kozák put in a decent shift, he often lacked pace in transition and ultimately failed to have any shots.
5-3-2 is rarely used by managers, but Roberto Martinez did use it successfully for Wigan where he reverted to a 3-4-3 in attack with Jordi Gomez joining Wigan’s two strikers.
The negative opinion of 5-3-2 is that the team lacks of width and is more defensive with the removal of one offensive player for a defensive player. Against City, Villa’s often lonely strikers only had one shot between them, which was Weimann’s match winning poke past Hart. 5-3-2 remains a formation which has its fans and its detractors. Whether Lambert continues to use the formation against Hull, or leaves the 5-3-2 formation for matches against the top sides remains to be seen.
Nicklas Helenius felt the indignity of being stripped of his shorts in midweek against Spurs in the League Cup. The classy striker struggled to get his shot off with his shorts down and turned to the referee with an expression of shocked innocence.
Helenius performance on the night was certainly not ‘pants‘ however. I will admit it, I have a real soft spot for Helenius. It isn’t just his chiseled Danish cheekbones or his strapping 6ft 5 physique which attracts me, but it was his impressive cameo appearance that really had my pulse racing.
Helenius looked threatening running the channels and he caught my attention with his work rate and creativity. Helenius looks a class above Bowery and more skilful and faster than Kozak. I am excited to see how the young Danish striker performs in the Premier League and I hope that Lambert uses him more often.
I wasn’t the only person who had an eye on Helenius this week, as Chelsea’s charismatic coach Jose Mourinho mentioned Helenius in his post match interview at White Hart lane. Mourinho lamented the fact that Vertonghen had left Helenius ‘naked’ by pulling his shorts down (slight exaggeration, Jose) and the incident was a top hit on You Tube. The thought of Mourinho searching You Tube for a naked Nicklas Helenius video. The mind boggles…..
Gary Gardner and Jordan Graham continue their rehabilitation as their return to competitive football draws near. It has been an agonising time for both players as they have a real desire and hunger to play football.
Jordan Graham has an opportunity to impose himself on the under 21 team and force himself into the mind of Paul Lambert this season, especially with Grealish out on loan. Gary Gardner has had a longer term injury, but he completed an intense strength and conditioning rehabilitation in pre-season in order to be ready for this season. Coming back from a long term injury and putting the body through intense work outs normally results in various niggles as a player’s body adjusts to the tough physical demands expected of it.
Villa fans will remember that Fabian Delph suffered similar injuries and took a while to regain his optimum playing form. However, Delph is now one of the best players in Paul Lambert’s squad and I hope therefore that Randy Lerner and Paul Lambert will apply equal patience where Gary Gardner is concerned.
Aston Villa’s Next Gen brat pack continued their progress this week as Callum Robinson earned a debut for Aston Villa’s first team in the League Cup. Robinson had a breakthrough season last year and contributed significantly to Villa’s Next Gen Series trophy. The lively youngster looked eager to impress against Spurs, being positive and confident in possession. With the nerves of making his debut out of the way, the youngster can now focus on building on his impressive performances from last season. It was a well-received debut for Robinson, who didn’t look out of place, and it is hoped that the youngster can now have more opportunities this season. Welcome to the first team, Callum!