Tactical Rethink Needed to Solve Aston Villa’s Missing Player’s List

Good Bad and Ugly

With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

Like a half-time team talk at the Emirates, let’s get stuck into this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly.

The Good

There’s not much, but the complete and abject failure of Aston Villa as a defensive unit in the first half against Arsenal could be a blessing in disguise.

There can be no sugar coating that display, and now a rethink needs to happen.

Villan of the Week — Jacob Ramsey

Jacob Ramsey finally scored his first Premier League goal, but this was Villan of the week by default.

This goal needs to be the catalyst for him to start taking more responsibility in and around the opposition box because with a finish like that, expectations will be raised.

The Bad

Let’s sharpen the knives a bit. Why was the Arsenal performance so bad?

Where have the Villa outfield players gone?

We need a missing persons list.

The Defence:

Last seen — Old Trafford, September 2021.

Whereabouts — Unknown.

That First Half against Arsenal was inept.

Not a single one of the three central defenders had a clue what they were doing for the majority of the half.

Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings are elite level defenders, but it looks like three’s a crowd when you put Axel Tuanzebe in there.

Mings is no longer at the heart of things, as he is constantly stuck in the channel between CB and the gaping chasm where his full back used to be.

Konsa is the same on the right, and coupled with that, his strength is anticipating when Mings is going to miss the ball and sweep in behind, not meeting danger on that side.

The middle man, Tuanzebe, is incapable of being the glue that keeps the other two together, and that’s being kind.

In simple terms, what Villa had last season was a defence of four players. This season? It’s three.

The fullbacks:

Last seen — Villa Park against Chelsea last season.

Whereabouts — The Opposition Half.

Playing with wing-backs is a tactic used by the elite teams in World Football.

Think Cafu and Carlos of Brazil, Marcello, and Carvajal of Real Madrid, even Robertson and Alexander Arnold of Liverpool.

Do not think, the two Matts, Targett and Cash.

In a back four, Cash is a combative full-back, who has designs on being more involved up the pitch. Targett is a full-back who sticks rigidly to that position but can overlap well in tandem with a left-sided midfielder.

Put them in the wing-back role, and it’s a different picture.

Cash is gung-ho and has completely reverted to his days of being a winger, abandoning any sense of defensive duty.

Targett, is torn between two mindsets and ends up nowhere, or worse still, in the way.

He can’t beat a man while attacking and relies on the overlap, which without a winger, is rarely on.

However, at least Targett, still has defence as his main duty in his muscle memory.

It’s just a pity that he is never in the correct starting position any more and is left making decisions out of desperation, like the tackle on Lacazette.

The Midfield:

Last seen — Old Trafford, September 2021.

Whereabouts — Anywhere but Midfield.

I’m counting McGinn, Nakamba, Luiz, Ramsey and Buendia as the midfield in this.

On their day, any one of these players can be the man of the match. If they aren’t on it? The wheels completely come off.

Villa play with three in the middle at the moment and for either 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 to work, all three have to play well.

McGinn, can go from man of the match against Wolves, straight into £2.5 million speculative signing from Scotland, in the next.

Douglas Luiz, is the most consistent currently and that tells its story, as the Brazilian, can still attempt ridiculous passes in dangerous areas that leave his less technically gifted midfield partners in trouble.

Ramsey, can be a driving force when he gets the touches, yet too often he gets the least per minute on the pitch, and he is also naive as the late tackle against Wolves showed.

Nakamba, never seems to be on the pitch against the teams he needs to be. He’s not had the run in the team to see if he will improve.

Buendia is also hot and cold. He’s too slow to be a winger, too small to be physical in a fluid, interchangeable, central midfield, and keeps getting caught with too many opposition players around him.

For the way Villa set up to play, the three in midfield all need to be consistent.

Currently, Villa are lucky if one of the three has two good games in a row.

The Wingers:

Last Seen — 2020/21 Season.

Whereabouts — The bench or the treatment table

Aston Villa have four main wingers/wide attackers. Bailey, El Ghazi, Traore, Trezeguet, with Philogene-Bidace as back up.

Villa haven’t really played a formation that uses wingers yet.

While this is partly due to circumstance and injury, you’d think there would be at least two in the squad each week, if the game demanded that tactic.

The Forwards:

Last Seen- In training videos

Whereabouts — Anywhere but on the end of chances

Ings, Watkins, Archer, and Davis.

They need the ball to score.

When they get chances, they will score as many as everyone knows they can.

There’s no issue with playing Ings and Watkins together, if at least one of them gets the chances.

The issue isn’t that they are taking up the same spaces or fighting for the same ball.

The issue is that they aren’t the focal point of Villa’s attack.

The rest of the team should be focussing on getting the ball to the finishers at every opportunity, instead of spreading chances around everyone.


Danny Ings Aston Villa shirt

The Ugly

Now that the bad is over, the ugly truth is that something isn’t working in Villa’s approach.

It looks like they are overcomplicating everything.

There are too many moving parts, and it only takes one to make an error for the whole thing to come crashing down.

When all the parts gel, Villa look like they can beat anyone, but this is too rare an occurrence so far this season.

Before it gets any uglier, everyone needs to sit down and learn to walk before they run again.

The players are there, the manger is capable, and the season has plenty of games to go.


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  1. Whose picking the team. Whose making the tactics. There lies your problem…….say no more

  2. think that pretty well spells out the problem as Tuanzebe cannot play the role of a single old Fashioned CB although as part of a Central defensive pair he is OK . But with Konsa & Mings playing out wide in defence it leaves him exposed .

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