The Tactical Switch That Dean Smith Needs to Make to Beat Dyche’s Reliable Formation

By Dean Gregory

Burnley vs Aston Villa

After a less than stellar end to 2019, Villa will be hoping for a happy start to the new year when they travel to Burnley.

Burnley currently sit in 13th place on 24 points. Their season has had its ups and downs and they would have hoped to be challenging for Europa League spots this season, but overall they will be OK with how it is going.

Can Villa find it in themselves to start 2020 on a high?

League Form

Burnley – L W W L L

Aston Villa – L L L W L

Manager Quotes

Dean Smith on the Burnley Game

“It’s very important, especially after a defeat at Watford.

“There’s a lot of detail going into the debrief on Watford because I wasn’t happy with the players at all at half-time, in terms of their endeavour and attitude.”

“Sean knows how to do well in this league. They’ve been in the Premier League for a few years now and they’ve become an established team. 

“They’ll be hard to beat, and Turf Moor is a place that we’re going to have to roll our sleeves up at.”

Tactical Analysis

Burnley have stubbornly held on to the archaic-yet-reliable flat 4-4-2 system, with a competent strike force of Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood. Our old friend Ashley Westwood sits in midfield behind them, and Ben Mee partners James Tarkowski in defence.

They are happy to sit back and try to absorb pressure rather than control a game, as evidenced by their 42.4% possession and lacklustre 67.4% passing accuracy. Tarkowski’s four man of the match awards so far this season are further proof.

In contrast to the usual Premier League full back who is encouraged to get forward and join the attack, Burnley like to keep theirs back, only venturing past the halfway line when they feel it is safe to do so. The bulk of the attacking contribution comes from the midfield, particularly Ashley Westwood and Dwight McNeil supplying four assists each to the strikers up front.

Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes are a throwback to the early Premier League staple that was the big-nippy strike partnership. Wood is a classic target man who is strong in the air, while Barnes lives on the shoulder of his defender, feeding on through-balls and knock-downs from his partner.

Burnley have managed 24 goals from an xG of 25.32. Those numbers, and that consistency, will ensure they won’t have to look down with too much concern.

The 32 goals they have conceded so far this season belies their defensive approach to the game. This suggests they don’t handle intense pressure very well, so the key to beating them would be to press high and hard.

One to Watch

Embed from Getty Images

The young Dwight McNeil is enjoying a respectable breakout season so far, with his four assists joint best in his team. He provides two crosses and a key pass per game, and a solid 79.1% pass success rate will only improve with time. He improves with each game he plays, so Villa will have to keep a close eye on him if he plays.

Memory Match

Burnley 1-1 Aston Villa – 29-11-2014

A late Danny Ings penalty cancelled out Joe Cole’s first half strike in the latest Turf Moor fixture. A damning statistic: Villa last won away at Burnley in 1936.

Previous Result

Aston Villa 2-2 Burnley

VAR controversy abounded as Villa’s lead was twice eaten away by Burnley. John McGinn’s first goal was chalked off, and Villa fans felt aggrieved at being robbed what could’ve been a vital win so early in the season.

How it could play out

A tepid performance from Villa against Watford have left them in a dire situation. The games against Southampton, Norwich and Watford were a chance to earn points off direct relegation rivals, so to come away with only three points is troubling.

Without the fervour of John McGinn giving the midfield extra pep, Villa are too easy to cut through and there is nobody to take some of the heat off Grealish. Villa are worryingly reliant on the captain, and at the moment, teams know that they only have to occupy him in order to blunt Villa’s attacking threat.

Transfer chatter talks of a loan move for Premier League winning midfielder Danny Drinkwater in an effort to remedy that problem a little, but how much will that help? His grand total of 59 minutes of action so far this season, does not inspire much confidence, but he does have the pedigree which is arguably what is needed. He is proven to possess quality – maybe Smith has it in him to tap into it.


Whatever the case, this match comes far too early for that, so Smith will need to use what he has to try and win this. Grealish proved he can still affect a game extremely well from a central position, and he would probably be best suited back in that role like he was against Norwich. This would allow speedy wingers on both sides to get at the defence while Grealish can rove around and pick the lock from the middle. Without McGinn’s grit, this is perhaps Villa’s most viable tactic.

There is no doubt about it – wins need to start coming and fast. If not, Villa are in big trouble.


Burnley 1-1 Aston Villa

In honesty, this is still a fairly optimistic prediction. We have to believe Villa have it in them to get points against anyone, no matter how unlikely. Why not start now?



  1. My god Smith has changed things. It’s been suggested many times to add Hause. He has great strength in the air. 3 up at half time!!!! Well I’d expect one in three good goals to be disallowed. VAR needs scrapping now. Let’s hope we can avoid a collapse second half.

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