All entries for Wednesday 13 September 2006

September 13, 2006

What a Difference a Year Makes

This time last year local side Aston Villa got thrashed 4-0 by West Ham at Upon Park. Last weekend the two sides met again in East London and came away with a highly credible draw. With the Villa squad having barely changed over the course of the year, how has Martin O’Neil manged to transform Villa’s fortunes so quickly? For me, the answer is simply common sense as the respective Villa lineups from the two fixtures show:

O’Leary’s 2005 side -

Thomas SORENSEN

Aaron HUGHES
Olof MELLBERG
Liam RIDGEWELL
Wilfred BOUMA

James MILNER
Gavin McCANN
Steven DAVIS
Gareth BARRY

Milan BAROS
Kevin PHILLIPS

O’Neil’s 2006 side -

Thomas SORENSEN

Olof MELLBERG
Martin LAURSEN
Liam RIDGEWELL
Gareth BARRY

Steven DAVIS
Stilian PETROV
Gavin McCANN

Luke MOORE
Juan PABLO ANGEL
Gabriel AGBONLAHOR

With the exception of Laursen (who spent last season injured) and Petrov (a £7m signing from Celtic last month) both managers had the more or less the same players available for selection. Man for man, I would argue, the level of individual player skill is roughly the same, and yet O’Neil’s side is so much more logically laid out.

One of O’Leary’s major problems was that none of his four strikers, Baros, Angel, Phillips or Moore really made a good partnership. They were all too similar in stature to play together. Even Angel, the larget by some way, can hardly be described as a target man.

O’Neil therefore has negotiated this problem with a simple switch in formation. In the weekends match, Angel played up front on his own with Moore and academy product Agbonlahor providing pace either side of him.

This also helped sort anothre problem fron last season which was a hideous lack of creativity in midlfield. O’Leary persisted in playing Barry as a winger, but he simply didn’t get forward enough. And with Davis and McCann, two fairly defensive players, in the centre that left only James Milner to do all the attacking work.

However by playing three up front O’Neil has been able to put his resourses to the best possible use by having a solid three in midfield. At the back things have remained more or less the same, however in the weekends match Melberg did have to fill in for the injured Hughes.

One of the advantages of 4-3-3/4-5-1 as a system is that for the teams which successfully operate it, it is a very flexible system. West Ham are a very narrow side (Bowyer and Benayoun cut in all the time) and Villa made good use of the space by feeding the ball in Moore and Agbonlahor as frequently as possible. Equally, though, when Pardew introduced a traditional winger in Matt Etherington, Moore and Agbonlahor were able to tuck in and make life difficult for him.

As a formation 4-3-3 is not always the most exciting, however Villa have become a very clinical side under O’Neil placing far more empahsis on working dead balls. Set plays are never wasted as key goals against Arsenal and West Ham have proved.

So there you have it. Villa are far from the perfect side, and yet with a bit of logical thought O’Neil has moulded a cohesive unit that will win more games than it loses this season.


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