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Why Aston Villa need to play 4-4-2 to have any hope of staying up

Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | December 14, 2015

Aston Villa are already eight points from Premier League safety; make that nine effectively with the worst goal difference in the division.

It all adds up to Remi Garde, who is yet to win a match in charge of the West Midlands outfit in five attempts, having a very bleak future with his team rock-bottom. Make no mistake about it, the Villans are not too big to go down.

Coral’s betting markets certainly reflect that with Villa overwhelming odds-on 1/8 favourites for relegation, and a big 9/2 price to somehow turn things around and stay up. History is not on their side either.

Where does poor Villa start rank?

Aston Villa v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Villa Park

Nine points at this stage of the season (16 games) is the minimum any Premier League team has tallied and then gone on to pull off great escapes. Villa are three adrift of that amount, which Coventry City (1995/96), Wigan Athletic (2007/08) and Sunderland (2013/14) all scraped together.

Another unwanted record for Garde of the lowest Premier League points tally could be a distinct possibility if Villans owner Randy Lerner, who is trying to sell the club, doesn’t put his hand in his pocket during the winter window.

By the same stage of Derby County’s dismal season in 2007/08, the Rams had picked up as many points as Villa, and they ended that campaign with just 11. Sunderland struggled in 2005/06, earning 15 points in total, and had just five after 16 matches.

Something missing in midfield

These and a few other stark facts are staring Garde in the face – the most important one being there are no goals from midfield in his side. Summer signings Jordan Veretout and Idrissa Gana Gueye are yet to break their ducks.

Aston Villa v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Villa Park

Nobody from the Villa engine room has contributed in this department all season; they are the joint-lowest Premier League scorers with 13, and looking at average playing positions against Arsenal, with all three midfielders in the centre circle, it’s easy to see why.

It’s not a game where possession was really dominated by either side with the Gunners only enjoying a 54 per cent lion’s share. Arsene Wenger’s men were clinical; two goals from four out of eight shots on target.

Garde witnessed the Villans create just two chances (from 18 shots) that forced Petr Cech into easy, straightforward saves. Playing a front three of Scott Sinclair, Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew, there was no midfield runner like for Aaron Ramsey’s goal.

A front two to revive fortunes?

With Celtic having Czech striker Libor Kozak scouted ahead of a seemingly impending January exit from Villa Park, all of their eggs appear to be in the basket of Benin target man Gestede. He is lacking support from central areas – that is abundantly clear to anyone who witnessed the Gunners win 2-0 – so will Garde consider pairing two up front?

Everton v Aston Villa - Barclays Premier League - Goodison Park

Continental coaches seldom fancy a traditionally English system and tactical approach, but the current formation is scarcely serving Villa any better. While Ayew is of average height, he is dwarfed in comparison to 6ft 4in Gestede, so the classic big man, little man combination is at least worth a look.

In leading Villa marksman Scott Sinclair, Garde has a player prepared to support two strikers with service and chip in with goals. Now that Jack Grealish has served his punishment for that naughty night out in Manchester, his burgeoning talent could be harnessed on the other flank.

That would allow two from the Villans’ workmanlike midfielders to sit back and let the forward players express themselves, which is more or less what they are doing now. Only, with a 4-4-2, each of the opposing centre halves would be occupied.

Gestede toiled alone against one of the few players taller than him in Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny alongside the giant German, but if Ayew was there to run beyond or chase knockdowns there would be more to think about when defending against Villa.

Does Amavi absence means Cissokho could come back?

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - White Hart Lane

A natural left back in the absence of the injured Jordan Amavi would also help. The Arsenal right-side were more than happy to send wrong-footed Leandro Bacuna infield time and again when he came forward from this berth.

It is possible Aly Cissokho’s return to Porto could be cut short in January, though the Dragons may turn down Garde’s gambit if he asks, despite the fact the player has got just three outings since re-joining them on loan.

Joleon Lescott and Kieran Richardson simply don’t have the legs, at 33 and 31 respectively, to be willing outlets from left back; not that it has ever been either’s natural position.

What’s clear is current tactics cannot continue. Villa last won a Premier League game on the opening day and pinching the odd point here or there will not alleviate their desperate plight.

It puts Garde’s dealings, or whoever is handling transfers on behalf of the head coach at Villa Park, under an intense winter spotlight. Everything is stacked against them, but bring the right players in areas that need attention and they retain a slim survival chance.

Related

Why not visit Coral’s Aston Villa archives to read more about Garde and his West Midlands challenge?