I usually run this column on Tuesdays, but Wednesday's match against Southampton was so crazy that it demands a special edition. Let's take a look at some of the pants-on-head-stupid numbers from one of Villa's most thrilling wins in ages.
Well, this is the number that everyone was talking about after the match: Aston Villa's possession against Southampton. That is, not surprisingly, the lowest percent of possession Villa have had all year. But perhaps more surprising is the fact that it's the sixth match this season in which Villa have had <40% possession. I'd say that was an alarming trend, but their record in those matches is 4 wins (Arsenal, Norwich City, Manchester City, Southampton) and 2 losses (Chelsea and Tottenham). 80% of the club's wins this season have come when they have had possession for less than 2/5 of the match!
There has been a lot of talk on twitter about whether or not this style of football is any good. And I really don't have an answer for that. Is it what we all classically think of as good football? Heavens no. But Villa seem to be created to play just this type of match: let the other team push, let the defense do it's job, and spring the counterattack when it's needed. Even in one of the losses (Chelsea), Villa looked outstanding. This is football that will make us as nervous as can be, but it seems to be the style of football that Aston Villa are made for. Let's see if we can't get possession down to 10% against Fulham!
The ratio of Southampton to Aston Villa in successfully completed passes. Southampton completed 507 more passes than Aston Villa did. Only once this season have Aston Villa completed more than 507 passes (514 against Liverpool) and they allowed another team to outpass them by that margin. I really can't even begin to wrap my mind around this fact.
You'd think that, with so few completed passes, it would be a sign that Aston Villa were taking their time and choosing good opportunities. Nope! In fact, those 104 passes are only a 53% success rate, according to FourFourTwo's StatsZone. (WhoScored has it at 49%. Either number is pathetic.) Perhaps more interesting than the disparity between Southampton and Villa in passes is where Villa were taking those passes.
Out of their passes attempted, 51 of Aston Villa's made their way to the attacking third of the pitch. We're starting to see the whole picture of the match plan that Villa used: sit back, wait for a chance, and then send the ball sailing forward in the hopes that someone will get it and be able to beat the Southampton defense.
Despite the win, though, the plan wasn't all that successful. Only 15 of the 51 attempts to the attacking third (29%) were completed. But maybe with this sort of system that's all you need. If you do get lucky and find yourself open or ahead of the defense, you're generally going to have a pretty open path to the goal.
The ratio of Southampton to Aston Villa shots. Meaning that Villa converted 50% of their shots, while Southampton were only able to convert 9.5%. That's the other hallmark of the style of play that Paul Lambert has been using pretty successfully this season: let the defense do their job. It's sort of amazing to realize that you can plan for successful defending and have it work for Aston Villa, but we've seen it happen time and time again this season.
21 is also the number of shots that Villa allowed to Manchester City earlier in the season. When you've got one of the best keepers in the league in Brad Guzan, and a defense that isn't allowing a ton of great shots, this seems to be a strategy that works pretty well.
I think you could make a pretty convincing argument that, from a statistical standpoint, the match against Southampton was the most interesting one in the EPL this year. But I also think that it sheds a lot of light on the type of system that Paul Lambert can use to great success with this team. I'm not sure how long it would work, as it should be pretty easy to adapt to. But through six matches played with this sort of a style, Villa have gotten 12 of 18 available points.
What do you think? Should Lambert continue playing like this, or are Aston Villa just getting continuously lucky? Let us know in the comments!