Lambert's choices puzzle again
I don't have much appetite to talk about the West Brom game - I was working and didn't get to see it, and games where one side plays with 10 men for most of the game are tactically dominated by that fact.
I will make the brief note that Lambert decided to play 4-3-3 again, presumably hoping to imitate the success against Leicester. He started Charles N´Zogbia again for his own unfathomable reasons. He also started Kieran Richardson in place of the injured Westwood. Neither of those decisions worked.
Richardson's red card changed the game and you could say that such things are unforeseeable - except they're not. Richardson has one of the Premier League´s worst disciplinary records. In fact on the all-time Premier League yellow card list, when ranked by Minutes/Cards ratio, he has the 11th worst disciplinary record. It's worse than any current Premier League footballer other than Lee Cattermole. It's worse than Robbie Savage.
Just a few more and Villa will have an all time top ten player! - image from Statbunker.com
There's not much more to say - Lambert is consistently making bad decisions about who to play. His management of young, new and recovering players is strange and tentative. Delph and Grealish were available instead of N´Zogbia and Richardson with no formation change required whatsoever. It should be the point in the season where a consistent best team is beginning to emerge and Lambert's decisions are strangling any chance of that.
What to play against Man Utd
With the absences of Hutton, Cleverley, Richardson and Westwood, Lambert has some real tactical dilemmas next week. Hutton has been our single best performer and a feature of our back four. In the midfielders, he's lost two of his most frequent midfield trio and the first replacement.
We´re up against Man United, who are on a winning streak and have recently played a 3-5-2, featuring Valencia and Young as wing-backs. The formation has managed to blow sides off the park with Van Persie and Rooney's finishing quality and the kind of rapid counter-attack that has been a feature of United sides for years. The return of Angel de Maria to the side will enhance that aspect.
There are real weaknesses - the lack of pace at the back amongst United's central defenders is enormous and Raheem Sterling almost exploited it for Liverpool. Andreas Weimann could well do the same and with a more deadly finishing touch.
I remain of the opinion I had last week - with Westwood out, Benteke is probably best placed to be in an attacking playmaker spot. I'm also keen to see what he can do against either of Manchester United's current choices at defensive midfield, Fellaini or Herrera. Delph and Sanchez should be automatic choices for the remaining central midfield roles.
Were Lambert to be radical, he might mimic United´s three at the back with Vlaar alongside Clark and Okore, especially with Hutton out. But I´d be unsure about the ability of Villa's midfielders to cover the space that leaves on the flanks - Liverpool were caught out by that on the weekend - especially in the absence of Cleverley. Matthew Lowton deserves a chance in the right-back role and Cissokho, while far from perfect, is probably our best bet against United's wide men.
Adam's Formation of the (next) Week
As such, here's my preferred formation of the week - I know it's not much different from the last one!
If Villa were coming in at full-strength, off a win, I would say this would be a good chance to nick some unexpected points. As it is, I think we´ll have to rely on getting the first goal and Clark/Okore continuing to be the best superhero duo since Batman took a liking to a young man in green Y-fronts. We're unlikely to hold out for 90 minutes so a 4-2-3-1 exploiting our pace and putting Benteke centrally as much as possible is probably our best shot.
So, bets on a 4-3-3 with N´Zogbia starting?