With the midweek game coming up, this week's tactical analysis will be a shorter reflection, building on last week's analysis against Southampton.
Either by reading my column or not being totally blind, Paul Lambert came to similar conclusions as me - Villa play better in a 4-2-3-1 and Charles N'Zogbia should never be allowed anywhere near being our main playmaker ever again.
However instead of slotting Ashley Westwood into that position as I suggested, he went for the shock option of Joe Cole. What we subsequently saw was a much more aggressive 4-2-3-1 as Cole dragged the rest of the team up the field. Villa dominated the match but allowed some dangerous opportunities at the back and ultimately conceded in a disappointingly familiar fashion - but this time for different underlying reasons.
Most post-match analysis was dominated by the role of Joe Cole and for good reason. 42 attempted passes, with 34 successful was a definite improvement over N'Zogbia (to be fair, a pair of empty boots would have been an improvement over N'Zogbia). More importantly, he dragged Villa's entire play further up the pitch. 19 of his attempted passes were in the attacking third. Perhaps more importantly he joined Abgonlahor in the pressing effort, sometimes even playing in a more advanced role. In doing so he inspired the wingers and the defensive midfielders up the pitch - Cleverley looked much more involved in the match (a neat reverse pass from him to Cole was the most inventive piece of play I've seen from the Villans all season). It was an enormously active performance from Cole, not just a passing performance.
Cole's good work secured a lot more space for other players on the field as well. Cleverley, Westwood and Sánchez all posted relatively impressive passing statistics. Sánchez in particular was neater in his distribution, enjoying the greater space he was afforded, though he still gave away the ball dangerously a few times.
Villa get carried away
Cole's performance seemed so infectious and the release of a Villa side that finally felt on top, that it became positively risky. A particularly dangerous dynamic developed on set pieces where both Clark and Okore tended to head up the field. Hutton and Cissokho also tended to drift forward, thus leaving only Carlos Sánchez behind - most dramatically when he got in a footrace with Danny Ings and just about did enough to put him off. Burnley's 4-4-1-1 was very quick to move into the counter-attack and Ings was a consistently effective outball.
Considering Villa's strength in midfield, it was also disappointing to see that the defence and the goalkeeper often seemed positively anxious to bypass them. Abgonlahor remains an utterly ineffective target man for crosses and long balls - he won 3 out of 13 aerial duels. And Brad Guzan's distribution should perhaps be questioned at this point. He completed 6 out of 20 of his attempted long balls. A goalkeeper's passing statistics never look great but his opposite number, Thomas Heaton, completed 11 out of 19, and varied it by playing short balls. Considering that he now has Okore, a good distributor, in front of him, Guzan must reconsider his choices - or perhaps not with Benteke comng back into the side.
Burnley equalize - Was it the substitutions?
And then came the inevitable - except what was strange and perhaps more disappointing is that Burnley's equalizer didn't feel inevitable. In other matches, Villa's defensive shell had become more and more fragile and compressed, allowing dangerous space. That was not the case for Burnley's goal this time, where it was a simple ball into the box which made the penalty. Okore was unlucky to be penalised for what looked like a fairly normal tussle between striker and defender, but the vulnerability had been there. Okore and Clark have done well considering their places in the hierarchy of Villa centre-backs but they never looked to be fully comfortable in the air.
Now the big question here revolves around Lambert's substitutions. Again, after two substitutions presumably aimed at consolidating a win, Villa allowed the game to slip. In this case it was Cole for Grealish (as we have all clamoured for), and Weimann for Richardson.
The effect of those substitutions is a little difficult to tell. Unlike against Southampton, they were not linked to a clear change in formation, but by this point the game had become very ragged formation wise in any case. The goal, as noted did not seem to be linked to those changes . However Abgonlahor again was at fault, cheaply conceding possession - the question needs to be raised at this point - why sub Weimann instead of Abgonlahor?
More subtly, Villa also again lost control of the flanks. Aly Cissokho, it is gradually becoming clear, is not nearly as solid as Alan Hutton on the other flank, as this map of Burnley's chances shows -
Image from FourFourTwo.com's MatchCentre. Cissokho struggled badly against the right-back Trippier.
Burnley could and should have won it with Ings' shot against the post in the last few minutes. While Sánchez provided poor cover ahead of him, Cissokho overcommitted and failed to deal with the danger. Another left-back (who can cross!) or giving Bacuna a run-out still seem like options Lambert should consider, especially with some easier upcoming fixtures.
Cole as the future?
Despite another improved performance, there are some worrying notes. Joe Cole was excellent performance, but clearly won't able to do that regularly for 90 minutes. And considering Villa's fragility in the final minutes (a feature over the two previous seasons as well), having a guaranteed formation change in the 60-70 minute mark seems like a dangerous way. I would still prefer seeing Westwood in the No. 10 role with a chance of making it his own regular slot.
Above all, Villa desperately need to score more than one goal in one of their upcoming matches.