Increasingly over the last few days, we've seen Joleon Lescott linked with a move to Villa Park. Recent reports suggest he could be willing to take a substantial pay cut to play regular first-team football in the Premier League once again, further strengthening the potential links.
Granted, as Robert suggested earlier today, Lescott might just be the new Hiroshi Kiyotake. But what would a potential Lescott move to Villa Park mean for the tactics of his new side?
I'm of the opinion that in order for Aston Villa to have success in 2014-15, Jores Okore needs to be one of the club's eleven-best players. I think talent-wise he might already been there and if not for his injury, he probably would have secured a spot alongside Ron Vlaar as the preferred centre back pairing for Paul Lambert. But if Lescott comes in, that would likely push Okore to the bench—not a horrible move by any stretch of the imagination but one I'm just not sure Lambert would need to do.
But what if Okore is offered the opportunity to be brought through playing alongside Lescott and Vlaar rather than in competition with them for squad places? In the past, we've already seen Paul Lambert experiment on and off with a 5-3-2 formation and I speculate that the manager might be fond of using the formation full-time moving into the new year. With Lambert's desired couple of signings, I think Villa could run the formation much more effectively than it has been in the past.
I think Paul Lambert's trying to go to the 5-3-2 full-time for next campaign based on the signings Villa have been linked with. Let's take a position-by-position look.
I know most Villa supporters aren't too big of fans of the five-man back line which is pretty understandable. But the difference between Ron Vlaar being joined by Jores Okore and a potential centre back signing (let's go with Lescott for the sake of this argument) and him being joined by Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker is immense. The issue for Villa with running three centre backs more often was having to have both Clark and Baker on the pitch at the same time—something that wouldn't happen if Villa can bring in Lescott or a similar player. While having Clark and Baker as your first two backups isn't something that should give Villa fans a great feeling, Lambert could always move to a 4-3-3 in the event of injury to a starter, slide Matthew Lowton over if he regains form, or bring in another player, likely on a loan deal, to serve as the first-choice backup.
This is honestly where I feel Villa fit into a 5-3-2 most perfectly at the moment. Granted, there isn't a starting left back at the club right now, but a quick look at Villa's existing full backs—especially on the right side—show a group of players that are more competent going forward compared to their peers than they are defensively. Running a 5-3-2 would allow for Villa to take full advantage of Leandro Bacuna and Matthew Lowton's attacking abilities at the right wing-back position and while Lowton didn't have the best of seasons this past year, I could see him having a nice bounce-back campaign this year, especially if in a wing-back spot. On the left side, you could see Joe Bennett come back into the fold as the second-choice option—his defending is suspect but he's a fine player going forward—to what would presumably be a new signing—maybe Aaron Cresswell? Hell, Fabian Delph could even fill in at left wing-back if Villa don't bring one in during the window.
Gary Gardner has signed a deal to stay at Villa while Marc Albrighton has not. Granted, wage demands are certainly a factor here but in a system with wing-backs, there really wouldn't be room for Albrighton. On the flip side, there are certainly opportunities for Gardner to break into the squad in a 5-3-2, be it as more of a holding or attacking midfielder. I'd see Lambert making grabbing an attacking midfielder a priority—he's known to be fond of Lewis Holtby—to play with Delph and Ashley Westwood in a three-man midfield. You'd have Charles N'Zogbia, Karim El Ahmadi, Gary Gardner, and potentially Jack Grealish (if he doesn't go out on loan) set as your second-choice options in midfield. That wouldn't be a bad spot to be in, I don't think.
If there's any spot where Villa are set right now, it's up top. Christian Benteke—once he returns from injury—will continue to be one of the Premier League's top strikers and Villa have a plethora of other options that they'd count on alongside him. It's not much of an issue but between Benteke, Darren Bent, Andreas Weimann, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Libor Kozák, Callum Robinson, and Jordan Bowery, they'd be easily adaptable to most formations.
I honestly can't tell you this will happen but I think it conceivably could. It would give Lambert an opportunity to make three signings—a left wing-back, a centre back, and an attacking midfielder—and get the squad to a spot where it could effectively run a system that could be hard to break down and beat but also one that could be very effective on the counter attack.
It takes a lot of selective thinking when it comes to the potential signings—Lescott, Cresswell, and Holtby are just three of the many players Villa have been linked with this window—but I wouldn't be shocked if Lambert goes out and plays five defenders on a regular basis next year. He's been fond of it in the past and honestly if Lescott signs, I think it becomes the tactics that best suit Villa heading into a relegation battle.
What would you think of Aston Villa going with a 5-3-2 full-time next season? Afraid of still leaking too many goals? Have a preferred formation for Villa? Let us know in the comments!