The diamond formation is not one that we have often seen in the Premier League in recent years, but on the rare occasion managers have employed it, teams have struggled to contain it.
Why will it work?
Lambert first played a diamond system with Villa against Newcastle in (2012). A team that was seriously struggling for form and confidence off the back of McLeish, this gained the first point of the Lambert reign. Villa were the better team and it took a Ben Arfa wonder goal to save Newcastle. Afterwards Pardew said the diamond was what gave them a lot of problems. For some reason Lambert didn’t pursue the diamond as a long term option, but fast forward a couple of years to 2014 at Anfield and he utilised it again to great effect. With Weimann in the hole behind Benteke and Agbonlahor, Villa were absolutely rampant in attack. Weimann gave Gerrard an absolute nightmare and Villa should have gone on to win comfortably. Sadly, the outstanding Agbonlahor picked up an injury and Suarez took a dive, so we had to settle for a point. Only 2 other teams picked up a result at Anfield last season and neither outplayed Liverpool so comprehensively for long periods.
Furthermore, it gave Rodgers some ideas of his own (he’s an excellent manager). Soon after, he started using the diamond with Sterling in the hole with massive success.
What makes the diamond so effective is that you can assert control on the middle of the pitch by sheer numbers. The men at the sides of the diamond can play narrow defensively, forcing teams to go wide. This forces them to overcommit and your front 3 can move fluidly to exploit the gaps. This was what Benteke Weimann and Agbonlahor did so brilliantly against Liverpool.
How to play the diamond
Set up your defence solid (pick quality and experience where possible). A midfield pivot is essential. The two players ahead of him should be capable of playing centrally or providing a threat from wide - Bacuna and Delph are ideally suited to this role due to their versatility. At the point of the diamond you need someone with pace and energy that can run at the opposition and provide the creative spark. I think this would get the best out of N’Zogbia, but it is also probably the most suitable position for Cole, Grealish and Tonev, which would give us plenty of options. Ahead of them, your best available striker partnership.
Potential Team Selection
Positives: A diamond would utilise our greatest assets in pace, youth, stamina, enthusiasm, direct running. I also believe the diamond would force us to attack and play more football than 4-3-3 or 3-5-2. In either of those formations it is easy (and habitual for Villa) to drop too deep and have the strikers isolated, which means unless the opposition are particularly naive about our threat on the counter, we have little chance of winning the game. With this personnel, we could easily to drop back to 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or (4-2-3-1).
Negatives: We still don’t have strong full backs. This formation doesn’t give as much cover as playing 3 central defenders, but we are far less likely to sink into a very defensive, long ball mindset. There is a risk-reward situation against teams with very strong full backs that like to get far forward, as we have numbers upfield to get at them when they lose the ball, but we don’t have a specific player covering full back runs down the touchline.