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Tactical Preview: Aston Villa vs. Stoke City

Michael Regan

The Premier League season kicks off Saturday, and Aston Villa will be traveling north to the Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City. Despite it being the first game of the season, looking at the tactics is important because it gives us somewhat of an indication of what the teams are going to look like this season. Obviously a lot of changes take place at a football club during the summer months, ranging from players both coming in and leaving, and staff changes happening as well.

Roy Keane has been one of these changes for Aston Villa, and we will see what kind of influence he has on manager Paul Lambert. Last year, Lambert tried a system with three (or five) at the back, and frankly it didn't work because in addition to the wingbacks not being able to get the job done, the centrebacks kept getting injured as well. When it didn't work, he reverted to his trusted 4-3-3. This season, there should be more depth at that position, with Jores Okore coming back from injury and the addition of Philippe Senderos. Both of those players should start alongside captain Ron Vlaar in defence ahead of keeper Brad Guzan. New summer signing Kieran Richardson should start at left wingback, and Leandro Bacuna figures to get the start on the right. If Villa choose to go with four at the back, expect Senderos and Richardson possibly to be dropped for another new signing, Aly Cissokho.

There are many options in the midfield for the Villa management team, but Fabian Delph is first choice coming off a great season. Ashley Westwood figures to be his partner deeper in midfield, unless Carlos Sanchez is signed. One of Joe Cole or Charles N'Zogbia will get the start behind the strike partnership in an attempt to play as a creator. Both of these players could function as wingers or play behind the striker if Villa go 4-2-3-1 as well. So could Jack Grealish.

At striker, we are still waiting on the return of Christian Benteke, and Libor Kozak for that matter. In their absences, striking options include Andi Weimann, Darren Bent, Gabby Agbonlahor, and Callum Robinson. Agbonlahor has been poor lately and therefore I expect Bent and Weimann to start up top if Lambert picks 3-5-2. A formation with one striker could make sense as well.

For Stoke, Mark Hughes is still tasked with trying to actually play football with the remains that were left behind by Tony Pulis attempting to play rugby for a few seasons. Bojan was brought in this summer, and other teams in the league soon may be wondering how he wound up at Stoke. They will be playing a 4-5-1, making the most of their defensive strength, but the attackers should be a little more reliable this season.

My worries are that with three at the back against only one striker, Villa will have wasted a few players by deploying them so far back. However, for set pieces it may be necessary. The midfield battle should be virtually even, and someone will have to step up to make a difference for either team. If Bent and Weimann can combine well with Cole, Villa may have success. If Stoke remain organised and hit on the counter and/or win set pieces, it may be a long day for the visitors.

football formations

The team sheets should look like this:

Aston Villa: Guzan; Okore, Vlaar, Senderos; Bacuna, Westwood, Delph, Richardson; Cole; Bent, Weimann.

Subs: Given, Cissokho, Grealish, Agbonlahor, Baker, N'Zogbia, El Ahmadi

Stoke City: Begovic; Pieters, Shawcross, Huth, Bardsley; Bojan, Ireland, N'Zonzi, Whelan, Arnautovic; Diouf

Bench: Sorensen, Crouch, Sidwell, Adam, Odemwinge, Wilson, Cameron

Where do you think the key battles are? Let us know in the comments!

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