First hour and the midfield diamond - no width, no movement, no attack
Villa fans could be forgiven for a groan at Lambert´s initial line-up. The midfield diamond was a slight change up from the 4-3-3 but suffered from exactly the same problems, a complete lack of width other than that offered by the full-backs who were given a thankless job. Unable to combine with the midfield diamond, they resorted to early crosses to Benteke, who won some of them but never looked like getting enough power on a header to score. Gabby and Benteke both were far too predictable in their movement, looking for a ball behind that never came as the passes and crosses came from deep, never dropping in to connect midfield and attack.
Here´s a typical passage of play in the Villa attack:
Here's a passage of play that illustrates the overly static nature of Villa's initial diamond. This is the start of the attacking move. After a neat piece of play leaving a Liverpool player on the floor, Carlos Sánchez has managed to turn out to the right and lay the ball off to Alan Hutton. Cleverley and Delph should be moving towards the space marked in the red oval and Westwood should be pushing into the central space to continue the attack. However all three are static and too close together.
In the next part of the move, Cleverley receives the ball and turns but quickly finds himself confronted by Sakho, who has stepped up well. His options are limited - Hutton is being covered on the wing and Delph has not moved quickly enough into the space marked in red. Westwood has not pushed up in support of the attacking move. His only options are his strikers, but the front two are too far away, only looking for the ball in behind - Benteke could be dropping into the space marked in red to provide an option to continue the attack.
Cleverley looks for an overly-difficult ball behind to Abgonlahor but can´t pull it off and Markovic collects the ball. Had Benteke moved into space as marked by the yellow line, he could have found Hutton running in behind, while Delph and Abgonlahor looked for the space in the centre. The attack has failed due to a lack of men between the lines - the midfield is too static and the strikers too far away.
The switch to 4-3-3, Carles Gil and the gift of width
After an hour Lambert made his tactical switch. Off came Ashley Westwood and Thomas Cleverley. Cleverley struggled to provide any attacking edge and wasted his one good chance, while Westwood was fine but redundant with Sánchez playing well in his defensive role. Villa switched to a 4-3-3 with Weimann to the right of Benteke, and Gil behind him.
The change was immediate, with Gil at the heart of everything as he put in an all action performance, drifting on both flanks, and through the middle, combining well with Andi Weimann and Alan Hutton especially. Delph also looked more lively and even Gabby began to look more like a threat down the left.
Here's a passage of play showing excellent Villa play down the flanks with Gil:
Gil has drifted over from the right to pick up the ball and played a clever pass into Delph who has ghosted in behind the Liverpool midfield on the left wing. Gil then continues his run as marked in the black line.
Delph plays an excellent ball out to the right wing where Hutton has pushed up. He's unlikely to control it and beat the defender but there's a space marked by in red that Weimann can drop into and allow Hutton to continue his run.
Weimann spots the space and drops back to pick up Hutton's slightly short pass, looking to play Hutton in behind. Meanwhile Carles Gil can be seen on the far left continuing his run into the middle.
Hutton gets the ball in, although unfortunately it's a poor final ball and Benteke can't get the overhead kick on target. However Gil and Abgonlahor are both in the box if it breaks loose.
That kind of play, starting at the left-back position, switching to the right wing and getting a ball into the centre is the kind of movement we haven't seen for ages, and was prompted by Carles Gil drifting from one wing to the other. However Weimann's movement to drop back and play the one-two with Hutton was vital as well, a huge difference from Benteke and Gabby in the first half.
Conclusions for the future and Adam's Team of the (next) Week
Considering Lambert's recent statements it seems obvious he understands the need for more creativity and width in the side - as Carles Gil's transformation of Villa's 4-3-3 showed, it's not necessarily formation as much as the individual style that can provide that. At this point it also seems clear that to have Westwood, Sanchez AND Cleverley on the pitch at once makes us far too defensive.
There is very obviously still a gap on the left side for Villa. This website's very own Jack Grimse has put forward why he thinks Gabby should be dropped but if Villa are to play a 4-3-3, there are no other real options for the wide forward on the left. Gil looks too useful in the centre to be put anywhere less influential, so either Scott Sinclair or another similar signing probably still needs to be made. However Andi Weimann's initial link-up with Gil was very promising and should see him retain his place.
Next Saturday we have Bournemouth in the FA Cup and there's really no reason not to be at full strength for the match, but it would be nice to see some young or bench players get a chance. Here´s my preferred line-up:
I'd still like to see Leandro Bacuna come back into the side or even Callum Robinson get a run-out, as unlikely as those options currently seem, and Gabby probably needs to make way. There should be no need for two defensive midfielders against a Championship side, so it should only be on of Sánchez or Westwood, and I feel like Sánchez needs the rest more.
Let us know what you think in the comments! Should we play full strength or save our efforts for the League?