Tim Sherwood is gone. After only recording one win in his 12 most recent English Premier League matches at Aston Villa, the board pulled the plug on the Englishman, replacing him with Kevin MacDonald for the meantime. Next up on the fixture list is Southampton in the League Cup, a game which will come too soon for the next permanent boss.
MacDonald took over after Martin O'Neill walked out on the club shortly before the start of the 2010-11 campaign, and remained in charge for eight matches before Gerard Houllier finished the season as the Villa manager after taking over in mid-September. Five of these matches were in the league, two in European competition and one was in the cup. In the Premier League, MacDonald's side won two, lost two and drew one, with a goal difference of negative four. That 6-0 loss to Newcastle (the Magpies even missed a penalty!) killed it, but otherwise the defence conceded just three times in the four other games.
While in charge for that brief stint, MacDonald preferred a 4-5-1 formation of one variation or the other. Luckily for him, the personnel is present to utilise a similar shape.
One player that saw action under MacDonald that still is in the squad is Ciaran Clark. Just 20 when he made two starts in England's top flight, Clark could return to the starting lineup this week against Southampton, provided he's recovered from a leg injury. Gabby Agbonlahor and Brad Guzan are the only other players remaining from that team. Agbonlahor also made two league starts in that time.
Getting back to the tactics and players that MacDonald will use, it's important to factor in that he was the coach of the U-21 side. For that reason, I expect him to favour younger players with more potential, as the next permanent manager should. See Alex Carson's piece for more on that.
Jack Grealish should become a focal point in the side, and we may even see Gary Gardner in the future. The same goes for Jores Okore, once he and Gardner are fit. Additionally, Adama Traoré may find it easier to crack the starting eleven. Hopefully this means the end for Joleon Lescott as a starter.
Maybe this means we'll see Jordan Veretout in midfield. If KMac adopts the 4-3-3, he could choose to use Carlos Sánchez deepest with Veretout and Idrissa Gana ahead of him. Then again, he may use a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, using either Carles Gil or Grealish at the tip of the diamond. By no means is Ashley Westwood out of favour, he's in contention for a starting place as well. The same goes for Scott Sinclair, as MacDonald may want his experience.
If two strikers are used, one absolutely has to be Jordan Ayew. A game against his brother is just what he needed to get going, and his positive play was rewarded with a goal against Swansea. Maybe Libor Kozák gets a chance? Agbonlahor may also be preferred just for the sake of familiarity.
As far as the backline goes, Jordan Amavi should figure to get a game, at least in the cup. Leandro Bacuna was used in defensive midfield, and wasn't terrible last time out. He could get the nod a right back, although Alan Hutton has been performing well lately. He seems to be the main attacking threat on the right side, continually getting into good areas. Micah Richards will start in central defence, and there's a possibility Tiago Iliro plays alongside him. Guzan keeps his place in goal for league matches, but in this cup game against the Saints, Mark Bunn could play.
Villa's best hope of winning said cup fixture is that Southampton boss Ronald Koeman rotates his side. They're a solid team, sitting eighth in the division. Koeman likes to use a 4-2-3-1, and has a dangerous group of attackers at his disposal. Let's look at the opponents for Wednesday's cup fixture.
Provided they rotate, we could see either Shane Long or Junami at striker, with Jay Rodriguez and Gastón Ramirez behind the lone forward. Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse will likely be the deeper midfield duo. Matt Targett could spell Ryan Bertrand at left back, and Cucu Martina is another squad player that could get a chance on the right of defence. Steven Caulker will probably be one of the centre backs.
Aston Villa (4-5-1):
Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Micah Richards, Ciaran Clark, Jordan Amavi; Scott Sinclair, Jordan Veretout, Carlos Sánchez, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Jack Grealish; Jordan Ayew.
Who would you test out in this (somewhat meaningless) cup match? Let us know in the comments!
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