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Simple changes would see Garde pull Villa out of crisis

Aston Villa looked pretty good last night when the best players were out there. Hey, that makes sense!

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Hey all! I’ve got a simple tactical idea for how Aston Villa can soar up the Premier League table:

Rémi Garde should actually play Villa’s best XI.

Shocking, right? Who’d have thunk a team with Carles Gil and Jordan Ayew leading the attack would be better than one with Gabby Agbonlahor the focal point?

No, seriously though — in his last three matches, Ayew scored against Swansea City, won a penalty at Southampton and scored at Spurs last night.

But of course, here’s where Villa shot themselves in the foot: After putting in a good performance against Swans, Ayew was dropped. His penalty and goal off the bench in the last two games? Each of them brought it back to 2-1, but ultimately, there was too much work left for Villa to do.

And this is the thing Villa have been completely terrible at this year — put on a nice attacking performance at Leicester City, make dumb changes to throw it away and suddenly two games later, we’re back to playing the long-ball, target-man football that’d so bored us for the previous couple of seasons. See Ayew and Jordan Veretout put in good performances when given a chance, only to return to the bench (if not left out entirely) the next time out.

I’ve seen a lot of people make two cases recently:

  1. That Villa’s problems go far beyond its manager.
  2. That Villa are desperately lacking a top goalscorer.
Thing is? I’m not sure either is true.

The last period of last night’s 3-1 loss in North London might seem to indicate otherwise. Because here’s the thing — Villa looked good with Gil, Ayew and Rudy Gestede on the pitch together, three attackers playing with something that resembled purpose.

Looking at Kevin MacDonald’s team selection yesterday was nothing short of a headscratcher — Ayew dropped, Kieran Richardson still in the squad alongside Joleon Lescott, Idrissa Gana irresponsibly rested for a match Villa could’ve gotten something out of — and left the team with little opportunity to win from the opening whistle.

It’s a prime example of how Villa’s managers this year have mismanaged the squad — if Garde can get it right, the problems might not exist beyond the hot seat.

I’ve seen this train of thought a lot from people:
  • Complain about Richardson starting over Jordan Amavi and Agbonlahor starting over Ayew, and rightfully so.
  • Remark Villa simply aren’t good enough to stay up after the game.
The two seem, in some sense, to be mutually exclusive — if Villa aren’t putting forth what you think their best XI is, how can you adequately judge the strength of the team? We’ve seen ample evidence to suggest Amavi, Ayew, Gana and Gil are players capable of winning football matches — why make broad statements about the quality of the squad not being good enough when they’re not on the pitch?

And, of course, the other is that Villa are lacking a top goalscorer — I’d like to see Ayew get these next two months as the first name on the lineup sheet, playing alongside either Scott Sinclair or Rudy Gestede, both of whom are capable of popping up with goals, from now through the end of December. You can’t dismiss the kid before you’ve properly given him a run in the team, and he’s in good form now. Harvest that confidence he’s building, and turn him into your 12-goal scorer to get you out of this relegation battle.

Ayew’s versatility is part of what makes him so valuable. If Villa wanted to get all three of the aforementioned forwards on the pitch, they could run a 4-3-3 with, say, Gana and Carlos Sánchez in behind Gil, who himself sits behind Sinclair, Gestede and Ayew up top — it’d be a formation similar to what Tim Sherwood used last year (with Gil in the Tom Cleverley role), but it was also a tactical plan that worked.

Regardless, guys like Richardson and Agbonalhor shouldn’t be anywhere near this squad. They’re not one of the two most talented players at their position (hi, Joe Bennett!) and they don’t have a future in the sport Villa should be trying to cultivate.

Look, Rémi, just take the advice — play your best players. Because maybe this problem doesn’t lie deeper than the manager at Villa Park.