Villa fight back but settle for the draw
Full disclosure on the absence of the Tactics Talk column for a couple of weeks, I've been travelling before coming back to the UK for Christmas and have missed the last few games. I can't do a full analysis on this game either because I missed a large part of it.
I did however see the last 20 minutes or so, just after Jordan Ayew's goal at which point Villa looked set to push on and perhaps win but then settled back for the draw. Rémi Garde's decision to not use any substitutions seemed to confirm that, leaving Adama Traoré on the bench while Idrissa Gueye, Carlos Sánchez and Ashley Westwood formed a defensive midfield block.
The tactical reasons were clear. The introduction of Rudy Gestede had given Villa a toehold in attack but the defence was still shaky, as shown by the ease with which the Newcastle attack twice got past Leandro Bacuna playing at left-back to get a ball into the middle.
Meanwhile, Gueye and Sánchez were doing a lot of defensive work in midfield - as noted by Squawka:
Idrissa Gueye & Carlos Sanchez made 7 interceptions vs. Newcastle; no Premier League player managed more today. pic.twitter.com/dWMyvb3sbZ— Squawka Football (@Squawka) diciembre 19, 2015
With Jordan Veretout providing the supply for Gestede and Ayew, that left just Ashley Westwood as a potential substitute. Taking off Villa's best possession player who was covering the right side practically alone could easily have thrown off the balance of the side and left them open to a late winner from the home-side, especially when the appalling weather conditions were making attacking play very difficult. Steve McClaren had put on Florian Thauvin specifically attacking Westwood's side and it would have been a huge risk to put Traoré on that side and gamble that the Villa man would make more of an impact.
In the end Garde opted for a draw that could act as a potential morale-booster for a side in dire need of confidence.
Did Garde mess up by playing for a draw? Yes and No
YES: We can't escape relegation with draws
Being gritty and hard to beat, able to grind out draws away and snatch wins at home is generally a good strategy to avoid relegation. Tony Pulis has made a specialism out of it. It would've been a great quality to have when Villa were 2-0 up against Leicester, or drawing 1-1 with Crystal Palace, or 1-0 up against Swansea.
However it won't be enough for a team that's 10 points away from safety and won't be out of the relegation zone even if we win all three of our upcoming games. The only example of a team pulling off the kind of escape that Villa are looking at is Leicester last season and they did it via relentless attack, scoring goals and winning matches even though they left themselves vulnerable.
The result left Villa further away from safety after surrounding teams managed to get unexpected wins and over Christmas will now be in a position that no team has ever escaped from.
NO: Garde and Villa need to find their own way
Understandably Rémi Garde may not think that this Villa side has it in them to play the kind of football Leicester did last season. Jordan Amavi is out for the season and we're playing with makeshift full-backs, our attackers aren't speedsters like Jamie Vardy and the midfield is yet to show it can reliably create attacking chances, although Veretout is improving rapidly in that area.
The only possible positive interpretation of that lack of willingness to go on the offensive is that Garde believes that this Villa squad has potential greater depth than that Leicester side and that as the team develops he can flexibly manage it to victory in a variety of ways rather than gambling on all-out attack. If he can it will be one of the greatest single-season achievements of a manager in the Premier League era.
Looking at a tired side, low on confidence but having just got an improbable goal for a draw and playing in a quagmire, Garde decided it wasn't worth gambling everything for the win and risking a crushing loss.
From now on though he will need to show that he can use the entire range of ability in the squad. Traoré may not be a saviour but he will need to be used at the right moment, equally so with Carles Gil and Jack Grealish. The midfield will not produce enough with only Veretout as a true attacking presence. Gestede and Ayew will both be vital but will require the team to play to their strengths. Finally, the defence must form a coherent unit soon, with a settled line-up.
9 points from the next three games may be the only results that give a glimmer of hope.
Let us know what you think in the comments below! Did Garde make the right decision or did we need to go all-out for the win? And should we imitate Leicester´s all-out attack for the rest of the season or a more flexible approach?