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Winning midfield battle key to beating Swansea

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While out-passing Swansea may be impossible, limiting the midfield's influence is important if Aston Villa hope to win.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

It's a strange feeling, isn't it? Winning and having the confidence that this team will score goals. Three wins in a row will build confidence though, and maybe it's all that this Aston Villa team needs. That confidence really showed in the comprehensive win over Sunderland, and the four first half goals were as much a product of the new spirit as they were the scheme.

For much of this season, Paul Lambert sent his team out lined up in a 4-3-3. Sometimes, it even included Charles N'Zogbia.When Tim Sherwood replaced Lambert, we expected to see some different things. The flat 4-4-2 we saw last week was definitely different. It still featured N'Zogbia on the right side, but using just two central midfielders really opened up the space. This allowed Leandro Bacuna and Matt Lowton to get forward, and Bacuna's two assists really justified his place in the team (not that there was much of a choice, with all of the defensive injuries). For more analysis on last week's performance, read Adam Clark's piece here.

Long story short; less can be more for this Villa team. Sherwood seems like a guy who might say "just let the lads play," so I assume he just put out a basic 4-4-2 and it worked. Maybe it was because the players were comfortable, maybe it was because Sunderland are atrocious. Regardless, he should stick with it against Swansea this Saturday. The only real concern is that Swansea might have a lot of the ball, but that would be a concern for Villa against this team regardless of the formation. Under Garry Monk, the Swans aren't as obsessed with possession as they were in Brendan Rodgers stint in charge, but they still like to keep the ball. If Villa are being out-possessed, that's okay. The 4-4-2 is a great counter attacking formation, especially with the pace that Agbonlahor and Sinclair offer.

A bigger worry is that Swansea looked dominant last time out against Liverpool - for the first hour anyways. Liverpool ended up getting a lucky goal and winning, but for the first half and a good chunk of the second half, they were dominated and probably consider themselves lucky that they were still in the match. If the Welsh side's finishing issues continue, Villa have a good chance to get at least a point at home.

shots 1h v Sun

Image from FourFourTwo's Stats Zone

Here are the shots from just the first half against Sunderland. Excluding blocks, Aston Villa put six out of eight shots on frame. That's a recipe for success. We've talked all year about how this team deserved more goals than they've scored, and maybe some of them showed up last week. Maybe karma played a part, but when you're challenging the goalkeeper on a consistent basis, you'll always be more likely to score.

It's difficult to mess with a winning team. Especially when the recent wins weren't lucky in the slightest. Therefore, Sherwood should stick with the same lineup as last week. Luckily, there should be a few more defensive options available on the bench. Ron Vlaar should be back, and left backs Kieran Richardson and Aly Cissokho could return. Alan Hutton is available for selection following the completion of his suspension, but he could end up being the Wally Pipp to Leandro Bacuna's Lou Gehrig (sorry for the baseball reference).

Ashley Westwood and Carlos Sánchez may also be relegated to substitute appearances, but I'm okay with it because it means that Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley are bossing it in the middle of midfield. Unfortunately, N'Zogbia's good play on the right means Carles Gil could meet a similar fate. Initially, these look like bad things, but developing quality depth means that this club can progress. Jack Grealish looks like the first option off the bench when Villa need an attacking sub, but may possibly challenge Scott Sinclair for a spot on the left side of midfield.

It was just a few weeks ago that many Villa fans wanted to put Gabby Agbonlahor on a slow boat to China, or possibly make him the first Englishman to visit the moon. I was a holder of this opinion, and am happy to have been proved wrong. It was easy to argue that he should be dropped after the Newcastle loss, where Agbonlahor completed just five of ten passes, and was unsuccessful on all three dribbles he attempted in 70 minutes of action. But, two great performances against West Bromwich Albion were just the warm-up for his brace against Sunderland. Now, Villa's longest serving player is really showing why he deserves a spot in the team. Christian Benteke had the other two goals against the Black Cats, and hopefully the beast has been awakened. For long stretches of the year, the big Belgian was invisible. Since converting the crucial stoppage time penalty in the league victory over the Baggies, he looks like he's back to his 2013 form. Benteke loves trying fancy flicks and backheels, and they were coming off against Sunderland. The goals have given him a massive confidence boost, and it's just what he and this team need. It was nice to see 16-year-old Rushian Hepburn-Murphy come on last week, but if a forward sub is needed, it will probably be Andi Weimann.

Possible lineups:

Aston Villa (4-4-2):

Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore, Ciaran Clark, Matt Lowton; Charles N'Zogbia, Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph, Scott Sinclair; Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Swansea City (4-2-3-1):

Łukasz Fabiański; Kyle Naughton, Jordi Amat, Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor; Ki Sung-yeung, Jack Cork; Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jonjo Shelvey, Wayne Routledge; Bafétimbi Gomis.

Would you keep the same lineup or switch it up? Let us know in the comments!

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