"Tactics Tim" the Spurs fans mockingly chanted. You'll Never Win Anything, said the Liverpool fans (probably). Yet, two shock results in a row, and Aston Villa are moving away from relegation while simultaneously making it to the FA Cup final. And it's all because Tim Sherwood replaced Paul Lambert.
In the eight league matches since Sherwood took over, the Claret and Blues have scored as many goals (12) as they did in 25 games under Lambert. Eight of the goals have come from Christian Benteke. Getting the striker to score again has been the biggest reason this team has found success lately. During a run of ten matches that Benteke was held scoreless, Villa picked up two points. In the six matches since then, the Belgian has scored eight times and the Villans have collected ten points.
He'll need to continue to perform at the highest level if Villa want to take anything from Manchester City this Saturday. Sure the Citizens are slumping, but that doesn't mean they can't come out and score five. The league may be lost, as may be manager Manuel Pellegrini's future at the club, but the the Sky Blues are still a very dangerous side. Remember what Yaya Touré did in this game last year? Collecting the ball in his own half to charge down the pitch and score is something most humans are not capable of, but Touré made it look easy.
One advantage Villa may have is the stubbornness of Pellegrini. He likes his 4-4-2, even against teams like Barcelona. If Sherwood uses five in the midfield again, it could translate to more possession than Villa deserve. However, if Sergio Agüero and Edin Džeko are in the mood, it could be a long day for Brad Guzan in goal.
An area that I'm not worried about is the left side of Villa's defence. Even if Kieran Richardson starts, he'll be going up against Jesús Navas. This will probably come back to haunt me, but all Navas does is sprint down the wing and cross into areas that don't contain his teammates. James Milner or Samir Nasri are better options in that position, but aren't utilised as much as they should be.
Undoubtedly, Ron Vlaar and Jores Okore will have their hands full in the middle of defence. David Silva could be tricky for Leandro Bacuna to deal with, but with the help of Tom Cleverley tracking back, the Spaniard can be contained. Carlos Sánchez is available after serving his suspension, but it's likely that Ashley Westwood retains his place in defensive midfield. Both he and Fabian Delph will have to focus on stopping Touré before thinking about going forward and attacking.
It will be interesting to see how much tracking back Jack Grealish will do. He's been given a bit of a free role when deployed in attacking midfield. He doesn't necessarily need to do a ton of defending, but it's important to apply some pressure to Manchester City's defensive midfield pairing, which will most likely be Fernando and Touré. Not allowing the two adequate space to play passes forward could really stifle the attack.
Up top, Gabby Agbonlahor could return. If so, his pace will be important against Martin Demichelis. If Agbonlahor isn't fit, expect to see Charles N'Zogbia in attacking midfield alongside Grealish. Either way, Villa should avoid attacking down the flanks. The middle of the Manchester City defence is much more vulnerable than the outside, which features quality defenders like Pablo Zabaleta and Gaël Clichy. Vincent Kompany will miss out, meaning Elaquim Mangala will pair Demichelis, and both have been error-prone.
Manchester City (4-4-2):
Joe Hart; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Elaquim Mangala, Gaël Clichy; Jesús Navas, Yaya Touré, Fernando, David Silva; Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero.
Aston Villa (4-3-2-1):
Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore, Ron Vlaar, Kieran Richardson; Tom Cleverley, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph; Charles N'Zogbia, Jack Grealish; Christian Benteke.
Who would you play if you were Tim Sherwood? Let us know in the comments!
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