Lately, we've seen Aston Villa line up in a 4-3-3 formation. It's led to three points so far; a victory over AFC Bournemouth and a defeat to Manchester United. Although there have been some positives, the negatives slightly outweigh those benefits.
With three dedicated attackers, Villa have ceded space -- and possession -- in the middle of the park. In recent years, having the lion's share of the ball mattered little, but with the players Tim Sherwood now has, a new style is necessary. Gone are the days where goalkeeper Brad Guzan needs to punt as far as humanly possible in the general direction of Christian Benteke. This team is able to play tidy passes, and actually able to string passing moves together.
Undoubtedly, there is a battle that needs winning in the midfield area against Crystal Palace. The Eagles seriously upgraded over the summer, bringing in Yohan Cabaye. The Frenchman previously played under manager Alan Pardew at Newcastle, and was consistently one of the best performers in that side. Since returning from Paris St. Germain, he's picked up right where he left off, providing the creativity needed for Palace, and chipping in with a goal already. Partnering him in midfield is James McArthur, who himself has assisted two on the young season.
Villa will need to bring their best, and that means packing the midfield full of players with different skill sets. Carlos Sánchez has yet to start this year for the Claret and Blues, but that should change here. Sitting him deep behind a pairing of shuttlers in Idrissa Gana Gueye and Ashley Westwood would allow the Colombian to focus more on defensive duties, and he's fully capable of laying the ball off to one of his teammates that should be in the vicinity - either of the central defenders or any of his midfield companions. Jack Grealish should be deployed as a trequartista at the tip of the diamond. With a license to roam, he could get out to the wings to provide crosses if needed, and also to create in central areas.
The flanks can be left to the fullbacks. Jordan Amavi and Leandro Bacuna are perfect for this scheme as they love to get forward and have the pace to retreat quickly in order to fulfil their responsibilities as defenders. They'll need to do so, as Yannick Bolasie and Wilfred Zaha are lightning-quick and combine well with the midfield and forwards on the break. Also, both Amavi and Bacuna deliver quality service into the box. Ciaran Clark and Micah Richards can push outwards slightly in possession, allowing Sánchez to drop between them when Villa have the ball.
All that needs to be addressed now is the forwards. I've left it for last because it's the area of the team with the most question marks. Rudy Gestede should probably start. The presence of a big body is needed up front, and it's unlikely that Sherwood starts Libor Kozák. Regardless, the target man should be deployed slightly higher up the pitch than his partner. But who will play off his shoulder? The first option is Jordan Ayew, who has been less than impressive so far. The same can be said for Scott Sinclair, but he was excellent in a withdrawn role during preseason. Don't even get me started on Gabby Agbonlahor. Do we want to use Adama Traoré here? He may not be ready just yet. Carles Gil could even be used atop the diamond midfield, and Grealish could be pushed forward. Whomever gets the start should be judged on the first 45 minutes, and a replacement can be brought off the bench for the second half if need be. I'd go with Ayew here, just because he has the most upside to thrive in a central role. The central defence of Crystal Palace is there to be exploited. Damien Delaney and Scott Dann aren't exactly frightening, and all of the options are pacy enough to do serious damage.
Aston Villa (4 < 4 > 2): Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Micah Richards, Ciaran Clark, Jordan Amavi; Carlos Sánchez, Ashley Westwood, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Jack Grealish; Rudy Gestede, Jordan Ayew.
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Alex McCarthy; Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Pape Souaré; Wilfred Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, James McArthur, Yannick Bolasie; Jordan Mutch; Connor Wickham.
Which areas of the pitch worry you the most? Who would you start if you were Tim Sherwood? Let us know in the comments!