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Aston Villa Season Preview 2015-16: Tactics

With the season less than a week away, a preview of Villa and Tim Sherwood's tactical options.

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Manager: Tim Sherwood

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Mark Bunn, Jed Steer

Defenders: Nathan Baker, Joe Bennett, Ciaran Clark, José Ángel Crespo, Alan Hutton, Jores Okore, Micah Richards, Kieran Richardson, Philippe Senderos, Janoi Donacien, Aly Cissokho, Jordan Amaví

Midfielders: Leandro Bacuna, Joe Cole, Gary Gardner, Carles Gil, Idrissa Gueye, Charles N'Zogbia, Carlos Sánchez, Scott Sinclair, Jordan Veretout, Ashley Westwood, Aleksandr Tonev, Jack Grealish

Forwards: Gabby Abgonlahor, Jordan Ayew, Rudy Gestede, Libor Kozák

(Note: As in Alex's recent piece, at least four of the players will need to be cut, more if new players are brought in. Cissokho, Tonev and Donacien seem almost certain not to be in the starting squad).

Villa 2015-16 - Football tactics and formations

A possible starting line-up.

Will the real Tim Sherwood please stand up?

It seems hard to remember but this is the first season that Sherwood will be taking a squad of his own choosing into a full Premier League season. It should finally provide an idea of Tactics Tim's real tactical ideas.

He's been labelled as an old-fashioned dinosaur, a 4-4-2, classic English fanatic but also a naive experimentalist with a penchant for trying players in strange positions. How to reconcile those views?

Well here's my hypothesis. I think Sherwood's defining characteristic is a belief in positional flexibility and a rejection of tactical hyper-specialization, the kind of thing that produces talk of the inverted-deep-lying-false-centre-back.

Sherwood demands that his players be able to effectively cover at least two roles. Central midfielders must be able to rotate attacking and defensive duties, wingers should push in and be able to score goals, full-backs must be comfortable advancing up the pitch. This is generally hung upon the frame of a big target-man striker but he's happy to use that man as a lone striker or part of a duo as needed.

Perhaps influenced by his role as a youth coach, where positional changes are more common, he's keen to try out players in unfamiliar positions - see Jack Grealish's conversion from a winger to a playmaker, or the pushing back of Carlos Sánchez into the central defence.

The new, attacking Villa

Most of the season previews have concentrated on how the Villans will struggle for goals without Christian Benteke. It's a logical enough conclusion but ignores the huge effect of the departure of Paul Lambert and his stifling tactics. Yes, Benteke's goalscoring record towards the end of the season was amazing but there were comparative increases from Gabby, Tom Cleverley and Sinclair.

Sherwood´s dedication to flexibility is likely to lead to the most attacking Villa side in years, with the introduction of Ayew and Gestede (and the return of Kozak) offering a range of different strikers. However more important may be the contributions from further back - all of Sinclair, Gil, Grealish, Veretout, Gueye and Amaví may be expected to chip in with goals at some point.

The side looks more balanced down both sides than for a long time and it would be no surprise to see a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 with a lone target man, looking to create overloads down the flanks.

Defensive worries

Villa's tactical problems may lie rather more in the defensive department. Sherwood´s teams have always seemed vulnerable to the occasional thrashing and the transfer window hasn't fixed some of the gaps.

Whereas the attack benefits from increased flexibility, the defence may well suffer, especially in the absence of an organizing figure.  The athletic ability of the Villa defence has improved this summer but its organizational ability is still lacking. Richards looks like a great buy as an upgrade in the right-back position or centre-back cover, not so much as the foundation of the entire defense. Clark will need to make a huge step-up this year.

That´s compounded by the continued weakness at defensive midfield, where Westwood and Sánchez are both limited, the former a good passer and the latter a good man-marker but neither an effective midfield general. Gueye or Veretout could have that potential but they'll be thrown in at the deep-end.

This season should be Villa's most exciting in years, and I´m expecting a number of high-scoring games. We could be on the receiving end of some absolute thrashings, but we may well be handing out some as well.

Let me know what you think in the comments. What's the best formation, and which players should be in the starting line-up? And do we need more reinforcements before the season begins?