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Aston Villa 0 - 1 West Brom Tactics Talk

Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Tactical set-ups:

Villa v West Brom 2015-16 vs Away team - Football tactics and formations

First-half: West Brom box clever against Villa's mismatched attack

Villa's 4-2-3-1 featured a lot of creativity in the central midfield from Carles Gil and Jack Grealish, ready to slip in through-balls or drift centrally as they did against Leicester the week before, where Gabby Abgonlahor would look to play on the last man.

Unfortunately Tony Pulis had prepared his team well for that and the West Brom defence stayed deep enough that there was never enough space for the playmakers to put Gabby in behind. Instead they had to resort to clipping balls towards his head, as did the full-backs from the wings, but the Albion centre-backs were more than a match for him in the air. Gabby eventually started drifting out to the flanks, where he almost managed to repeat the goal against Leicester, turning his man out wide before putting a ball in for Gil, but it was well blocked. Apart from that there was a disappointing lack of variety in the attack, Scott Sinclair doing absolutely nothing and none of the midfielders coming into the box from deep.

In contrast West Brom had a very clear plan of getting the ball out wide on the counter and crossing towards their striker pair of Solomon Rondon and Saido Berahino and their crossing was much more dangerous, forcing Alan Hutton to make several last-ditch headers (his aerial competence was a contrast to Leandro Bacuna's often erratic clearances) and Brad Guzan into two excellent saves. However when Jordan Amavi's challenge was too weak down the left, the ball spilled out and the subsequent shot was deflected in.

Villa's first-half crossing was ineffective, with Gabby as a target man. Image from's StatsZone

West Brom's clearer plan and preparation cancelled out Villa's midfield dominance, leaving the Villans to play the ball around in front of their defence and they managed to convert a chance on the counter, leaving Sherwood with a challenge in the second-half.

Second-half: Villa struggle for coherency in Sherwood's substitutions

Target man but no width: At half-time Sherwood brought in Rudy Gestede to try and act as a target  man, a sensible enough move considering how many balls Gabby had struggled to win in the first-half. However he took off Scott Sinclair to make way for him, pushing Grealish left and Gil right. The problem was that both Gil and Grealish kept drifting centrally and trying to play balls through the defence but it was too compact with 10 men behind the ball from Albion and no-one to pull the defence wide - which Sinclair probably could have done, though his first-half performance had been non-existent.

Grealish and Gil were both forced to pass out wide by West Brom's deep defence- Images from Four Four's Stats Zone.

The plan might have worked as a kind of diamond where the full-backs provided width and crossing, but unfortunately the supply started to dry up, especially after Pulis put on Craig Gardner to cover the wing. West Brom defended deep and prevented any real penetration apart from in the 51st minute when Jordan Amavi beat his man and flashed a low cross into the box that Gabby could've done better with. Apart from that Hutton and Amavi were both disappointing in their delivery, while having both Carlos Sanchez and Ashley Westwood seemed surplus to requirements.

Gil off and the one-dimensional attack: Recognising the lack of width was a problem, Sherwood pulled Gil off in the 76th minute, putting Bacuna on to fire crosses in from the right and moving Grealish central. These were on the whole sensible moves but the question was why hadn't they been made when Gestede came on? It was also an odd decision to pull off Gil rather than one of the defensive midfielders, made even more so when Sanchez did come off, but it was for Jordan Veretout rather than putting on Jordan Ayew in an attempt to nick a goal or introduce some more movement in the box. The Villa attack degraded into firing crosses towards Gestede's head and he couldn't convert.

What we learned

Overall Tim Sherwood and Aston Villa just weren't up to breaking down a well-organized West Brom side. Grealish and Gil are creative and Gabby was hard working but they were given no space in behind to work with.

Villa desperately needed two things. One was a player ready to charge forward and break the lines - Idrissa Gana's absence was sorely noted in this regard, as Sanchez and Westwood were too happy to sit back, with Westwood particularly poor when he decided to take on ill-advised shots. At the very least he could have kept them down and hoped for a deflection.

The second was width, and this was where Sherwood failed. Putting Gestede on as a target man in the second-half was fine, but Bacuna should have come on at the same time and Sinclair should have been told to start playing down the left wing. Instead, Sinclair was taken off and Villa laboured on with four central midfielders until the 76th minute.

What do you guys think? Was this a failure of the players or the manager? Let me know in the comments below!