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Tactics Talk: West Brom 0 – 0 Villa - A classic game of Pulisball

Tony Pulis teams don't play football - they play Pulisball and make the opposing team play it as well. Yesterday's match was a classic example.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Tactical set-ups

Villa vs West Brom - Football tactics and formations

Aston Villa: Rémi Garde opted for the same 4-3-2-1 as the last two games but this time with Micah Richards at right-back and Leandro Bacuna ahead of him, dropping Jordan Veretout. This time Bacuna and Ashley Westwood drifted further wide to try and get round West Brom's compact midfield.

West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis went for a very narrow 4-5-1, with Craig Dawson and Jonny Evans, centre-backs by inclination, as compact full-backs. Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob were their midfield protectors.

First-half: Villa win at Pulisball, never look like scoring

In Pulisball conventional measures of who dominates a game, such as possession, chances created and shots mean very little, as it will all come to an end at the impenetrable wall which his line of four centre-backs form around the box with Yacob and Fletcher screening them.

West Brom's defensive line successfully kept Villa from making passes behind their lines - note the lack of balls from the byline. Image from's StatsZone.

This was the case for Villa, who dominated the match while never looking like they could get in behind and turn the Baggies defence. With Carles Gil and Jordan Ayew unable to get through the centre, the ball went down the wings where Ashley Westwood and Leandro Bacuna were ineffective wide players and Aly Cissokho and Micah Richards couldn't beat a man to create an overlap.

So far, so good for Tony Pulis. West Brom's best player of the first-half was James McClean who had the beating of Villa's right side in both attack and defence, stopping Bacuna, Gueye and Richards from coming forward and luring them into clumsy tackles until they stepped off him and he could whip a ball in.

Luckily for Villa none of West Brom's other attacking players were as lively. Stefane Sessegnon was wasteful and Craig Gardner ineffective, with Villa's midfielders winning the physical battle in the centre. Joleon Lescott clearly learned Pulisball well in his time at West Brom and put in an impressive defensive performance.

Both the lone strikers, Libor Kozak and Salomon Rondon were unable to impose themselves in the box and began to drift all over the pitch looking for the ball. Embarassingly they contributed a grand total of one shot each.

Salomon Rondon and Libor Kozak drifted across the entire pitch but rarely made touches in the opposing team's box, forced out by the central defenders. Heatmaps from

Second-half: Carles Gil doesn't know how to play Pulisball

The second-half was basically more of the same. Although Villa's grip on the ball was more pronounced, they could barely get near the West Brom goal.

The player who came closest to ruining the game of Pulisball by doing something skilful or interesting was Carles Gil.

Gil often looks out of place in the rough and tumble of a normal Premier League game and had been muscled off the ball several times in the first-half, unable to turn with his back to goal. But when the game took a turn into full-on Pulisball he apparently had the same realization as everyone watching, namely ‘this is shit!' and started to play his own game, dropping deep to collect the ball, injecting pace into his passes and launching counters.

In his best moment he took the ball forward on the right and was confronted by a couple of hulking defenders. Pulisball rules call for checking back and swinging a high ball into the middle to add to the clearance count. Instead Gil swerved his way to the byline and flashed a low ball into the six-yard box, begging for a touch to send it into the net.

Unfortunately by this time every other Villa into the pitch was playing pure Pulisball and therefore stood rooted to the spot. It was especially frustrating that just as Gil's level rose, Ayew's dropped as his first-half workrate seemed to catch up with him.

Garde did make an attempt to play the Baggies at their own game and on came Rudy ‘The Human Sledgehammer' Gestede. He at least began to attack headers in the box but pulled up with a hamstring injury barely ten minutes later. This rather ruined the introduction of Jordan Veretout who was robbed of any target for his passing game and the rest of the match slipped quietly into the grave, Saido Berahino and Victor Anichebe bearing the coffin disinterestedly.

Conclusions - Garde forced to play the Pulis game

The really disappointing thing for us Villans is that the pattern of this game was hardly different from the 0-1 loss at Villa Park under Tim Sherwood.

You can see my full tactical analysis of that game here but the basics are the same, Claret and Blue domination of the midfield impotent in front of the West Brom defence and a lack of incisive wing or central play.

This time the Baggies didn't get a lucky goal on the counter and Garde has the excuse that his substitution was ruined by Gestede's injury (whereas what Baggies fans can make of Berahino and Anichebe is probably unprintable) but the basic fact that there isn't enough quality in the team to overcome the deadening effects of Pulisball remains. West Brom's fans may not be happy with a 0-0 at home to Villa but it won't get them relegated and Villa can't say the same.

Garde still needs to find a way to overcome Villa's lack of quality on the wings, either in the transfer market (in which case I would say full-backs are more of a priority than wingers) or getting greater threat through the middle, in which case Villa probably need Carles Gil and Jordan Veretout both on the pitch.

What do you think? Were Villa contained or just unlucky? And what does Garde need to do to start turning draws into wins? Head to the comment section to give us your thoughts.