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Tactics Talk: The Team Villa Should Have Been This Season

In gaining a 2-1 lead at Watford, this Villa team showed what could've been this season. And then they lost 3-2.

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The team that could've been

In a defensive minded 5-3-2, for 90 minutes Aston Villa looked like they might be able to hang on for a tough win, even with ten men. A series of things across the pitch clicked in a way we've barely seen this season:

A Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew partnership: From the very first game of the season when Ayew was substituted to make way for Gestede the two strikers have represented different styles of play for Villa rather a partnership. But a neat one-two between them to set Ayew up in his favoured position just outside the box for a drive into the corner was their best teamwork of the season. If we'd seen the separate strengths of the two combine this season there might have been a deadly pairing.

Set-piece danger from Ashley Westwood: If you're a struggling side in the League you must maximise your chances from corners and free-kicks - look at Tony Pulis who has made an artform of this. But for several years now Villa have been toothless from them and Westwood has consistently been at fault. Yesterday though his confidence seemed to be back up after two goals the previous week. His flat driven corners beat the first-man, which saw Ciaran Clark glance in the opener and Kevin Toner could have headed home his curled free-kick. Villa could have nicked a lot more points with this kind of delivery to Gestede and the centre-backs.

A strong centre-back performance: Perhaps because there were three of them but for 90 minutes Clark, Toner and Joleon Lescott just about dealt with the double threat of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. The young Toner showed great strength against Deeney and made five tackles down the left-hand side, the three of them stayed compact and made clearances where necessary. There were none of the errors which have led to stupid goals conceded.

The team that is

But of course this Villa side can always sabotage itself and the flaws in the team are too large to cover up for 92 minutes.

The full-backs: The 5-3-2 was seemingly forced by Villa's routine failure to defend the wings properly, because Alan Hutton, Leandro Bacuna and Aly Cissokho just don't cut it at this level and it showed again. Hutton and Bacuna contributed nothing while Cissokho was sent off for needlessly raising his leg to trip his man once he'd already won the ball.

It's worth noting it wasn't only Cissokho's fault - why were all three of the centre-backs up the field leaving a huge gap in the middle? But that was a result of the formation which was a reaction to Villa's issues in the position all season. What could have been with Jordan Amavi and a proper right-back rather than Micah Richards.

Indiscipline: There's a very good argument that Idrissa Gana has been Villa's best player this season and that he was the best player yesterday. He made three tackles and six successful dribbles including the one which led to Ayew's goal. He had a 91% passing rate. Those are great statistics.

But one mistake can be costly and when it's making a needless lunge on the edge of the penalty area leading to a free-kick and the Watford equaliser, it's hard to overlook. Silly fouls in dangerous positions have been a feature of Villa's season and Villa's best player is as big a culprit as anyone.

Conclusions - The side that deserves to go down

It's a harsh conclusion from a game that Villa were unlucky to lose but it was a game that just showed why Villa are going down - even when they finally get large parts of it right, there are fatal flaws in this side. Parts of the summer recruitment made sense - Ayew, Gana, Amavi, possibly Gestede - but the issues in the defence weren't dealt with and there was too much time spent tinkering by both Tim Sherwood and Rémi Garde.

It would be great if new owners and a new manager could keep what's worth salvaging but there's so much to overhaul that it might be an impossible task. At least the travelling fans got something to cheer about in this game, and that seems to be about the best we can hope for right now.