This is an article I wrote for Global Football Today, where I’m the official blogger for Aston Villa.
The stats of the game does not present a pretty picture if you are an Aston Villa fan. Villa had only 45% of the possession and just 7 shots compared to Fulham’s 13. It’s another story that of the 7 only 1 was on target. I know I will be a worried man if my team hit only 14% of their shots on target. But let’s console ourselves with the fact that this was just the first game of the season and Villa haven’t had enough serious match practice.
Let’s take a look at why we went lacking at the number of opportunities created front. It boils down to the team line up and the tactics. Villa lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with young Fabian Delph and Stilyan Petrov manning the midfield from deep and ‘Big Burly’ Heskey , N’zogbia and Agbonlahor playing just behind Darren Bent. If I have three offensive players playing off my striker, I would make sure that they are mobile and this is where I didn’t like Heskey lining up. I would have preferred Stephen Ireland being tried there or even Albrighton. Heskey should be used strictly from the bench from where he ccan be summoned after 70 minutes or so to terrorize the tired opposition defense.
Another bone I had to pick is the gameplan of Big Eck that had the central midfielders spraying out the ball wide and expecting the wide players to lump the ball onto Heskey’s head or Bent’s boots. Let’s see Delph’s performance.
Fabian Delph vs Fulham
Delph was pretty good with his passing, completing 40 of his attempted 47 passes at a great 85% completion rate. But, from the pic, you could see, he was not too successful with the long cross-field passes. His short passes were good but what of their effectiveness. Delph’s gameplan involved him exchanging passes with Stephen Warnock in the midfield, before passing the ball to Agbonlahor whose task was to cross the ball into the box. But often he was not able to do that because of Aaron Hughes and Phillipe Senderos combining to foil him.
Petrov vs Fulham
Petrov on the other hand also had a good game with the ball at his feet, completing 35 out of 43 passes he attempted with a 81% success rate. Again it was the same story as of the other side as Petrov usually exchanged passes with Luke Young before trying to find out N’Zogbia who tried admirably but gave the impression that he still is not on the same page with his team mates as his pass completion was only 65%. As a result not many crosses or passes found the target in the final third and as a result we had to sit and watch Danny Murphy go crazy with passes left, right and centre. It was beneficial for Villa that Dickson Etuhu was chosen to partner Murphy as the Nigerian was not at his best with only 69% pass completion from deep midfield.
I am not here to say that McLeish’s tactics sucked but it would have been better if they weren’t so predictable. If I were Jol, I would have known how the ball would be moved to the final third based on who had possession in the midfield. The positives are that Villa’s midfield efficiency was better than Fulham’s but once the ball was moved to the wings, it was far too easy to contain. I for one would love if the tactics included passing the ball through the middle on a more consistent basis as well.