Blackpool go to Villa Park after collecting an excellent point against Everton, while the hosts will come in to the game on the back of two draws. Villa are under new management and there are signs that Gerard Houllier is beginning to stamp his mark on this team. They are a little short on personnel cause of injuries in key central areas and this may well force Houllier to adapt his style somewhat.
It’s normally safe to say that Holloway will stick with his 4-3-3 which was more representative of those numbers on Saturday against Everton as opposed to the 4-2-1-3 that has been emerging in this campaign. However, this may may alter slightly given Holloway’s intimation that he may rest players. It will be hard to call the team for Blackpool, however, the same can be said of Villa given the injuries they have. Houllier tends to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, the teams may well line up like this (note that the Blackpool team is based on nothing but gut instinct).
Taking a look at Villa’s previous home game versus Birmingham City then these were the average positions, roughly outlining their 4-2-3-1 approach.
What to expect?
On the face of it, both sides may line up very similar in formation, but the way that the formation is executed may differ somewhat. Blackpool like to push the full backs up high when in possession of the ball in order to strangle the territory in the final third whilst Houllier likes his full backs to sit more and leave a more defined line of four even when in possession. However, at Fulham over the weekend, Luke Young pushed up to add width and support in attack at times. Villa when they have either John Carew or Emile Heskey fit, can play with greater flexibility moving forward as they have focal points in the air and on the ground. However, given both those strikers are injured then they will need to adapt their approach due to their replacements (Nathan Delfouneso is a probable starter) not overtly being an aerial threat. Both sides utilise wide men to create width and in the case of Villa to deliver excellent crosses for conversion in the box. As has been noted already, Blackpool do like to get crosses in the box, however, they must be early crosses and to feet. However, should Harewood start then cross variation might be better given his height advantage over that which Campbell offers.
Given the injuries that Villa have, then predicting their style based on previous performances becomes tricky and that in itself presents Blackpool with a problem. Beware of the wounded animal as you don’t know how they’ll react. In their midfield Houllier will possibly be choosing from Ciaran Clark or Stephen Ireland (his other option of Steve Sidwell is apparently not fit either) to fill in for Reo-Coker. Whichever, starts will show Houllier’s hand, Clark should be more defensive and Ireland more progressive and attacking. However, what is clear is that should they line up like above then the space in front of the defence is crucial and the team that reduces that space or likewise exploits it should see the best outcomes. Villa may well ask Ciaran Clark to drop in to that space, whilst Holloway may expect his midfielders to rotate that duty or opt for Southern or Sylvestre to drop deeper to cover the threat of Ashley Young. Below you can see the role that Clark played against Fulham at the weekend, passing from deep and tackling to break up the play in the midfield area.
Defensively, Villa have a reputation for being miserly, resilient and strong. Brad Friedel is an excellent keeper and the defensive line is superbly lead by Richard Dunne, they’ve conceded 14 goals this season but note that 6 were in one game. They’ve only conceded two in their last four games (five since Houllier took charge against Wolves) and will be another stubborn defence for Blackpool to break down similar to Everton at the weekend.
Keeping the ball and then winning it when you don’t have it are key elements to any game. One thing to note from the game against Fulham is Friedel kicking long and it resulting in Aston Villa losing possession. Perhaps he is still kicking long as that is what they’ve done with a tall target man, however, Blackpool may wish to exploit this and ensure that they win as many of Friedel’s long balls as possible given that Villa’s aerial threat may have gone. However, don’t be surprised to see Friedel distributing along the ground come the match time.
Better the devil you know
Barry Bannan will be familiar to all Blackpool fans, he has made a breakthrough at Villa this season and seems to be finding his confidence in the Premiership. Looking at this performance at Fulham at the weekend against one from earlier in the season you can almost see his confidence through his passing. Note the range of his passing and the assist in white for Mark Albrighton to score. Also note the variation in direction making him unpredictable and hard to read, which is a critical factor unlocking a defence. Finally, look at his balls in to the box. One to the left, one to the right and one through the middle just to keep everyone on their toes. Should be great to see him go up against Charlie Adam should Adam get a start.
This could be one open game for both teams, however, given Houllier’s taste for defensive stability then perhaps he may set out to stifle the space that Blackpool like to play in, which is now becoming quite common for Blackpool to be faced with. However, should he give more freedom to attack to his midfielders then we should see plenty of action in and around both boxes. Ian Holloway will love this tactical battle and I suspect will have a couple of tricks up his sleeve to vary Blackpool’s style given a potential change of personnel.