After a run of bad results, something has to change at Aston Villa if they are to prevent relegation, and the League Cup final against Manchester City could provide them with an opportunity to try out a few things which could set them up for the rest of the season. With every sports broker in the land suggesting Villa might go down, they need a boost. Since beating Burnley on New Year’s Day, manager Dean Smith has stuck to using a system which functioned well for the first time it was used, in Lancashire, but since then the formation that saw Tyrone Mings control the defence has faltered, and the team have lost five out of eight matches in all competitions.
This run saw Villa lose to Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup, as well as relegation rivals Bournemouth and Southampton, conceding 20 goals in the process and indicating that there is a massive defect in this experimental selection. The 3-4-3 sees captain Jack Grealish play on the left wing allowing him to link-up with Matt Targett who has developed into a fantastic wing-back, frequently creating overlapping runs and passes to Grealish. This has not stretched to the rest of the group, despite the left-sided partnership being successful.
Despite being a much better defender than Kortney Hause, Bjorn Engels had been exiled for a run of games before being recalled recently. Villa have conceded the most goals to date this season, but the defence looks sharper and more comfortable using Engels and Mings playing in a back four. Things must be changed by Smith going into a tough run of games that sees Villa take on Chelsea, Newcastle United, Leicester City, Liverpool and Manchester United. This run could end up being pivotal after already dropping points to relegation rivals.
First, though, Villa take on Manchester City in the League Cup final, and with nothing to lose this is the game in which any season-changing strategies and configurations can be trialled. There will not be a better chance to do something different. Even though Villa move into the game as underdogs, it is the first prospect of silverware since promotion. Following a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Southampton, Smith stated that: “Performances were terrible,” and a lot of players played themselves of the group for next week. The manager also made a daring statement, commenting that “there are too many training ground players.”
These words are unpleasant but accurate after the run of defeats. The perfect line-up for the Carabao Cup final against Man City should see Villa revert to a 4-3-3 where Grealish can return to his favoured No. 10 role, and Irish midfielder Conor Hourihane must return to the starting XI. Below would be an ideal line-up to face a ruthless Manchester City side, giving the chance of your sports bonus coming in:
Pepe Reina; Ahmed Elmohamady, Bjorn Engels, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett; Conor Hourihane, Douglas Luiz; Jack Grealish (c); Trezeguet, Ally Samatta, Jota
The Egyptian connection which earned Villa a last-minute winner to send them through to the final should reunite, while Jota ought to be re-introduced having not seen much game time this year. He could prove useful. The central midfielders ought to be mobile on such a large pitch, hence the duo of Hourihane and Douglas Luiz in addition to the more reliable four at the back.