Talking Tactics

New clubs in focus: Villa a threat from crosses

By Adrian Clarke 9 Jun 2019
Aston Villa celebrate

Adrian Clarke says head coach Dean Smith has developed an effective system but must replace his 2018/19 loan players

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Adrian Clarke analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the three promoted clubs.

Aston Villa

When Villa appointed Dean Smith as head coach last October his remit was clear: win promotion by playing attractive football.

After winning a hard-fought playoff final against Derby County, he achieved both objectives.

Smith knew the importance of finding the right system to maximise the impact of his midfield playmaker and captain Jack Grealish.

After one or two early experiments he settled on a 4-1-4-1 formation, handing Grealish the freedom to roam.

Full-backs bombing on

Villa's other midfielders rotate positions effectively and this is an area where they have real strength, while the wingers operate as wide forwards.

This will suit new signing Jota, who played for Smith at Brentford. He is a right-sided forward who likes to take on opponents in the final third.

Villa like to use the full width of the pitch, with the full-backs providing plenty of crosses as well as the wingers, although pushing them forward can leave the team vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Last season Villa delivered 100 more crosses into the box from open play than their closest rivals Leeds United, averaging almost 19 per match.

This tactic suited target man Tammy Abraham, with the 21-year-old Chelsea loanee scoring an impressive 26 Championship goals.

Open-play crosses in 2018/19
Club Crosses Per match
Aston Villa 857 18.6
Leeds United 754 16.4
Bristol City 754 16.4
Millwall 751 16.3
Rotherham 731 15.9

Villa also offer a real goal threat from set-pieces, especially in wide areas.

Conor Hourihane provided eight assists last season, while Grealish and John McGinn chipped in with three and two respectively, as the trio supplied quality balls into the box.

Villa's Premier League opponents must be wary of conceding corners and free-kicks.

Set-piece goals 2018/19
Club  Total  Corners FKs  Direct FKs  Throw-ins
Aston Villa 25 10 13 2 0
Rotherham 25 8 5 2 10
West Brom 23 13 5 4 1
Sheffield Utd 21 11 8 1 1
Preston NE 20 7 9 4 0

* If viewing on hand-held device rotate to view full table.

Smith may have guided Villa to a memorable promotion but a possible rebuild this summer is key.

Villa have already moved to sign Anwar El Ghazi on a permanent deal. The winger scored six goals on loan last season, including one in the playoff final win over Derby County.

But fellow influential players Abraham, Tyrone Mings, Axel Tuanzebe and Kortney Hause were also only on loan deals.

The quartet brought pace, skill and athleticism to the squad. If he does not sign them on a permanent basis, Smith will need to replace them adequately.

Tactically, the excellent three-man midfield should be Villa's strong point.

But to further develop the quick passing style that is at the heart of his coaching, Smith will also look to add young players with confidence and quality on the ball.

Also in this series

Part 1: Norwich need steel to match style
Part 2: Three Norwich players to watch
Part 3: Sheff Utd bring unique approach
Part 4: Three Sheff Utd players to watch
Part 6: Three Aston Villa players to watch

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