Teams and Formations
The Blues made one change from the midweek win over West Brom, with Gibson coming in for Neville whose weary old legs couldn’t muster 3 games in a week. This meant that Jagielka continued at right back with the out of form Heitinga remaining in the centre with Distin. There was also a positional change with Osman returning to his deeper midfield role with Fellaini moving further forward, presumably to exploit Villa’s defensive weaknesses in the air. Our visitor’s lined up in a similar 4-2-3-1 with Weimann and Agbonlahor as the wide attacking mids with N’Zogbia behind target man Benteke. Weimann’s inclusion was interesting given that he hasn’t started on the right in any of Villa’s recent league games. Lambert is a known tactical tinkerer as we know from last season at Norwich and his selection of the Austrian in this area usually vacated by Baines on the left appeared a deliberate counter attacking ploy.
In terms of possession, the Toffee’s were more dominant of the ball than in any game this season. Overall we had 68.3% of possession and a massive 78.5% of final third possession with 147 passes in the final third compared to Villa’s 41. We also kept the ball better with 76% pass completion compared to Villa’s 66% and were more positive in possession with 51% of our passes going forward compared to Villa’s 48%. Whilst we created more scoring opportunities (21 v 8) Villa were more productive in terms of creating chances relevant to their possession, requiring just 5 final third passes to create a chance compared to our 7. Off the ball, Villa worked tirelessly making 34 interceptions to our 12 and repeatedly looked to break up play, committing 23 fouls to our 7.
Toffee’s Defensive Woes….
Going forward we played some excellent stuff, with the return of Kevin Mirallas and the superb current form of Victor Anichebe both significant in our scoring woes easing in recent games. With there being no issues from an offensive point of view, we will take a look at the defending calamities that ultimately cost us dear with 2 of the 3 goals shipped very shoddy from a blue perspective. Heitinga’s display was particularly poor however he was not the only player at fault as we will show with our focus on the positioning of our central defenders in the build up to each of the goals…..
Villa played a ruthless counter attacking game focused on our left side and looked to get the ball forward as quickly as possible; to demonstrate this their most frequent passing combination was their keeper Brad Guzan’s long balls to Benteke, with this combination used successfully 7 times.
Goal 1 (Benteke)
Positionally we are ok here initially, with N’Zogbia pressed by a back peddling Baines and Gibson….however the duo don’t do enough to snuff out the danger meaning that Distin (circled) has to move across to fill in for Baines on the left leaving Heitinga (also circled) moving into Distin’s position.
With Distin moving across to the left there is a sizeable gap for Benteke to move into and take the pass from N’Zogbia. When faced with a one on one situation, Heitinga’s physical shortcomings are alarmingly exposed as the Belgian brushes him off effortlessly and slots past Howard.
Goal 2 (Agbonlahor)
This goal was also a shocking goal to concede with Heitinga again at fault. Attacking down our left side, Villa have a man spare on the touchline (Westwood) with Baines coming inside to fill in for Distin (circled) who is caught out of position. Pienaar should really slot in here to cover his full back but he is also caught out of position.
With no pressure on the ball, Westwood is able to whip in a delivery that Agbonlahor heads home with Heitinga (circled) again guilty of sloppy marking. Defending balls into our box has been an achilles heel all season and to underline this we have conceded more headed goals than any side in the top flight.
Goal 3 (Benteke)
This was a superb goal from Villa and it’d be harsh to apportion blame here. Shortly before Benteke’s second goal Baines had been guilty of some crass marking, allowing his man Wiemann to move away from him and go clear on Howard. Luckily the winger’s composure didn’t match his excellent movement which had enabled him to instigate this clear cut opportunity.
Shortly after though, after some slick play again down our left side, Lowton gets free and with Distin again alerted to the danger and coming across to the left flank, Heitinga is left alone with Benteke who again wins the physical miss-match to slot Villa’s third and seemingly secure all three points.
This was a great game with attacking players firmly on top, aided and abetted by comedy defending from both sides with our left side ruthlessly exposed on the counter attack. Luckily for us, Ron Vlaar’s marking was equally as inept as the hapless Jonny Heitinga’s and in the end a 3-3 draw was probably the right outcome. With Spurs and Arsenal both winning the quest for fourth spot looks even more tricky than ever especially with some tough fixtures on the horizon for the toffee’s. Such games have brought the best out of the Blues in the last twelve months though and if we can quickly fix the obvious defensive problem it wouldn’t surprise me if we bounced back and got a positive result next week at Old Trafford.