Saturday sees the post Arteta period commence and the Blues will be looking to get one over on an Aston Villa side they have failed to beat in the last 10 attempts despite the Blues finishing above their opponents in 6 of the past 7 seasons….
Villa Intel and Strategy
Villa will setup something resembling a 4-2-3-1, with their wide men Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia pressing our fullbacks high up field. Bent will lead the line with Heskey the aerial target behind. Last time out at Goodison Darren Bent again showed why he is such a top player – his movement outside the box is first class – the below diagram shows his angled run for his 2nd goal , giving Distin the slip exposing Everton’s high defensive line.
The clubs both play a fairly pragmatic style, although Villa are perhaps slightly more direct in terms of their play so far with 16% of their passes long balls compared to the Blues 14%. Stoke unsurprisingly are way ahead with 26% of their passes classed in the ‘agricultural’ bracket. Big Eck will probably pitch in Alain Hutton at the expense of Australian Chris Herd with other deadline day new boy Jenas potentially starting on the bench
One of the most interesting sub plots to the game will be the appearance in the Villa ranks of our number one summer target Charles N’Zogbia – and the man we eventually signed to solve the wide issues – Royston Drenthe. N’Zogbia will work both flanks but will predominantly occupy the right side and look to make runs in behind our defence from right to left. Only Lionel Messi (331) attempted more dribbles than Charles N’Zogbia (301) in the top five European leagues in 2010/11. The dribbles don’t always come off though -N’Zogbia was tackled 304 times in the Premier League last season – a whopping 91 times more than any other player. Winning the ball back and breaking with pace will be a key outlet for the Blues. In Drenthe, the Blues have got someone equally direct – with ferocious pace and bags of creative talent. Royston averaged 2.2 shots per game in La Liga last year – a better rate than most of our strikers – and created a chance for an opponent every 41 minutes – better than any of our existing midfielders – Arteta included. Drenthe will go for the throat at every opportunity and he carries a genuine threat.
Blues Intel and Strategy
The Blues have few selection headaches – Anichebe’s injury means we now have just 14 senior outfield players in our Premier League squad until Christmas – comfortably the smallest in the divison. Baines is expected to be fit and I would imagine Cahill would return meaning Osman moves across to the left flank where his quick feet got plenty of joy against the limited movement of Collins at Goodison last season. Rodwell is also pushing for a start and his better attacking qualities should give him the edge over Heitinga for this fixture. This quote from Drenthe would imply that he won’t start the game on Saturday but could well make an impact from the bench “I’ve still got some pain in my ankle but I’m good. The manager wants me to be prepared, and to figure not for this game (on Saturday against Aston Villa) but probably the game after that (against Wigan Athletic at Goodison).”
Villa certainly have something on the Blues in recent years – they have picked up plenty of points against us but the games are often tight – mostly draws – and invariably decided by the one goal. I think it will be more the same here – McLeish has already got hold of Villa’s defence which was awful last season – keeping 2 clean sheets in 3 outings –I can see this being tight and a 1-1 draw