Club Focus – Aston Villa – Players are key to success

Martin O’Neill recently made his opinion known that the key to winning football matches is entirely down to the players on the pitch – and not the formation. He stated that: “People can get carried away with formations. In this day and age everyone seems to have a view, more so than ever before, with phone-ins and the internet. The truth is eventually winning football matches boils down to the players.” In some respects, O’Neill may be right in saying that the first area of criticism always seems to be directed at the formation picked by the manager. The Aston Villa squad is now full of depth and therefore football critics will be watching the manager’s decisions and tactics in his upcoming games.

During the 2008/09 season, O’Neill fielded his preferred 4-4-2 formation, from which he rarely deviated. At the beginning of the campaign, Villa worked well in the formation as they had both a strong back four as well as a creative force in midfield which provided service for the two strikers. However, as the season progressed, a squad lacking in depth was unable to cope with the demands of Premier League football and thus faded away.

2008/09 season usual formation


Reo-Coker – Laursen – Davies – Young

Milner – Petrov – Barry – Young

Agbonlahor – Carew

This time, however, O’Neill has a fairly large squad to experiment with and rotating it is something he will need to do if he is to keep his players fresh. Depending on the opposition, the Villa manager has at least three possible formations to employ.


1 Friedel

23 Beye – 5 Dunne – 24 Cuellar – 25 Warnock

19 Petrov

8 Milner – 20 Reo-Coker – 4 Sidwell – 7 Young

11 Agbonlahor

At the moment, this seems to be Villa’s most successful formation, particularly against the stronger clubs. The 4-5-1 formation saw Villa beat a tough Liverpool side at Anfield and the reason for this was the packed midfield which the Reds found difficult to penetrate. It would not be surprising if this formation is used when the Villans play teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur as O’Neill will need to counter the attacking threats of each of these teams.


1 Friedel

23 Beye – 5 Dunne – 24 Cuellar – 25 Warnock

8 Milner – 19 Petrov – 4 Sidwell – 7 Young

11 Agbonlahor – 10 Carew

Without a doubt, O’Neill will resort to the orthodox 4-4-2 formation at some points in the season – particularly if he finds that the 4-5-1 formation is not as effective when goals are needed. In this formation, the Villa manager will be looking for his two strikers to create an attacking partnership in which they can be dangerous in the final third of the pitch. Carew or Heskey will be able to hold up the ball and use their presence to worry opposition defences, whereas Agbonlahor will be expected to work well off the ball, and get into good positions where his strike partners can feed him.


1 Friedel

23 Beye – 5 Dunne – 24 Cuellar – 25 Warnock

19 Petrov – 20 Reo-Coker – 8 Milner

11 Agbonlahor – 10 Carew – 7 Young

Lastly, a 4-3-3 formation could become useful when playing sides where Villa will be able to take control and dictate the pace of the game. The formation, as expected, should provide the squad with much more of an attacking threat with Agbonlahor and Young playing as wingers, using their ample pace. If the Villans are in need of goals this will be the perfect formation to employ.

Regardless of what O’Neill’s stance is on formations, during the season changes will need to be made and these changes could prove to be essential. However, you cannot deny that a big part of a club’s success is down to the performance of the players. With a long awaited local derby against Birmingham City at the weekend, O’Neill’s men will need to be up for what should be a difficult challenge and ultimately prove that they are the best team in Birmingham.

Aston Villa Club Focus

Can Villa handle the pressure? – August 5
Pre-season promises much for Europa League – August 12
Impotent Villa need to regroup – August 18
Improving Villa lack creativity upfront – August 22
Martin O’Neill’s men answer their critics – August 25
Crucial away goal ends Villa’s European campaign – August 28
Villans out of jail after poor start – September 1
Villa reinforces defence – September 4
Can Villa challenge the top four? – September 8
Players are key to success – September 11

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