ASTON VILLA 3
Downing 15, Petrov 40, Milner 66
WEST HAM 0
Width and fluidity in midfield were key for Aston Villa as they ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over a tame West Ham side on Saturday.
With Gabriel Agbonlahor unavailable through injury, Kevin MacDonald, Villa’s caretaker manager, elected to play one up front, making use of the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been in vogue in recent years – its popularity highlighted during the World Cup, where more than half the teams in the competition experimented with variations of the formation.
Villa deployed Stiliyan Petrov and James Milner as the deepest midfield players, and both used the ball quickly and intelligently to find their team mates in more advanced positions. Milner, who it seems is certain to leave the club for Manchester City next week, had the greater freedom of the two, and looked to push forward to support the likes of Ashley Young, Marc Albrighton and Stuart Downing, whose width and movement stretched West Ham’s defenders all afternoon. At times, such was the dominance of Aston Villa, their shape looked more like a 4-1-4-1 with four players high up the pitch in support of John Carew.
It was the wide play of Albrighton, Downing, Young and Milner (when he pushed on) that was the most impressive feature of Villa’s opening day display. The quartet interchanged positions intelligently with Young and Albrighton as the stand out performers.
Albrighton and Young had a hand in all of Villa’s goals. For the first it was Young’s in-swinging cross from an inside left position that forced Rob Green in the West Ham goal to punch unconvincingly, the ball fell to Albrighton with time to drive the ball back across the goalmouth. The West Ham goalkeeper could only push it into the path of Downing, who scored with a tap-in. The second was a quality cross delivered by Young from the right side which met Petrov’s run from deep on the 40 minute mark. Albrighton was the creator of the third, beating two defenders before cutting the ball back to Milner, who drove home from the edge of the box.
The variety offered by the Villain’s wide men on display showed why there is a lot to be excited about at Villa Park this season despite the departure of Martin O’Neill and the impending loss of Milner. Albrighton and Downing looked to hug the line while Young preferred to cut inside, particularly from the left flank. All three were not afraid to take on the opposition’s full-backs. On the day the direct running and fluidity was all too much for West Ham.
In truth the Hammers gave their opponents far too much space all afternoon and were duly punished. The Villain’s delivery from wide areas was consistently good and the score could have been more embarrassing for the East London side – Carew in particular was guilty of wasting chances.
It was an impressive win for the Villains despite the failings of a tepid West Ham team. There will be far tougher tests for Villa in the post O’Neill era but yesterday’s performance was as good a start as the club could have hoped for.
2 L. Young – 5 Dunne – 47 Clarke – 3 Warnock
19 Petrov – 8 Milner
12 Albrighton – 7 A. Young – 6 Downing
85 – 20 Reo-Coker on for 8 Milner
86 – 42 Weimann on for 7 Young
89 – 46 Bannan on for 12 Albrighton