TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) shares his breakdown of Sunday's showdown between Aston Villa and Manchester City.
Aston Villa v Manchester City | Sunday 12th January 2020, 16:30 | Sky Sports
Aston Villa host Manchester City on Sunday afternoon as both sides come into the game fresh from their EFL Cup semi-final showdowns.
Dean Smith’s hosts will be looking to build upon a promising result against Leicester, despite having no fit senior strikers, as they look to shock the Premier League champions and reinforce their survival hopes.
Pep Guardiola’s visitors eased past Manchester United on Tuesday as City put in a fantastic first half display, before easing off in the second, and the Citizens will be confident of securing a fifth consecutive win in all competitions at Villa Park.
Aston Villa’s injury woes can’t be ignored, and whilst Smith is working hard to bring reinforcements in, Sunday will come too soon for new signings, and it will need to be another rugged defensive display if they are going to get anything from the game.
Villa’s tactical switch
Following an injury to key midfielder John McGinn, Smith switched his tactics for the trip to Burnley on New Year’s Day, going with a back five as he looked to contain Sean Dyche’s side, before utilising the counter-attack to target the Burnley back four.
This worked a treat and helped get the best out of Jack Grealish, and it was a similar story on Wednesday, as he set up his side to defend deep against Leicester, before looking to utilise the counter, as well as set-pieces, and it proved to be effective, as they earnt themselves a 1-1 draw.
A lot can be drawn on that game for Villa, as they come up against a similar threat in City. Happy to concede possession for long periods of the game, it saw the back three of Leicester rack up the passes as they looked for a way through, but the Villans defence held out well for long periods, forcing Leicester to try their luck from outside the box on countless occasions.
If it wasn’t for Douglas Luiz’s error, the Claret & Blue could’ve seen out an unlikely win at the King Power, and Smith will be hoping his side can provide a similarly dogged defensive performance against City.
Hosts vulnerable out wide?
However, Villa come up against a City side who look like they’re finding their attacking form once again, and although there are still issues defensively, Guardiola will be confident his side will be able to break down the Villa defensive unit.
One area that Villa looked vulnerable from was out wide. Smith’s troops had to defend narrowly, and this allowed Leicester in down the flanks on numerous occasions, as they bombarded the Villa box with crosses, and unsurprisingly ended the game with a high corner count of 11.
James Maddison drifted into these areas to try and help his side create, and a similar role will be expected of Kevin De Bruyne on Sunday, and the influential Belgian will be relishing the opportunity to trouble the deep backline who will allow him plenty of space to work his magic.
With Villa opting to sit so narrow, it will invite the City full-backs on, and Guardiola is likely to opt to utilise this outlet, especially with less risk of the centre-backs being caught out over the top by an unadventurous Villa side.
Villa lacking a focal point
Only managing three shots throughout the game against Leicester, the lack of a focal point centrally hurt Villa’s chances of keeping hold of the ball for long periods, and it could be another long afternoon with Smith expected to employ the same front three of Grealish, who was the most central of the three, Trezeguet and Anwar El-Ghazi.
Leicester were able to nullify the threat of Grealish in central areas in the second half by introducing Hamza Choudhury, and a similar role will fall to Rodri on Sunday, and he is more than capable of marking Grealish out the game.
However, it is worth noting the goal that Villa did score came as a result of the counter, with the wing back Frederic Guilbert’s willingness to bomb forward and join the attack catching out Leicester’s own wing backs who were playing particularly high. This will be their best hope of getting something from the game against City.
Even so, there is a lack of pace in behind to trouble the high City line, so as a result they will have to play through the high press and hope it opens up opportunities. If they are able to do so, getting the dynamic Guilbert forward from right wing back, as opposed to the less mobile and reserved Neil Taylor at left wing back, will be key.
City’s tactical fouls
City’s willingness to bring these attacks to a halt with tactical fouls is well-documented, so whilst the score stays level at 0-0, the card markets are in play, but with the Citizens expected to be comfortable throughout, I’d warn against taking the visitors on the card markets pre-match.
When City go in front in games, they often show excellent control and a willingness to knock the ball around TO draw teams out, looking to pick sides off rather than stay on the front foot, so the value will quickly disappear, especially in a game such as this, with a particularly lenient referee in Jonathan Moss.
Citizens to revert to standard style
City are expected to return to their normal 4-3-3 after Guardiola experimented with three at the back against Everton, before playing very fluidly against Manchester United without a striker, as the attackers took it in turn to fulfil the role of a false nine.
The United defence struggled to pick up the various attackers, although they in turn were not helped by their attackers, in particular Marcus Rashford, who left his full back wide open and exposed by Riyad Mahrez, so it was no surprise to see 41% of City’s attack come down that flank.
However, given the deep nature of Villa’s defence, one of Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero will lead the line for Guardiola’s side, looking to stretch the Villa backline where they can, but also meaning they always have a presence in the box, which will be important when considering the narrow, deep nature of the Villa defence.
City will be looking to get in behind the wing backs of Villa, and their presence and poaching ability in the box cannot be underestimated, coupled with Raheem Sterling’s equal ability, and with this threat in behind, its hard to see this not being a reliable avenue for City to net on Sunday.
Although they held out against Leicester’s barrage of pressure on Wednesday, this could be another story come Sunday, and the wider array of creative options at Guardiola’s disposal will surely tell come Sunday.
The betting angles
I am expecting City to dominate proceedings with ease, and despite their worries defensively this season at the back, they come up against a Villa side extremely short of options up front, and if needing to chase the game, Smith’s side are lacking a Plan B that could unsettle the City defence.
Wesley’s presence up front will be a massive miss and Jonathan Kodja is expected to be absent once again, and as a result I am struggling to see Villa creating enough openings to score on Sunday.
Although they did notch against Leicester in midweek, it was one of only three shots they mustered, and after Rodgers’ tactical tweak at half-time to nullify the threat of Grealish in the false nine position, they rarely threatened. As a result, I’d be happy to take Manchester City to win ‘to nil’ at 6/5 (Boylesports).
Although City have gathered a reputation as a team more than happy to take the tactical fouls and bookings, this doesn’t strike me as a game where they’ll be looking to accumulate too many of these fouls.
The cards are often racked up when they’re chasing a game or poised at 0-0, and I can see a controlling City performance on Sunday, much like Leicester were able to enjoy, all be it the Foxes lacked the end product to break down Villa.
Looking at the card handicap, I’m surprised to see Aston Villa as big as 11/4 (Bet365), whilst they’re also 21/20 (Bet365) when +1 on the card handicap. Factoring this in, I’d be happy to take the safer of the two options above evens when considering it would allow the cards to be even given there is still the lingering statistics of City’s disciplinary record.
Aston Villa v Manchester City – Manchester City to win ‘to nil’ (6/5 Boylesports)
Aston Villa v Manchester City – Aston Villa +1 Card Handicap (21/20 Bet365)