Swansea 2 Aston Villa 2 : Story Of A Match
Aston Villa picked up a badly needed point away from home at Swansea on New Year's day, but dropping an opportunity to pick up three. Today on the blog Matt Wallace from holtamania dissects the matchup.
It’s fair to say that Aston Villa have had a bad Christmas, with zero goals scored and about forty conceded. What they probably didn’t want was a trip to Swansea and their free flowing, attacking football. But that’s what they got.
Swansea were more or less back to full strength; Vorm returned, as did Michu, playing off Danny Graham up front. For Villa it was a bit of a switcharound, with an entirely new midfield to the one that collapsed and Weimann partnering Benteke up front.
Paul Lambert had a good record against Swansea last year, picking up a pair of pretty comfortable wins, but his tactical flexibility has struggled to reap any sort of reward at Villa this season, with his young squad often unable to adapt. You only had to look at this lineup to see a similar story, with the outfield player ages being 23, 23, 23, 22, 23, 22, 23, 22, 22, 21.
It was no surprise to see them drop the recent 5-3-2/3-5-2 experiment and hit a more orthodox 4-4-2, something that his young squad are perhaps more adept at. Help them walk before they run.
Swansea, for the first 40 minutes or so, were dominant. They seemed to concentrate most of their attacks down their right flank where Pablo was having a lot of joy up against Bennett. Their intricate play was often getting the Spaniard behind the full-back and he frequently got into the box, got shots away or played dangerous balls. It didn’t just come down this side, though, and time and time again Swansea were overloading Aston Villa with intricate play that they couldn’t handle.
The opening goal was relatively simple, with the Villa defenders both occupied, no one tracked a run from Routledge through the middle and he slotted an easy chance away. It could have quite quickly gotten out of hand, though. Immediately from the restart they hit the woodwork and it wasn’t the last time that happened. Villa clung on through a mixture of last ditch defending and incredibly wayward Swansea finishing.
In fact, over the course of the game, you can see exactly how both teams got on in the final third.
No chalkboard sums this game up better. Swansea; wasteful and inaccurate with so many chances. Villa; more efficient, but rode their luck somewhat.
When they did get back into the game, it was no surprise that it was via Benteke. The man has been huge for them this season, but he seems to play best when alongside another striker.
He has ploughed a lone furrow every so often but he comes deep to collect the ball so much that if he doesn’t have support, if wingers aren’t overlapping or he hasn’t got a striker to find once he has the ball, he doesn’t have anything to do with it. Against Swansea he had Weimann…
..and he used him to good effect. Benteke picked up a huge amount of long balls, coming deep to challenge Britton and De Guzman for them and invariably winning any battles he faced, before laying the ball off to Michu, Pablo or Weimann.
Benteke is good at playing with his back to goal, and he’s a complete handful for defenders, so when he did get close to the box they were often a bit ruffled. Ashley Williams has notable problems dealing with physical strikers and high balls, and he was exposed when Benteke won the ball and slid the ball through for Weimann to score. They are a complimentary partnership, far more so than Benteke and Bent.
From this point Villa gained confidence. Swansea continued to dominate possession but Villa seemed more energised putting in more tackles, nipping in to make more interceptions and there was a genuine belief in the young side.
You can see above how they were successful with 7 of 8 tackles once they scored their equaliser, and made a huge number of interceptions to stop Swansea’s attacking threats from getting through. Occasionally they did, but their own wastefulness in front of goal then kicked in.
Westwood and Delph
Two players who summed up Villa’s resurgent energy were the midfield partners, Westwood and Delph. Again, complimentary players as Westwood is a handy passer of the ball, someone who reads the game well and tries to build attacks, while Delph can be a bit more of a terrier, makes more tackles and harasses the opposition.
Throughout the match, but especially after the equaliser, they tried to offer a protective shield to the defence, cut out through balls and generally worked hard to keep hold of the point.
Delph in particular was good, getting forward and winning freekicks and relieving the pressure on his defence, while Westwood made key tackles and blocks. It was the sort of all-round defending that Lambert likes and will have envisaged when he changed his midfield entirely.
The Final Word
The game at this point followed a reasonably regular pattern; Swansea dominated the ball but lacked a finish, while Villa attacked rarely but efficiently, and won the late penalty which was then dispatched. It looked like they were going to get an unlikely victory before Graham popped up in injury time to level the scores, but that should take nothing away from the general performance of Villa’s young side once they had equalised.
The match really should have been out of Villa’s reach early on. They were really poor for the first half an hour and could have been three or four down, but somehow found themselves equal just before half time. It gave them a huge boost which was notable in the second half, as Swansea began to put pressure on themselves and demonstrate their own profligacy.
In the end it was a fair result, no matter Swansea’s dominance. You can’t be that wasteful in front of goal, and Villa fans will be happy with an unexpected point from a tough opponent, even if it could have been three. It’s something to build on – but there is a lot of work to do.
To read more of Matt's work, visit his blog Holtamania.com
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