Tactically Speaking

The Official Website takes an in-depth look at how Aston Villa could line up on Saturday, while also focusing on James Tomkins' outstanding form at the heart of the West Ham United defence.

West Ham United

The interceptor

James Tomkins

Ahead of the visit of Aston Villa to the Boleyn Ground, WhoScored.com have been crunching the numbers and analysing how West Ham United could pick up all three points on Saturday afternoon.

Following on from the clean sheet away at Swansea City last weekend, the team will be confident of a similar defensive display in their meeting with the Villans. Since James Tomkins was drafted back into the starting XI, the Hammers have only fallen to defeat twice in all competitions and the consistency of the backline has ensured that the goals conceded column has been kept to a minimum.

Tomkins is expected to line up alongside Winston Reid at the heart of the defence once again this weekend as the east London side look to heap more misery upon a Villa team that are without a win in three.

History suggests that the Midlands outfit's winless streak will extend to four this weekend. The Hammers have only lost twice in their last 13 Premier League meetings with Villa on home turf.

The 24-year-old has attained an average WhoScored.com rating of 7.13 this season; only Reid (7.53) and Mark Noble (7.36) have scored higher than the centre-back for West Ham.

Much of this has been down to his impressive reading of the game, with the young defender averaging 1.5 interceptions per league encounter, ensuring he doesn't needlessly dive into tackles, but rather anticipates how an ensuing opposition move is panning out. This is accentuated in that he is winning possession in the midfield third an average of two times per game.

Tomkins is not only dependable with the ball at his feet, but also strong in the air. At the time of writing, Tomkins has won 3.3 aerial duels per game; only Modibo Maiga (6.2) is averaging more. This facet of his game is noted in his statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of 'aerial duels' and it is an attribute that will be essential to denying Villa at the weekend.

With Christian Benteke expected to lead the attack for Paul Lambert's side, Tomkins' heading ability will be put to the test against the powerful Belgian as he looks to repel Villa's attacks. However, with the youngster averaging 5.5 clearances per game, he will guarantee that the likelihood of the away side testing Jussi Jaaskelainen's goal is low.

Moreover, this will play into the hands of the more attack-minded players within the Hammers ranks, especially when taking into consideration that a WhoScored.com strength of West Ham is 'counter attacks'. Tomkins, in that case, will be essential, not only to the defensive solidity of the side in the encounter, but also the swiftness in which they can attack Villa as they look to secure the win

*WhoScored.com is a website and one of the fastest growing in the sports industry, specialising in the in-depth analysis of detailed football data. Follow @WhoScored on Twitter.

Aston Villa

Possible starting XI

Guzan

Bacuna  Vlaar  Clark  Baker

Tonev  Westwood  Delph

Weimann  Benteke  Agbonlahor

Aston Villa may not have scored freely - Christian Benteke aside - or won the majority of their Barclays Premier League games this season, but that doesn't mean that Paul Lambert's side will not carry a threat this afternoon.

Lambert has sent his team out in an attacking 4-3-3 formation in recent weeks, regardless of the fact the Villans have hosted Tottenham Hotspur and Everton in their previous two league matches.

The front three of the speedy Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor and powerful forward Benteke have and will cause problems for any defence. Villa try to get the ball to their forward trio early, playing quickly through the midfield or more direct into wide areas or off Benteke.

From set pieces, Villa also pose problems, with centre-backs Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark, left-back Nathan Baker and Benteke all strong in the air.

When not in possession, Villa try to play with a high tempo, pressing the opposition inside their own half. However, this can leave them open to opposition players running free at their back four, while it is always difficult for a team to retain a high pressure approach physically over the full 90 minutes.

Individually, Villa will start with American Brad Guzan in goal. A physically imposing stopper, Guzan is an outstanding shot-stopper who distributes well with his stronger left foot.

The back four in front of him is less certain, with converted winger Leandro Bacuna at right-back. Athletic and quick, the Dutchman is fast, strong and good in the air. Left-back Antonio Luna has a hamstring injury, so versatile centre-back Nathan Baker will deputise.

In the middle, Netherlands international Ron Vlaar is Villa's defensive talisman. The captain is a dominant force in the air and is deceptively comfortable with the ball at his feet. He will be partnered by Irishman Ciaran Clark, a mobile young defender with decent athleticism and technique.

The midfield will be anchored by former Crewe Alexandra man Ashley Westwood. Right-footed and in the Michael Carrick mould, the 23-year-old can both create attacks with his range of passing and break them up with his intelligent defensive positioning. He is Villa's leading passer, making 48 per game.

Westwood is likely to play alongside Fabian Delph, who is a left-sided, athletic midfielder who can pick a pass and dribble past opponents. The diminutive Bulgarian Aleksandar Tonev may complete the midfield trio, but Lambert may opt for the more defensive and combative Karim El Ahmadi away from home.

Up front, as stated, is where Villa are at their strongest. Agbonlahor and Weimann are both pacey players who can run with the ball at defenders and commit them, creating space and opportunities for Benteke and their midfield colleagues.

Both will also try to play off the flick-ons and lay-offs from Benteke when the Belgian is looked for from long clearances from the back.

It is Benteke who is undoubtedly Villa's main man in attack. He has scored four of his team's nine league goals and is big, strong, powerful, quick and mobile - the complete centre forward, if you like.

Attacking options for Lambert include Danish striker Nicklas Helenius and Czech Libor Kozak, both of whom are in the Peter Crouch mould. Further back, injuries mean Villa do not have an embarrassment of riches available in midfield or defence, but attack-minded full-back Matt Lowton could be involved.