Tactically speaking – Aston Villa

Remi Garde is less than two months into his reign as Aston Villa manager, and if he didn’t know the size of the task befallen him on 2 November, he surely does now!

The Frenchman has not enjoyed a winning feeling since his arrival, drawing three and losing three of his six league matches in charge.

Villa have not won in the Premier League since the opening day, when they scored a 1-0 victory at AFC Bournemouth, and are on a points tally from which no club has escaped relegation after 17 games – seven.

Sitting ten points adrift of safety and having scored just 14 goals in 17 league matches, Garde is going to have to pull something special out of the bag if Villa are to maintain their ever-present Premier League attendance record next season.

Pundit and former Villa midfielder Andy Townsend told whufc.com that Villa need to play with a more direct style if they are to stay up, but that approach would go against the principles of Garde, who played under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

At Newcastle United last time out, however, Garde did revert from a possession-based game to a more direct approach, bringing French target man Rudy Gestede off the bench to good effect.

In the first half at St James’ Park, Villa were largely ineffective when trying to play the ball out from the back and through the midfield – most often deep-lying midfielder Carlos Sanchez – largely because their diamond formation was too flat, and did not create space or angles to pass through or around the Magpies.

In the second half, Villa reverted to knocking the ball long from goalkeeper Brad Guzan or the two centre-halves up to Gestede, who controlled on his chest or feet and brought others into the game – particularly lively Ghanaian Jordan Ayew and touchline-hugging full-backs Alan Hutton and Leandro Bacuna.

Defensively, Villa dropped into a flatter 4-3-3 shape when they did not have the ball. However, Newcastle did find it fairly easy to play through them on occasion. Garde will be keen to change this when West Ham visit on Boxing Day.

Personnel-wise, Garde has unsurprisingly chopped and changed his starting XI regularly in search of a winning formula, and his cause will not be helped by the injury-enforced absences of defenders Micah Richards and Jordan Amavi on Saturday.

Of those who are available, Ayew is Villa’s top scorer with four league goals to his name. The 24-year-old likes to run from deep with the ball at his feet, and also possesses the speed to spin in behind the opposition back four.

Another African, Senegal midfielder Idrissa Gueye, is a similar style of player to fellow countryman Cheikhou Kouyate, making a strong defensive contribution with his tackling and interceptions – no Villa player has made more in either category. He is also Villa’s leading passer with 751 – 135 more than teammate Ashley Westwood.

Confidence will likely play a big part in how Villa play on Saturday. Without a win in any competition since 22 September, an early goal for West Ham would surely have an adverse effect on how the home side play.

Possible team (4-4-2 diamond): Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Lescott, Bacuna, Westwood, Sanchez, Gueye, Veretout, Ayew, Gestede