Tactically speaking - Aston Villa

West Ham United and WhoScored.com take a closer look at where Saturday's match at Villa Park could be won and lost

West Ham United

West Ham United have teamed up with football stats website WhoScored.com to preview the upcoming Barclays Premier League meeting with Aston Villa.
Sam Allardyce’s side will look to build on their 1-0 home win over Burnley when they travel to Villa Park on Saturday. Victory over the Clarets means the Hammers come into this fixture on a good run of form, having lost just one of their last four Premier League games.
Villa themselves have lost only one of their last four fixtures in England’s top tier, but have been suspect at the back of late. The Villans have shipped 12 goals in their last six league fixtures and boast one of the worst defensive records in the Premier League, having conceded 50 goals this season.
The age old adage that ’attack is the best form of defence’ is a mantra that Tim Sherwood appears to abide by and it is herein where West Ham can exploit Villa’s frailties at the back.
Stewart Downing will return to his old stomping ground with the Hammers this weekend and is expected to play a key role.
Downing has been the Hammers’ primary creative outlet this season and while his impact has dwindled slightly of late, the England international has the ability to help put the Villa backline to the sword.
Statistically calculated WhoScored.com strengths of ‘key passes’ and ‘crossing’ suggest Downing boasts the offensive ability to unlock the lacklustre Villa defence.
The 30-year-old has completed 84% of his 1,319 passes made this season, scoring five goals and directly creating eight more.
Furthermore, Villa have developed a statistically calculated style of play of ‘aggressive’, which could result in them conceding free kicks in dangerous positions.
This could be West Ham’s best route to goal when they face Sherwood’s side. Downing has developed a WhoScored.com strength of ‘taking set pieces’, matching the Hammers’ strength of ‘attacking set pieces’.
Should West Ham win free-kicks in the final third, Downing’s accuracy from dead ball situations will present his teammates with goalscoring opportunities. The No11 gained an impressive WhoScored.com rating of 7.67 when the two teams met at the Boleyn Ground earlier this season.
The onus, therefore, will be on Downing to provide the ammunition for the attackers and turn out another noteworthy performance at the weekend if West Ham are to come away from Villa Park with the share of the spoils.
*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

The possible starting XI
Bacuna  Okore  Vlaar  Richardson
Cleverley  Delph
N’Zogbia  Benteke
The formation
Under Tim Sherwood, Aston Villa have favoured an attacking diamond formation similar to the one that served West Ham United so well in the first half of the season.

The system works because Villa have the players that fit into it perfectly – quick, attack-minded full-backs who can cross accurately, a disciplined defensive midfielder who can start attacks and counter-attacks from deep, two athletic central midfielders, a talented playmaker and two forwards who have complementing strengths.

Up front, the red-hot Christian Benteke and his partner – be it Charles N’Zogbia or the fit-again Gabriel Agbonlahor – split wide and pull their opposing centre-halves out of position, creating space for midfielders to run into.

The playing style
As he did at previous club Tottenham Hotspur, Sherwood has instilled confidence and purpose into his Villa side.

Where the Villans looked afraid to express themselves under predecessor Paul Lambert, Sherwood has the FA Cup finalists playing without fear.

With keen, quick and mobile players in many positions, Villa move the ball quickly from back to front.
Benteke is central to this tactic, with the big Belgian frontman always available to receive the ball to feet, into his body or to run in behind.

Villa’s attacking full-backs and attacking midfielders mean Sherwood’s side are able to pull their opponents all over the pitch.

When Villa play through the midfield, young star Jack Grealish, N’Zogbia, Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley are all capable of carrying the ball forward at pace, or opening up defences with their passing.

From set pieces, Villa possess a number of threats in Benteke and towering centre-backs Jores Okore and Ron Vlaar. N’Zogbia has shown West Ham fans in the past that he is not afraid to let fly from set pieces, too.

Defensively, Villa are aggressive and the centre-backs, in particular, look to step up and win the ball in the air or on the ground.
The players
As stated earlier, Sherwood has got his players believing again and the common conception is that they are a completely different team to the one he inherited.

Experienced Irishman Shay Given adds presence and calm in goal, having dislodged American Brad Guzan in recent weeks.

Full-backs Leandro Bacuna and Kieran Richardson are both converted midfielders who love to get forward. Both are quick and can deliver quality, but can leave gaps in behind for their opponents to exploit.

Vlaar and Okore are defenders above all else, but their size and tenacity can sometimes be their shortcoming, with strikers able to turn them and midfielders able to run in behind.

Ball-playing deep-lying midfielder Ashley Westwood has thrived under Sherwood, collecting the ball and moving it forward or wide faster than he did under Lambert.

Cleverley and fellow England international Delph have also shown form under the new manager, with the former showing drive that had all but disappeared from his game to score a fantastic goal against Everton last weekend. Delph has assumed the role of midfield leader with his athleticism.

In behind the strikers, teenager Grealish is a tricky customer who can unlock defences with his movement and ability in possession.

Up front, everyone knows about Benteke’s all-round qualities. He can score from any sort of chance, in short.

Left-sided N’Zogbia does his best work collecting wide on the right and cutting inside to shoot or pass, while Agbonlahor is a speedy, direct forward who will run at or play on the shoulder of his marker.