Clark To Bannan To Benteke - Villa's Swift Counter-Attack Can Destroy Chelsea
Now you’re taking notice of us. Now you don’t think we’re so silly for thinking that we shouldn’t have been in the position we found ourselves in. On the back of Aston Villa’s 3-1 win at Anfield, it seems the whole nation finally understood our potential. It wasn’t a dominant performance but it was certainly clinical; Liverpool had by far the most possession and shots but the visitors’ game plan of sitting back and counter-attacking worked perfectly. The game ended up looking like a bit of a spanking for Liverpool but if we had conceded early on, it could easily have been Villa taking the beating.
Liverpool’s early pressure in the last league game went unrewarded and the same needs to happen at Stamford Bridge or the game-plan is ruined and Villa will be forced to open up to world-class players. Rafael Benitez is hardly a fan favourite at Chelsea and if Aston Villa can avoid conceding an early goal then it will only play into our hands. Fans will get frustrated and if we can get some booing from the home fans going on then that will be music to my ears. How can that seriously help anything?
Add in this being Chelsea’s third game in seven days with over 12,000 miles of travelling involved and we have a decent chance. Thinking about it, we have a very good record at Stamford Bridge over the last few years; there was the massively entertaining 4-4 draw and 2-0 win under Martin O’Neill, the 3-3 draw under Gerard Houllier and the 3-1 win last season under Alex McLeish. Forget the 7-1 loss; that was quite clearly an anomaly.
I read a brilliant tactical analysis of Villa’s recent formation change to a 5-3-2 and how it worked so well, but that’s only possible because of the organisation that Paul Lambert has instilled into his team. Ciaran Clark at the heart of the three central defenders is the perfect choice. Being a good ball-playing defender and anticipation being one of his key attributes, he almost becomes an attacking centre-back, often stepping up from the back line to break up possession in midfield and set up a swift counter-attack with clever distribution. Of course doing so means he’s voluntarily moving out of position, and in a four man back line this would be more of a problem than it is with Nathan Baker and Chris Herd as more conventional, covering central defenders.
Aston Villa fans have seen two potentially brilliant partnerships forged over the last few weeks and we will need that good teamwork to continue to stand a chance against the Champions League holders. I am of course talking about Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann up front and Barry Bannan and Ashley Westwood in midfield. The truth is though that there’s one man that links those partnerships together and makes the effects felt on the score-sheet - Australian Player of the Year Brett Holman. His work rate is phenomenal and he assisted both of The Beast’s goals at Anfield.
For the third goal of that game, Holman stole the ball off Joe Cole on the halfway line and fed Benteke, but rather than stand about and admire a job well done, he set off into the box drawing the attention of Martin Skrtel and giving the Slovakian captain an impossible task of defending the situation - had he closed down Benteke too much then the giant Belgian would have had a simple lay-off to leave the Aussie machine one-on-one with Pepe Reina. A simple run, but one that can be so effective.
Benteke and Weimann each have three goals to their name in the last two games, long may that kind of partnership continue. Not just the goals, but also the link-up play has been noticeably impressive between the two; with Benteke assisting Weimann for that magical second goal last weekend and Benteke assisting Weimann in the Capital One Cup quarter-final tie at Carrow Road. All in all, looking pretty damn good there.
In midfield, Bannan and Westwood have both stepped up from the level they were playing at last season. Westwood has made the huge leap from League Two to the Premiership and is now nicknamed “Scholesey” by his teammates, obviously in reference to the great Paul Scholes and Ashley’s pass mastery. Barry Bannan however has made the step up from playing a bit crap, and he seems to be revelling in the deeper role that Lambert sees fit for him. Long may that continue.
It’s not a game we’re going to dominate, but it’s definitely a game where we have a chance of taking some points home. Being disciplined, determined, patient and prolific will be essential and just how good we are at each is going to affect what we return with. Following the Capital One Cup semi-final draw on Wednesday night, we could well be facing the same opponents in the final. One can dream…