Over the last few weeks and in particular since our defeat to Watford the weekend I have seen so many people talk about what Dean Smith should or shouldn’t do. It is the beauty of football, everyone has an opinion but it doesn’t mean anyone’s opinion is right, no more than anyone’s opinion being wrong.
I am sure Smith will look at the game against Watford (and maybe our friendly against Salernitana) and realise that the 4-2-3-1 formation doesn’t work. Well, certainly doesn’t work with the players we currently have.
So what is the answer? I will look at some of the scenarios Smith will have to currently consider.
With the current players, we have available at our disposal I personally believe we need to play a system that includes a three-man midfield. I fully understand that we need to expand and move forward but I don’t believe we have two central midfielders who can play as a two.
He could go back to our trusted 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 depending on how you look at it. We still have the players to play this system despite us losing Jack Grealish over the summer. Some would argue the system could be more effective as we aren’t so reliant on one player making us less predictable.
Another option could be a switch to a 3-5-2 once Ollie Watkins returns but with the number of wide players we have at our disposal, I am unsure how this could work. Would the attacking wide players offer enough protection on the defensive side when it comes to the defensive part of our game?
Luiz vs Nakamba
Many supporters would like to see another defensive enforcer come into the side but at the moment, that isn’t on the cards (to our knowledge) so we have to work with what we have. The best options we currently have are Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba. Both have strengths and weaknesses.
Nakamba got the nod in the defeat to Watford, partly because he has had a full pre-season with the club and Luiz was unavailable. Another reason would have been because of how he finished the season with two fine performances in the victories over Tottenham and Chelsea.
Both players featured for their nations over the summer, Luiz with Brazil at the Copa America and Nakamba with Zimbabwe at the African Nations Cup. But Luiz also went to the Olympics and helped the Canarinha to a Gold medal meaning he only returned to Bodymoor Heath this week.
I go against the grain with the two options we have and believe we have two good options that we can use depending on the opposition. We all know that Nakamba is better when it comes to tackling while Luiz is a better passer of the ball.
When it comes to games where we will look to dominate the ball, I think Douglas should be getting the nod. Technically I would argue he is our best midfielder with the ball which allows those playing alongside him a little more freedom.
Then as proved in the games against Spurs and Chelsea last season, Nakamba would get the nod against sides who will look to dominate against us. His work rate is up there with most and he’s not scared to put his foot in. With us playing a more solid unit, his midfield partners can then take the ball off him so we can build.
It’s not always as simple as this player is better than the other. It’s about using your squad and who is better suited for the job at hand.
A better squad
So much has been made about Aston Villa having a stronger squad this season, it is something I would agree with. Last season, our strongest eleven, on their day was a match for most sides in the league (ask Liverpool). The problem was, as soon as a player picked up an injury or suspension, there was a big void.
I don’t think we have that issue this season. If someone is missing, I feel there is enough to cover them.
The one thing I do worry about is trying to force everyone into a team ‘because player X only signed for Villa to play’. I am sorry but in the modern game, there are no guarantees. The most important thing is to produce the best and strongest ‘team’. If a player wants to play every week, then they must perform.
We can’t keep saying we want to be a big team again but not expect this to be the case. I don’t want to see players playing out of position because we are too scared to leave them on the bench because another player is outperforming them. What’s the point of a strong squad if that’s our approach?
One thing that makes the more successful teams successful is the ability to name a strong substitute bench and competition.
Smith will know what the club expects this year. I don’t think he will get away with the run of defeats that we have witnessed in his previous seasons.
Smith needs to find the correct formula. A successful formula. And the topics we have discussed in this article are just part of the decisions he will have to make. We need to move on from a poor pre-season, not dwell on defeats too much and when something doesn’t work, don’t be stubborn enough not to make a change.
The eyes are fully on Smith this season and he won’t need me or anyone else to tell him.