Premier League strugglers Aston Villa produced a terrific second half display to earn a share of the points against a defensively unorganised Newcastle on Saturday Night. It was a classic relegation game as it was end to end and full of last ditch defending and flying tackles in the rain. Despite this nature there were some interesting tactical talking points.

Lineups/Formations:

Steve McClaren surprised many by leaving both Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez on the bench, he opted for Papiss Cisse and Siem De Jong as his front two. He played his usual narrow 4-2-3-1 formation with Moussa Sissoko and Gio Wijnaldium occupying the central winger positions.Aston Villa manager Remi Garde changed from his favoured 4-3-3 formation and opted for a midfield diamond. French midfielder Jordan Veretout played at the tip of the diamond and Scott Sinclair played as a makeshift striker.

Aston Villa manager Remi Garde changed from his favoured 4-3-3 formation and opted for a midfield diamond. French midfielder Jordan Veretout played at the tip of the diamond and Scott Sinclair played as a makeshift striker.

Villa’s direct play and exposure of Dummett

Aston Villa had a clear gameplan early on, they bypassed the midfield and played direct balls up to the front line and attacked the space quickly. Jordan Ayew did a decent job of getting hold of the ball in difficult circumstances. Villa’s clear motive, however, was to attack Paul Dummett as it would put him under pressure but also drag Coloccini over to help, this is never a good thing. Alan Hutton got forward well and Scott Sinclair did an excellent job running on the inside of Paul Dummett who had a nightmare of a game. Most of VIlla’s crosses came from the right side and the most common pass combination for them was Westwood to Hutton which suggests a focus on the right side.

Villa heat-map courtesy of Whoscored.com

The Diamond formation requires quick passing in the final third and Villa executed this relatively well, the final ball let them down but Remi Garde prepared the team really well for the game and they deserved their point. Their focus down the right continued in the second half and it was incredible that Steve McClaren didn’t make any tactical shifts to give Dummett some extra help. Paul Dummett is a decent defender in fairness to him but tactically, McClaren made some errors. Alan Hutton had far too much time to cross so questions need to be asked of Wijnaldum’s work rate.

De Jong’s link up play:

Newcastle didn’t change much so it is difficult to report on any tactical findings, however, Siem De Jong played brilliantly in the second striker role. He threaded many accurate through balls to the overlapping Janmaat and he was good at using the runs of the central wingers to create space on the edge of the box. Newcastle’s issue has often been that they keep possession well but struggle to get it into the feet of the lone striker, De Jong’s performance today made the Newcastle attack look fluid and it was a sign of real team chemistry. Newcastle are good out wide, especially on the right, but they have needed more of a central playmaking threat this season and the former Ajax man can provide this.

Gestede’s Introduction:

Once Aston Villa realised they were getting a lot of space out wide, they decided to give their full- backs an target to hit. Rudy Gestede lacks technical ability but he is one of the best headers of a ball the League has ever seen, he nearly scored with his first touch. Gestede caused utter chaos inside the Newcastle penalty area and he created more space for Jordan Ayew. The Villa goal was somewhat created by Gestede, his presence caused extra attention which left space on the top of the box for Ayew. Remi Garde even admitted in his post-match interview that Gestede changed the game and he is a definite wildcard option for Villa in their relegation battle.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images Sport

Takeaways:

If I were a Newcastle fan I’d be extremely worried about the team’s left-hand side, the 4-2-3-1 formation McClaren opts for leaves an awful lot of space for attacking full-backs to venture forward and someone better than Alan Hutton would punish them a lot more. The former FC Twente manager seems reluctant to make changes, the game was crying out for a flat four or five man midfield but he stuck with the same loose defensive system that has cost Newcastle many goals this year.

Aston Villa can hold their heads high, they were the better team over the 90 minutes and should have won. Remi Garde will likely choose this formation again as it is easily the best they’ve looked under him, certainly in terms of balance.