Aston Villa stormed to a 4-0 win over Brentford on Sunday, with interim boss Aaron Danks deserving plenty of praise for leading the way in securing us the crucial three points.
It would have been a difficult 48 hours for the Villa first-team coach after being asked to step in and fill the void following the decision to sack Steven Gerrard just hours after our defeat to Fulham on Thursday night.
Despite the limited preparation time and the circumstances surrounding his chance in the top seat, Danks made big calls in terms of his starting XI, both in changing the Villa system and dropping individuals who were seemingly undroppable under Gerrard.
However, it was the formation tweak that really made a significant difference, with Leon Bailey noting in his post-match interview with VillaTV just how important that was particularly for the attacking players in the line-up.
“The formation we played today with two wide wingers stretched their defence. Emi [Buendia] had a lot of space in the middle to turn and play through passes. It was enjoyable for us and everybody felt comfortable. We had lot of freedom to make quality passes and running in behind.”
Danks’ tactical tweak leads Villa to victory
Under Gerrard, Villa seemingly never moved away from a rigid 4-3-3 system, or a similar variation, which often saw us lose midfield battles, place too much responsibility on the defence to play out from the back and nullified our attacking threat with players unable to link up and thus left isolated in different areas of the pitch.
Danks immediately addressed that by switching to a 4-2-3-1, and while that system in itself is arguably more effective, it also suits the players that we have in the squad much more as he also made key personnel changes to bring in individuals who would be more influential in their respective roles within that system.
Having Matty Cash back in at right-back was important, while the entire backline played their part. However, it was the midfield pivot of Douglas Luiz and Leander Dendoncker that really stood out in both phases of the game.
Defensively, they added a physical presence and protection in front of the defence with their ability to disrupt Brentford’s play, win back possession in midfield and set our attacking players on their way.
There was more of a structure to our play and rhythm to our attacks as a result, with the defenders having options to pass to rather than playing long balls forward trying to find our frontmen.
Further, their presence in the middle of the pitch then allowed our front four to press more aggressively higher up the pitch as they showed great intensity, urgency and energy throughout, and they were afforded more freedom to attack in areas they felt more confident and comfortable in, as per Bailey’s comments above.
The Jamaican international and Ollie Watkins attacked wide using their pace and movement off the ball to good effect, and as they stretched Brentford’s defensive shape and organisation, it opened up pockets of space for Emiliano Buendia to pick the ball up and be a constant menace himself through the middle.
It played to the strengths of these key individuals, rather than asking them to do things that limits their threat.
Villa fans have long been calling for the change with Dean Smith similarly set on a 4-3-3 during his time in charge, when the players at his and Gerrard’s disposal undoubtedly look better suited to a 4-2-3-1.
Importantly, we have options on the bench that also suit this system and can come on and make a difference. Whether it’s Morgan Sanson or John McGinn in midfield, Philippe Coutinho through the middle or Jacob Ramsey out on the left.
It’s unclear how long Danks will have the job for and it’s hoped that we can build on this result as we still need to start climbing the table, but ultimately he has sent a clear message to Gerrard’s long-term successor as to how to get the best out of the players in the current squad and where they can be most effective on the pitch.