Review of last season’s formation and Villa’s FPL prospects…
DGW1 edit (25/7): With reference to below, it’s possible that Sylla will play with Westwood and Delph in a 4-3-3 as both are tough away games. Westwood becomes a better option (and is on freekicks).
Defensively, Villa kept only 5 clean sheets and conceded 69 goals, (third worst behind Wigan and Reading. We deserved to concede more.
Attacking-wise: 47 goals, with 19 from Benteke, 9 from Agbonlahor and 7 from Weimann. Benteke’s assist total was 4, meaning has had an FPL-related part in 49% of Villa’s goals. Also remember that Benteke was sent off in GW37, resulting in him missing the final game against Wigan, plus his first Villa appearance was in GW4 as a substitute vs. Swansea (scoring a tap-in from the bench). Although 47 team goals isn’t anything special, 21 of these came in the final 10 games (with 5 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses). As for ‘FPL’ assists, Westwood topped the table with 7, Agbonlahor managed 6 along with N’Zogbia, and Lowton managed 4 assists. Note that Lowton’s assists (+ his goal vs. Stoke) all came later on in the season as he became a much more assured defender, which lead to him being given more freedom down the right.
In terms of discipline, Lowton picked up 10 yellows. Delph surprisingly only picked up 7 (plus 4 in the League Cup) despite deserving to be booked every game. Benteke picked up 7 yellows (plus a red vs. Chelsea) and Clark 6 yellows.
Formation-wise was interesting. Having flirted with a 4-4-2 diamond and various versions of formations with 4 at the back, Villa will be remembered for playing both 3 and 5 at the back. However, this was due to the loss of Vlaar and the incompetency of others defensively – playing 3 centre backs was an attempt to shore things up but although 3 CBs were played in the win at Liverpool (3-1), we then lost 8-0 (che), 4-0 (TOT) and 3-0 (WIG) in successive games.
However, towards the end of the season our success came with playing variations of a 4-2-3-1. So, it was either a 4-2-3-1 with Westwood and Delph in the double pivot, or a 4-3-3 (arguably a 4-3-2-1) with a slightly more defensive CM (usually Sylla) and slightly narrower wingers (Agbonlahor and Weimann).
Defensively, Vlaar, Guzan (from GW3) and Lowton were all nailed on. Bennett managed to play 21 games, but this was due to limited options at left midfield (Weimann and Agbonlahor both had games behind Benteke and so either N’Zogbia, Bowery or Bennett had to start in midfield). Bennett was arguably better in midfield (ironically because he had less defending to do), and Lichaj/Baker covered at left back. Clark was Vlaar’s main partner at CB, but after his injury later on, he found it hard to get back into the side, and Baker’s excellent form late on in the season cemented his role alongside Vlaar.
So far, Villa have played three pre-season games, all 1-1 draws. The formations have been as follows:
First half (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Herd, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett; Delph, Sylla,; Albrighton, Bacuna, Tonev; Bowery.
Second half (4-3-3): Steer; Lowton, Okore (Carruthers 90), Clark, Luna; El Ahmadi, Gardner, Westwood; Weimann, Helenius, Agbonlahor.
Goal : Helenius. Header from a Lowton right wing cross.
A frustrating issue for FPL is that Okore got injured in the second half. Villa started the first half with their first choice CBs from the end of last season with Baker and Vlaar, but unfortunately we will have to wait to see Okore alongside Vlaar.
First Half (4-3-3): Steer; Webb Vlaar, Clark, Bennett; Westwood, Delph, Carruthers; Bowery, Helenius, Bacuna.
Second Half (4-3-3): Guzan; Lowton, Herd, Baker, Luna; El Ahmadi, Sylla, Gardner; Carruthers, Weimann, Burke.
Goal: Through ball by Curruthers, Weimann rounded the keeper.
Note: Agbonlahor, Tonev and Okore missed the games through injury.
Here, Clark started alongside Vlaar.
Villa first half (4-3-3): Guzan, Lowton, Herd, Clark, Luna; El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph; Burke, Weimann, Carruthers.
Villa second half (4-4-2): Steer; Webb, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett; Bacuna, Sylla, Gardner, Albrighton; Helenius, Bowery.
Goal: Helenius header from a Bacuna cross.
A short conclusion from pre-season games is that all goalscorers have been playing in the central role – this could be an indication as to why Benteke played a part in 49% of Villa’s goals. Unfortunately, injuries to Okore, Agbonahor and Tonev didn’t help; although Agbonlahor will be a starter, we can’t say the same for Tonev nor Okore. Villa will not be playing games with 2 up front, and I put that down to injuries in the second half vs. Bochum. Note further that Lowton and Luna have started all three games together – a sign that they’ll be first choice full-backs.
Now, a couple FPL issues. I haven’t had a huge amount of time to look at values (I haven’t even made a team yet as I’ve been away!) but here are a few points worth noting:
Baker is at 4m. I put him ahead of Clark in the pecking order. He is (somewhat surprisingly) highly rated amongst Villa fans. I can’t quite see it myself, and this is why Okore has been drafted in. I’d back Okore to start, although if he doesn’t it is likely to be Baker.
Benteke vs. Helenius, or both together. So much depends on this issue. Helenius is at 5.5. This is incredible value, given my previous point in the central forward role for Villa. But again, Benteke even at 9m could easily reach 20 goals next season. Reasons for thinking this are that Benteke missed 5 games at the start/end of last season, Benteke has now had a full PL season (I’m not a fan of this ‘second season syndrome’ argument), and given Villa’s performances in the final 10 games of the season, confidence is actually surprisingly high around Villa Park. Now that Benteke is staying, it’s unlikely Helenius will start up top alone in league games.
This is what I’d expect:
1) Second CB (Okore, Baker, Clark in that order).
2) Benteke staying or leaving. Edit: Just signed a new contract. Nice one, Christian.
3) Helenius/Tonev/Bacuna/Sylla to play in midfield. My thinking is Sylla to play in a 4-3-3 in ‘tougher’ games, and Bacuna or Tonev in easier games. This works well for Paul Lambert as Villa start with tough games and Sylla played well last season. This will give Tonev and Bacuna a chance to get used to the league with substitute appearances at the start of the season. Alternatively, Helenius could be given a support striker role behind Benteke. In my opinion, Helenius playing centrally leaves Villa slightly narrower, which relies on more attacking full-backs.
Recommended defenders: I’d say the valuations are pretty fair – Lowton is at 5m as a result of higher potential attacking returns, particularly if Villa play with a narrower formation (Sylla or Helenius playing would result in this). I’d suggest Vlaar for (price) safety, Lowton for more chance of assists (although be wary of his 10 bookings, but as he came on strong positionally, this number will drop). All goals scored by these players were wondergoals, but given Villa’s tough fixtures I’d suggest Vlaar for now, Lowton for nicer games.
Midfielders: Tonev and Bacuna priced at 5m is fantastic – once we know if either will start! For now, I’d avoid.
Attackers: If Helenius regularly starts behind Benteke, 5.5 is better value than Weimann or Agbonlahor, although I’d expect less minutes from Helenius given he is new to the league. Benteke is the star choice, and I’d expect an even bigger season from him.
Final note: A few dodgy areas right now; but formation is pretty much set and with our hard fixtures/current missing game in GW3, I’d resist for now. Saying that, in my current draft, I have Lowton.
Final, final note: Whilst writing this, Benteke has gone and signed a new contract. Unbelievable tekkers.
Cheers for reading – if you want me to look at anything Villa-related just comment or something!