A debate has raged amongst Villa fans for the last 19 months to what the right tactics and formations are to employ in front of an average crowd of 36,895 at Villa Park and the mass of claret and blue travelling on the road to away games.

 

Manager Paul Lambert might of found the answer to one of those questions but he is still to implement the full potential that is waiting to be unearthed.


Upon taking the job it was made clear by owner Randy Lerner that limited funds would be available to strengthen an already depleted squad and cutting the out-of-control wage bill from Martin O'Neill's unsanctioned spending sprees would be the main priority.


In addition he was entrusted, with the limited funds available to him, to find the right players to implement the tactics and formation(s) he thought would take Villa from being embroiled in consecutive seasons of relegation worry to the comfort of mid-table.


If we compare two line-ups from two years ago, the cost of the Villa starting line-up against QPR that saw a 2-2 draw against the 4-3 victory over Baggies at Villa Park last week, it has dropped from £77 million to £29 million and the weekly wages decreased from a staggering £470,000 to £290,000.


Lambert has done something right, completed one of his main objectives, despite at times fans showing their discontent by booing during and after games. The groans around Villa Park normally result from the team failing to breakdown opposition teams who decide to, after opening the scoring, sit back and control the game until the final whistle. This season Liverpool are just one of the teams to implement this strategy. 


Since Paul Lambert's ill-tempered arrival from Norwich City in June 2012, an array of formations have been tested, some very successful, others not. The notorious 3-5-2 that resulted in the 3-0 home defeat to relegated Wigan on Boxing Day in 2012 has become something Villa fans are accustomed to seeing. The 4-4-2 formation was played once away from home against newly-promoted Southampton, ending in a 4-1 defeat, never to be played again.


But finally a formation was found, a counter-attacking 4-3-3 that turned Villa into one of the most feared away teams in the league. It's all good beating the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Southampton over the last two seasons, but sticking to the designated recipe for success has proved an entirely different conundrum.


Apart from inflicting league leaders Arsenal's only defeat at the Emirates, an opening day 3-1 success, the tested and trialled 4-3-3 that produced attractive football and had pundits' purring was withdrawn and replaced by the less successful and more-debated 3-5-2 formation.


With three centre-backs and two wing-backs in operation fans paid £42 to watch the bore-draw at Upton Park against West Ham and another £35 to witness the embarrassing defeat to a Fulham at Craven Cottage, a side bottom of the table with 17 defeats from 24 league games this season.


The switch from a formation that has terrorised Champions League sides to a more relaxed and combated stance, seems odd and is something I can't actually get my head around or even attempt to explain. Against Liverpool on the 25th January, a diamond shape was employed by Villa's midfield trio with Andi Weimann dropping back to completely neutralise Steven Gerrard, a player that has scored more career goals against only Everton. Liverpool were lucky to escape with a point, no mention or rant about Luis Suarez's 'dive'.


But a week later against Everton, it was back to 3-5-2. Fans could have been forgiven in thinking Alex McLeish was back at the helm. Villa were set-up to 'park the bus' and play for the draw, Everton duly took the invitation and replied instantly with a RSVP with attack until they finally won the game 2-1; all credit to Roberto Martinez for his substitutions.


At Villa Park, except for a fluke win against Manchester City, an exquisite moment of brilliance from Leandro Bacuna against Cardiff and an atmospheric seven-goal local derby success over the high-line playing West Bromwich Albion, the patient claret and blue faithful haven't had much to get excited about. I put this lack of success down to no consistent formation being in place this season, a 4-1-2-2-1 would suit the style at Villa Park nicely.


Out of the 24 games this season, I personally think only two tactical decisions have helped decide games this season. Firstly, Matthew Lowton being brought on against Cardiff at Villa Park so Leandro Bacuna could play a more advanced roll. This lead to his second magnificent free-kick of the season. 


The second one being the decision to play a midfield diamond against Liverpool at Anfield to neutralise Gerrard and co. Some of the decisions, like most recently against Everton, have had fans bemused to why those match tactics were used; along with the odd choice of selections as well.


At the end of last season Villa were producing attractive football that fans couldn't get enough of, but after victory against Arsenal at the Emirates and a harsh defeat against Chelsea at the Bridge the dark days have reappeared with the one type of football. The tedious long-ball from Brad Guzan to Christian Benteke or Libor Kozak when the Belgium battering ram was out with an injured hip.


Injury to key players, most notably Ron Vlaar, has seen Lambert change a winning formation and play one style of boring and mostly non-effective football. If the constant reminder of relegation is to go away the employment of a familiar formation at both Villa Park and on the road are needed.