Defensive Display of the Weekend: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool

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Defensive Display of the Weekend: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Aston Villa's famous 3-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday will forever be remembered for a Christian Benteke masterclass.

While the Belgian takes the credit, the Man of the Match award and the adulation back to Birmingham, spare a thought for a determined, hungry defence that did the dirty work for three cherished points.

Here, we'll break down Villa's fluid 3-5-2 system to outline just how they stifled Luis Suarez and Co.

 

The formation

You're looking at a 3-5-2 formation, three centre-backs, two wing-backs, a midfield three and a striking duo.

That's the formation in attack, but in defence it either drops to a flat five or forms a 4-4-1-1, depending on which direction the attack is coming from.

 

Ciaran Clark

Villa are now on their third captain for the season. Clark is deputising for the injured Ron Vlaar and is excelling under the responsibility.

He's an incredibly talented, clever and mobile defender. He's suited perfectly to the modern game, and the game at Anfield represented one of his toughest assignments in a Villa shirt yet.

As the central defender in a back three, Clark was asked to keep a beady eye on Suarez and play his game in relation to the Uruguayan's. If he dropped deep, he followed. If the numbers were even, he'd man-mark.

He didn't have the perfect game, but it was pretty close to it. What made the man-marking of Suarez work, though, was the foil of two extra centre-backs to mop up any mess.

Here, you'll see a rare mistake by Clark. The ball is fired into the furthest-forward player by Joe Allen and the Irishman tries to nip and intercept it. That's perfectly acceptable, as he has Chris Herd and Nathan Baker behind him to outnumber Suarez if he misses.

He does miss, and Suarez gets swallowed up by a challenge from Herd. No danger.

This is the only example across 90 minutes of a Clark mistake and it was't even close to being punished—that's how effective this one stopper, two-cover system is.

Clark made four interceptions on Saturday (a game high), committed no fouls and put in four blocks.

 

Different shapes

The Clark method works when the ball is higher up the pitch or Liverpool are initiating attacks. When the ball avoids the centre-backs and goes touchline-wide, Villa react accordingly.

Here, you'll see the ball in a deep position on the left of Villa's defence. When Suarez beat Eric Lichaj on the wing, the left-centre-back Baker ran out to meet the forward. Clark and Herd shift inside about five yards, Matthew Lowton (RWB) drops in to make it a flat four.

With Lichaj technically "out of the game," he drops in on the edge of the penalty area to provide numbers in case Suarez looks for a cutback. Of course, Villa's defensive midfielder Ashley Westwood is already there, so the two can combine to outnumber and nullify Steven Gerrard in dangerous pockets of space.

 

How do you beat it?

Hindsight is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Liverpool needed the first goal to draw Villa out and stretch the pitch vertically, but going 2-0 down just made the impossible harder.

The full-backs were getting well forward, but no aerial presence was a serious issue. This three-man defensive line of Villa's has yielded just three goals now, and the best one from an opposition's point of view was Jamie Mackie's header.

Stewart Downing fired in 13 crosses, but only two found a friend.

No amount if intricate play was ever going to be the undoing of this determined defensive line (unless you're Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta), and what the Reds really needed here was Andy Carroll.

It might prevent this.

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