5 Keys for an Aston Villa Win Against Tottenham
Having already lost this year to Andre Villas-Boas' team in the Capital One Cup, Lambert will be eager to return from the international break with another win against top competition.
Several critical factors will determine if Villa are able to emerge victorious from Sunday's match at Villa Park. By carefully selecting his starting XI and exploiting key tactical advantages, Lambert can lead Villa to another surprising victory early in their Premier League campaign.
A Returning Christian Benteke
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Villa fans can be cautiously optimistic that Sunday's game may see the return of star striker Christian Benteke.
The striker was called up for Belgium's World Cup qualifying matches this past week, but Belgium manager Marc Wilmots has revealed that Benteke's involvement will be limited to training.
With a week of training aiding in his recovery, Benteke will be in contention to play against Spurs, either as a starter or more cautiously as a substitute.
In either case, the return of Villa's prolific goalscorer will be crucial toward a potential victory. Summer signings Libor Kozak and Nicklas Helenius are continuing to adjust to the team and neither man possesses the individual quality that Benteke does.
A Benteke return is especially desirable against Tottenham due to their resolute defence. Having conceded just five goals this season—tied for the third lowest in the division—Tottenham will be a difficult matchup for a Villa side that failed to score in their last match against Hull City.
While Villa's stunning 3-2 win against Manchester City may have given fans hope for the team's scoring potential without Benteke, the match against Hull was in stark contrast. Villa lacked both the creativity and finishing touch necessary to defeat Hull despite having more possession and three times as many shots.
Benteke's ability to hold up the play, attack on the break and finish chances are paramount to a Villa win on Sunday.
Continued Form of Clark and Bacuna
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At the start of the season it may have been a surprise that Ciaran Clark and Leandro Bacuna would become Villa's most consistent defenders, but both players have made the most of opportunities to start with tremendous performances.
Both players were the standout performers in Villa's last two games. Against Hull, Clark was at his no-nonsense best. WhoScored.com rated his performance as a match-high 8.7, largely as a result of his 23 clearances made.
Clark has capitalized on injuries to Jores Okore and Nathan Baker to join Ron Vlaar as Lambert's first-choice centre-backs.
Similarly, right-back Leandro Bacuna has responded encouragingly to being installed into the team at the expense of Matthew Lowton.
The Dutchman has given Villa several strong performances so far, most notably his match-winning display against Manchester City in which he contributed a goal and an assist.
The continued form of both players will be essential on Sunday against Tottenham. While Spurs have struggled to score in the Premier League, they have had no trouble finding the back of the net in both the Europa League and Capital One Cup.
If Tottenham are able to bring this non-league form to Villa Park, then Clark and Bacuna must continue to assert themselves as defensive powerhouses in order for the Villans to get a result.
Win the Midfield Battle
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While their specific formations differ slightly, both Lambert and Villas-Boas favor deploying a trio of central midfielders. Winning the midfield battle will hold the key to a Villa victory.
Although Villa's midfielders may not be as skillful as Tottenham's, they can find success by taking advantage of tactical decisions in order to overcome this.
For Tottenham, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho have multifunctional roles whose responsibilities include winning the ball back by pressing, maintaining effective possession through steady passing, and surging forward for goalscoring opportunities.
In addition, Danish starlet Christian Eriksen plays a more advanced role and will be more concerned with creating chances than his midfield teammates.
Consequently, it is essential for Villa's midfield trio of Fabian Delph, Karim El Ahmadi and Ashley Westwood to be equally influential in the middle of the park.
Villa's midfield threesome play in a flatter line with none of the three acting as a true attacking midfielder, as Eriksen does for Spurs. Therefore, Villa's greatest advantage will come in potential three-on-two advantages against Dembele and Paulinho.
It is imperative that Villa's midfielders are constantly aware of this fact and work diligently to find the free man in possession against the aggressive pressing that Tottenham may display. If Eriksen does not track back consistently, then Villa will have a much easier time retaining the ball and creating chances.
Expose Tottenham on the Break
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A lightning fast counterattack has become a staple feature of Lambert's Villa side. Countering effectively will be of particular importance on Sunday against Tottenham for several reasons.
Tottenham are a team used to dominating possession in game, the situation under which counterattacking is most effective. Currently averaging 59 per cent possession per match, Tottenham are used to retaining the ball and spending the majority of the match in their opponent's half.
Having displayed their prowess on the break in their 3-1 win against Arsenal, Villa's three-forward formation is well-suited to taking advantage of a sudden change in momentum to shift from defense to offense.
Furthermore, Tottenham make liberal use of aggressively attacking full-backs that leave opportunities for counters down the flanks. Kyle Walker, in particular, acts almost as an attacking player. Walker is constantly involved on the right side of the park, running at defenders and contributing crosses.
Walker's eagerness to get forward could see him exposed by Villa's left-sided forward Gabriel Agbonlahor. Agbonlahor, having played with Walker during his loan spell to Villa, could make use of his prolific pace to catch the right-back out of position.
Morrison was able to expose the respective weaknesses of each defender. Vertonghen was caught too far up the pitch, giving the breaking Morrison with a one-on-one situation against Dawson, who was unable to deal with Morrison's pace.
If Tottenham's centre-backs are not more disciplined on Sunday, then Villa may find themselves with a similar opportunity to quickly strike back at an exposed Tottenham defence.
An Opportunity for Albrighton?
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Sunday's match could see a major change to Lambert's Villa side if he chooses to drop starting XI mainstay Andreas Weimann for another player like Marc Albrighton.
Weimann has struggled this season, netting just one goal and failing to perform consistently. His passing and finishing have both been very erratic and his poor performance against Hull may be the final impetus for Lambert to drop the forward, opening the door for Albrighton.
Having spent much of the past year injured, Albrighton impressed in his first start of the season against Tottenham in the Capital One Cup. Despite the Villa loss, Albrighton's energetic performance was the highlight of the match for Villa fans as the former prospect demonstrated why he was once considered to be a future star for Villa and England.
Albrighton possesses similar pace to Weimann, while his crossing and dribbling skills may see him preferred to the Austrian. Additionally, he will be eager to prove himself having fallen out of favor with the manager and almost being sent out on loan earlier this season.
Lambert's prior commitment to Weimann will help him retain his place. But the manager must be willing to consider his alternatives. Even as a substitute Albrighton possesses the quality to score a vital goal or provide a deadly cross for one of Villa's many towering forwards to convert.