Date: 10th February 2010 at 6:24pm
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So, it’s Villa tonight, away from home. It is one of the more difficult fixtures we still have to tackle and it will be interesting to see how Fergie approaches it.

The boss recently discussed tactics, claiming that while he understands that some people see 4-4-2 as a formation providing more goals, however, 4-5-1 (4-3-3, whatever you call it) gives us somewhat better balance when the main thing is keeping possession and trying to win the midfield battle.

Sir Alex argued that it’s better for the bigger games as this kind of patient approach forces the opposition to open up a little and that gives us more space. And I’d say he’s right but Aston Villa present an interesting dilemma right now.

They are clearly a strong team with quality players, as they demonstrated at Old Trafford, winning 1-0. However, they do not really play like a top team – they are often incredibly negative.

At Spurs on Saturday, they spent 90 minutes with their backs to the wall, clinging on for dear life. And it seems to me it’s not down to lack of quality but it’s actually a planned thing, an approach that has worked for them quite well this season.

But they are unlikely to open up, not with a not exactly creative but undoubtedly pacy attack and a watertight defence. So how will Fergie approach it? Because counter-attacking football is fine against Arsenal who know only one way to play these days but Villa won’t give us the favour of coming out and trying to outplay us.

And of course there is the scenario that, God forbid, we concede a goal. That would make the job about ten times more difficult, indeed, it would be bordering on the impossible. Because I’m afraid we suck when it comes to coming back from behind this season and because Villa are built in a way that exploits our greatest weaknesses.

We are susceptible to pace and quick counter-attacks at the back because of the absence of Ferdinand and Vidic who, by their positional sense, could counterbalance their relative slowness (relative as in compared to Agbonlahor and Young) while Brown and Evans don’t have the nous. And they are horribly, awfully compact at the back and we do lack a little creativity against teams with perfect organisation, who are not ashamed to defend for their lives even on their own ground (yes, Birmingham City, I’m talking about you).

Oh, and of course they kick our ass in the air as well which is a bit of a problem if he goes with 4-4-2: with little physical presence up front we might end up with winger crossing to nowhere and central midfielders being outnumbered and outmuscled in midfield. With 4-3-3, on the other hand, we could end up with lots of sideways passing some 40 yards from goal but no penetration while they ravage us on the break.

Tough choice and I for one am glad I do not have to make the decision. But whichever path Fergie chooses it’s hard to foresee anything but a grim struggle.