Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Aston Villa using physicality to stop-start Brighton

October 1, 2023 — Aston Villa’s game-plan to stop Brighton from advancing with the ball was eloquent in its simplicity. Crowd the middle, leave the wide areas open, and then go heavy into the tackle when Brighton attempts to pass out wide. This stifled Brighton’s passing rhythm.

Figure 1.1 - Aston Villa's shape, tightly marking Brighton's double pivot with man-marking and a cover shadow, while leaving the pass wide open.

Brighton always looks to bait the press — make Aston Villa come to them before attempting the pass. Wait for the movement of the opponent and then go.

By cutting off the double pivot completely, Aston Villa forces Brighton wide or long to a forward. Teams have tried this before, and Brighton can wear you down to the point where you become less compact as the game goes on.

Figure 1.2 - A pass forward as an attempt to break past Aston Villa's midfield.

Once the ball is played wide, Aston Villa would curve their runs to quickly cut off the pass back to the center-backs. If Brighton commits to one side, Villa has the other side blocked through a series of cover shadows and man-marking.

Figure 1.3 - Aston Villa converge on the ball while blocking off the simple pass out.

What Aston Villa did that was different from other teams that have tried to clog the middle was when the ball was played out, they immediately looked to aggressively challenge the ball.

They collapsed on the ball carrier. Pau Torres stuck his body right up against Danny Welbeck to force him off balance, and then the surrounding Villa players picked up the pieces, all while blocking off the pass out of the challenge.

They used their physical advantage to boss Danny Welbeck, Solly March, Billy Gilmour, Jack Hinshelwood, and Joel Veltman in particular.

Figure 1.4 - Aston Villa win back the ball and draw a foul. Ollie Watkins' shadow covers Adam Webster to block Brighton in.

These challenges wide made the game very stop and start. Brighton was unable to get into a passing rhythm. It’s not ideal for a team that relies on men being here when a pass is passed there to have one man writhing in pain on the floor because Douglas Luiz just threw his full shoulder into Billy Gilmour’s back.

Interestingly, Aston Villa allowed Brighton to have more space on their left side than the right. This shortened the distance Nicolo Zaniolo, Douglas Luiz, Pau Torres, Ollie Watkins, and Lucas Digne had to cover. Despite this, Brighton kept attempting to play more through their right.

Any chance they could get, they would try to get their body on their man. They racked up a few yellows, but they weren’t reckless in the challenge; they were calculated. The first thought would be to win the ball. If they knew they’d lose out, take out the man gracefully with as little force as possible or try to draw a foul.

Then repeat this process and counter off of these challenges.

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