Tactics: Ashley Young comes in from the periphery

The imminent departure of James Milner to Manchester City means that Aston Villa’s 3-0 win at home to West Ham on Saturday represented the end of an era at Villa Park, but the positioning of Ashley Young meant that it also marked a potential new dawn.

Young has reportedly been angling to play in an advanced position behind the striker and in Villa’s opening game of the Premier League season he was granted his wish. Operating in a roving role in support of John Carew, he spent most of his time on the left but was able to flit from flank to flank and set up Stiliyan Petrov for Villa’s second goal with a delicately measured cross from the right-hand side.

The diagram below contrasts Young’s performance against West Ham with his contribution in the corresponding fixture last season. When the sides met in January, his remit was strictly confined to the flanks and there was an aimlessness to his crossing borne out by the fact he completed just 40 percent of his attempted passes. On Saturday, he spent much more time linking the play in the centre of the pitch and, although he tried to make fewer passes, his distribution was markedly more accurate.

by Guardian Chalkboards

When on form, Young can be one of England’s most irrepressible attacking players, but a disappointing predictability has crept into his game in recent seasons. When wide on the left he is forever dropping his shoulder and checking back onto his right foot to curl inswinging crosses towards the back post, which every defence in the country now anticipates. Martin O’Neill’s fondness for the 4-4-2 formation did not always present him with many options for a short pass either.

His apparent desire to play in the centre shows a laudable wish to exert more of an influence on the game and there are signs that he is capable of flourishing as the free man in a 4-4-1-1. As well as being skilful and both-footed, his fine chipped goal in Villa’s pre-season win over Peterborough hinted that he may possess the vision and the invention to make things happen in central areas and many Premier League fans will remember him destroying Everton centre-back Joleon Lescott in Villa’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Goodison Park in December 2008.

“Nowadays there are a lot of players who can play in different positions and that’s good for the team, the squad and the manager,” Young told the Birmingham Mail last month. “I am a versatile player. When I first signed for the club, I played up front. I have also played off the front man, I’ve played right, I’ve played left and I’ve even played in central midfield too.”

Milner’s exit means there is a vacancy for a creative driving force in the Villa side, and although his nominal replacement Stephen Ireland possesses plenty of guile, he cannot compete with Young for pace and directness. Furthermore, with Steven Gerrard squarely ahead of him in the pecking order on the England left, Young’s chances of forcing his way into Fabio Capello’s thinking would only be enhanced by a successful move into the centre. In any case, it will be intriguing to see where caretaker Villa coach Kevin MacDonald deploys Young when Milner has gone and Gabriel Agbonlahor has returned to fitness.

12 Responses to “Tactics: Ashley Young comes in from the periphery”

  • KK:

    Martin O’Neill did use Young in a fairly central role around two seasons ago, in something like a 4-3-1-2, with (from right to left) Reo-Coker, Petrov and Barry in midfield, Carew and Agbonlahor up front, and Young in between. To create width, Agbonlahor tended to drift to the right, and Young to the left, but they were clearly playing in different bands – Young as a trequartista and Agbonlahor as a wide-ish forward.
    If I remember right, Villa went on a great run of results when O’Neill tried this system, but he reverted to 4-4-2 the following season, possibly once he signed Heskey.

  • Tom:

    Yes, I’ve always thought he looks potentially very effective in a central role. He seems to just run through the same repertoire when he’s stuck out on the left. Can’t see him playing in the same position once Agbonlahor is back though.

    • The Gentleman Masher:

      Gabby is what makes this tricky…Carew and Agbonlahor are both talented strikers…in a 4-4-1-1, one of them has to see the bench if Young plays up top.

      That said – it would also help depth to run this formation, especially with the apparent emergence of Albrighton.

  • Steve:

    I think with the well documented injury problems of Carew, Young could easily play behind Agbonlahor though also.

    • Tom:

      I’m not sure it would work as well with Agbonlahor instead of Carew. Agbonlahor’s much better with his back to goal now that he’s bulked up, but I think Villa would struggle to establish a foothold in the opposition third without Carew in the team to hold the ball up.

      • Steve:

        You are probably right, but Gabby can hold up the ball relatively well and runs into channels nicely on the counter attack. At least with Stephen Ireland in the team there’s another free role option.

  • Spot on about Young’s predictability on the left as an inverted winger. Milner blossomed moving inside and Im sure Ashley will once again.

    Anyone have the latest on why MO’N actually parted with AV?

  • excellent article, although he did well with England in 2nd half against Hugnary on the left he is, as you said, too predictable and Young could do really well behind a lone striker or even pair of strikers. Friend of mine who is a Villa fan has been saying this for ages and it will be interesting to see if he does take over from Milner given that Marc Albrighton can play on the right and Stewart Downing on the left

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Russell Hammant, Tom Pattison, basem adi, Adam Fraser, Brian and others. Brian said: RT @Zonal_Marking: RT @tomwfootball: Blog – Tactics: How Ashley Young could benefit from a change of position at Aston Villa: http://bit.ly/94Cj72 […]

  • Carlton:

    His crossing may be predictable but I think he’s still one of the best crossers in the Premier League. If he were to play centrally perhaps he could feature in a roaming role that allows him to drift wide on occasion and utilise his crossing ability. Maybe a 4-3-1-2 a la Weder Bremen this season (as detailed in Zonalmarking’s recent write-up)?

  • PP:

    “When wide on the left he is forever dropping his shoulder and checking back onto his right foot to curl inswinging crosses towards the back post, which every defence in the country now anticipates.”


    I think it is also worth pointing out that Villa’s opening goal actually resulted from such a move. Young drifting out to the left and sending in a cross that Green couldn’t cope with.

  • […] have enjoyed notable success after being redeployed in roving central positions. Ashley Young was given licence to organise the Aston Villa attack from a free, central role, Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena – habitually a right-sided […]

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