Three, is the magic number?

The number ‘3’ seems to be a recurring theme for Aston Villa, and most recently, not in the good sense.

Three is the amount of goals Swansea and Wigan have both tallied in the last two weeks. I’m not so hung up on the FA Cup defeat to Swansea but a 3-0 loss to Wigan Athletic troubles me deeply.

We, Villa fans, all know our defence isn’t up to much good at the present time, reeling from the foot injury Axel Tuanzebe picked up prior to the Leeds game; an injury that would see him side-lined for at least eight weeks.

Some may say ‘three’s a crowd’, but with our defensive problems not improving with a centre-back partnership of two, maybe Dean Smith should look at adopting the recurring theme and move to a ‘3-man defence’.

Call the Plumber

Most would argue that we are completely a different team without Jack Grealish and whilst I agree, for me the bigger loss has been Tuanzebe.

In all competitions under Dean Smith, we have conceded 14 in 10 games when the Manchester United loanee has played, averaging 1.4 goals conceded per game. In the six games since his injury, we have shipped 12 goals, an average of 2 per game and a 42% increase in goals conceded.

James Chester has looked a shadow of himself at centre-back, but the real issues lie with our full-backs in my opinion. The main one being that our full-backs seem to be more proficient in attacking than defending, the basic requirement of their position.

A unit of attacking full-backs coupled with individualist wingers, and in that I mean they don’t contribute completely to a team setup or defensive duties, mean that the central duo of James Chester and whoever partners him are left in no mans land in open season.

It is for this reason why I believe playing three centre-backs, something Dean Smith has trialled before at Brentford, may be the way forward until Tuanzebe is healthy or replacements are found.

Axel Tuanzebe has proved to be huge loss

Three’s Company

With Tuanzebe out, we have no real pace or ball playing backs in the squad so a flat three would likely be the way to go with a holding midfielder being used as the catalyst to start attacks. A flat three or possibly with Chester playing sweeper role behind a two-man would also allow our full/wing-backs to press and stay high.

In the three, Chester or Elphick could play the deepest as they lack pace and are arguably the most physical, causing trouble to the opposing centre-forward.

After a few appearances at centre-back this season, James Bree would be my right-sided back. He has a decent turn of pace and as he is naturally a full-back, could patrol the right flank should the opposition break past the wing-back. The same would be needed for the left side and although new arrival Kortney Hause had a bad first appearance against Wigan, I feel in time he would be the perfect fit, judging by past performances for Wolves (who happen to play with a back three).

As part of the XI I will show below, I have chosen Taylor and Hutton as wing-backs as both provide some, albeit minimal defensive cover and are much more comfortable in the attacking phase so a back-three absolves them of some responsibility. Elmohamady and Adomah could also be options on the right in this position.


For arguments sake, I have opted for a midfield pair rather than trio as the diversity on offer to Dean Smith is limited; too many players cut from the same piece of wood. Henri Lansbury for the holding role would be my pick should he be fit; an adept passer of the ball and usually has bags of energy and is mobile compared to the likes of Whelan and Hourihane. The terrier that is John McGinn would partner him, simply because he is our best midfielder available and he has energy to burn.


This of course would just be my plan to make the best of a bad situation and a temporary fix and whilst I’m sure Dean Smith and his backroom staff hardly care what Jack Cudworth from Barnsley says, it is an option that I would hope they should be looking at, nonetheless.

The system is very flexible with it able to set up defensively or offensively; individuals also have licence to express themselves going forward with the insurance policy of having an extra defender. We have seen this in the 3-5-2 of Gareth Southgate’s England and more offensively, the 3-4-3 Antonio Conte introduced to Chelsea.

Dean Smith has shown that he has extensive knowledge – added to the fact that he previously used a 3-5-2 system while at Brentford, with good results I may add, surely the thought of a similar system isn’t too far from his mind.


by Jack Cudworth

*Featured Image sourced via Google Images

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