Robbie Savage: Aston Villa toil with Christian Benteke off the boil

In his regular BBC Sport column, Robbie Savage looks at Aston Villa's 3-0 defeat by Manchester United on Sunday.

There has been a lot of criticism of United in recent weeks, so their manager David Moyes deserves credit for getting things right at Villa Park. A number of their players can take real positives away from the game.

But it helped Moyes a lot that Villa were so poor in pretty much every area of the pitch. In fact, they were awful.

Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke and Manchester United defender Rafael

Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke has gone 10 games without scoring

Up front, Christian Benteke looked completely devoid of confidence, and Villa's defenders did the same as when I watched them against West Brom last month: they kept passing the ball amongst themselves in the back four and then giving it away.

At this level, a loose square ball or forward pass to an opposition player is all it takes to let the other team in.

It happened when Antonio Luna gave it away to Tom Cleverley for United's third goal, but Luna was having enough problems at left-back as it was.

Stopping Villa is just too easy

Under Paul Lambert, Villa's home form is terrible. They have only scored six times in eight home league games this season, and have lost five of them.

Why are they so bad? Well, every other pundit I listen to knows they are a counter-attacking side and other teams seem to have worked them out too. United definitely did.

Villa actually made a pretty good start on Sunday. They had six shots in the first five minutes and looked quite dangerous.

But that all changed as soon as Danny Welbeck scored twice in quick succession.

From then on, United were in control of the game and Rafael and Antonio Valencia tore Luna apart.

Almost half of their attacks came down that third of the pitch, while Wayne Rooney dropped deep and started spraying passes out wide too.

Man Utd attacks vs Aston Villa

Manchester United attacks versus Aston Villa

At the other end, they left no space for Villa to break into, which was the hosts' main tactic.

Villa also favoured one flank over the other, but to nowhere near the same effect as United.

In the first half, when they played the ball long up to Benteke, he was usually waiting for it on the left.

But United's defence just dropped back and let their midfield deal with it. That meant their defence always won the second ball very easily.

Aston Villa attacks vs Man Utd (first half)

Aston Villa attacks versus Manchester United (1st half)

Villa never got behind United on the break, and were left to pass it around in front of their defence. They never looked like hurting them from there.

Benteke has gone off the boil

Christian Benteke looked a lonely figure in the Aston Villa attack, and he has now gone 10 games without a goal.

Watching him, and watching his body language, his lack of confidence was beyond belief - he looks completely the opposite to last season.

That is obviously a big problem when you are a striker, and especially when you are a striker who leads your line in the way Benteke does for Villa.

Christian Benteke 2012-13 2013-14

Premier League appearances






Minutes per goal



% of Villa's goals



Shots on target



Shots off target



Shots per game



Shooting accuracy



Passing accuracy



Stats: Opta

His shooting statistics have not decreased dramatically - he still averages around 2.15 shots per game - and still gets 50% of them on target.

But that is not helping him find the net at the moment. On Sunday, his touch was poor and his only effort on goal was when he headed over Marc Albrighton's cross after more than an hour of play.

Compare Benteke's performance to that of Danny Welbeck, who had not scored in the Premier League since the opening day of the season.

People always say Welbeck does not score enough goals but he got two against Villa, and could have had more.

He looked powerful, strong, quick and dangerous - everything Benteke should have been but wasn't.

Touches in Aston Villa v Man Utd (stats: Opta)

Christian Benteke (Villa)

Danny Welbeck (Man Utd)

Christian Benteke (l) and Danny Welbeck (r) touches in Aston Vila vs Manchester United
Benteke Welbeck

Minutes played: 79

Minutes played: 90

Goals: 0

Goals: 2

Shots on target: 0

Shots on target: 5

Shots off target: 1

Shots off target: 2

Passes in opposition half: 26

Passes in opposition half: 25

Pass accuracy in opp half: 57.7%

Pass accuracy in opp half: 80%

Phil Jones, who was at centre-half for United, dominated Benteke and showed why I think his future is in that position.

It is not all Benteke's fault, though. Villa playing on the break is fine away from home, when the onus is on the opposition to come forward. When those attacks break down, Villa's width and pace with their 4-3-3 formation means they are dangerous.

At Villa Park, on the other hand, visiting teams are far more likely to sit back - especially when, like United, they take the lead.

Away from home, most teams play at least one holding midfielder and with four at the back, and Villa do not have the creativity in their three-man midfield to break them down.

I spoke about this last season when I looked at Villa's approach under Lambert, and not a lot has changed. Having possession and trying to pass the ball will not work for them until they have somebody who can act as a playmaker in midfield.

Ashley Westwood is neat and tidy and Fabian Delph, who did not play against United, likes to surge forward - but they do not have anyone who can play the killer pass.

How can Villa change their fortunes at home?

Away from home, Villa have played the fewest passes and with the worst passing accuracy (71.91%) in the top flight, and only Hull City have less possession on the road (37.89% to Villa's 39.16%).

But only Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United have picked up more away points than them this season.

That shows how effective Lambert's players are in that 4-3-3 formation, when it works.

The same tactics do not work at home, however. Again, Villa's passing and possession statistics are low, but so are their goals and points tallies.

Aston Villa 2013-14 Home (rank) Away (rank)

Stats: Opta

Premier League games




3,082 (16th)

2,674 (20th)

Passing accuracy

76.67% (17th)

71.91% (20th)

Average possession

44.78% (17th)

39.16 (19th)

Total shots

83 (=12th)

68 (=11th)

Shots on target

29 (15th)

30 (=10th)

Goals scored

6 (20th)

10 (6th)

Shots faced

100 (=14th)

120 (12th)

Shots on target faced

34 (=14th)

37 (9th)

Goals conceded

12 (=17th)

9 (=2nd)


7 (=18th)

12 (5th)

Maybe it is time to go 4-4-2 at Villa Park to try to give Benteke more support, because he clearly needs some help.

Villa's problem if they do want to try different systems is they do not have much depth in their squad, especially of experienced players.

Lambert has changed things around from the bench before now this season - notably in that 2-2 draw with the Baggies when his side were 2-0 down after an hour.

But that never looked like happening against United, whose display was a bit like the United of old - withstanding some early pressure and winning easily.

Robin van Persie's injury is a blow for them but it is a great chance for Welbeck.

He clearly enjoys playing with Rooney behind him but he is a great link man as well as an effective finisher.

Danny Welbeck pounces to score United's second goal against Aston Villa

Danny Welbeck pounces to score United's second goal against Aston Villa

United's next three games - against West Ham, Hull and Norwich - are all winnable, and Welbeck should be setting himself a target of five goals from them to really make a statement about what he can do.

Villa's next three games - against Stoke, Crystal Palace and Swansea - all look winnable too.

The last two are at home, however, and the problem Villa have is that they look more like losing when they play there.