Christian Benteke is back among the goals and vital to the West Midlanders' aerial and counter-attacking tactics at White Hart Lane, says Alex Keble...
Tim Sherwood's passionate managerial style has conjured an important state of confidence and self-belief at Villa Park that has translated into free-flowing attacking football and intelligent positional fluidity. Against a bold Spurs team vulnerable to the counter, this newly-galvanised team are capable of providing their manager with a winning return to White Hart Lane.
That said, they'll need to sort out their defence first, having conceded three times at home to QPR in midweek before clawing back a late point. Tottenham's own chief defensive frailty results directly from their possession-centric and high-pressing tactical philosophy; Spurs average 56% possession and make 22.7 tackles per match – more than any other side in the Premier League.
Utilising a high defensive line and attacking full-backs, Spurs' poor defensive record (only four Premier League clubs have conceded more than their 45) is largely the result of opposition counter-attacks exploiting the space in behind. Leicester twice scored like this in the north Londoners' last home game.
The length of pass behind some of Leicester's chances created indicates their counter-attacking success – thanks largely to the high line Spurs utilised in this match, and against Swansea the previous weekend.
Spurs' vulnerability in this area is exacerbated by the frequency with which they lose possession. They are dispossessed 14.5 times and average 12.2 unsuccessful touches per match, making them the most careless team in the Premier League.
Aston Villa have implemented a counter-attacking strategy in recent weeks via Christian Benteke's aerial ability and Gabby Agbonlahor's pace, as part of a traditional little-and-large strike partnership. Villa have scored four counter-attacking goals in their last five games.
Key to this tactic has been long passes to Benteke; since Sherwood's arrival, the Belgian has challenged for 16 headers per match (winning 57%). The frequency with which Villa rely on his aerial prowess has increased, with the striker getting up 22 times (and winning 13) in Villa's last match against QPR.
Benteke's flick-ons and Agbonlahor's pace have been instrumental to Villa's rediscovered goalscoring capability. Happy to sit back in a deep-lying defensive shape (Villa held just 23% possession at Old Trafford a fortnight ago), Sherwood's team will use Benteke as the focal point of a long ball counter-attacking strategy that, against Spurs' high line, could be very effective.