Birmingham's tactics to beat Villa
Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce must decide what formation to play against long-ball specialists Villa at St Andrews on Sunday.
With Villa boss Martin O'Neill preferring to play what could more politely be described as a "direct style" of football, Bruce must decide whether to opt for 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 or a mixture of 4-5-1 and 4-3-3.
However, while the decision would be a crucial one in any other match - and arguably far easier to make - Bruce has suggested the rulebook goes out the window when it comes to the second city derby.
Bruce was quoted by the Birmingham Mail as saying: "Does it really make any difference in a derby game? We played Wigan and played really well and scored three goals, we played well at Man City with one off the front, Man United too.
"The team has been playing well. However, we haven't been getting the points we deserve. I am looking at it - deeply I am looking at it, absolutely - and I have always tended to play 4-4-2 in my managerial career.
"If I was going to pick a formation I enjoy playing, then it would be 4-4-2. However, I am also wary of what we are trying to be here. Sometimes to take people on with a 4-4-2, for instance Man United, well I'm sorry but they are better than what we are. Same as Chelsea. We wouldn't do ourselves any favour."
While the Blues are clearly not (yet) on the same level as Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson's side humiliated Villa by keeping the ball on the floor and making quick, short passes to negate the physical tactics Villa sometimes employ.
Close control in the middle of the park, with pace out-wide when on the attack, could prove to be Bruce's best option and, as was seen against Man Utd, could be used to exploit Villa if their heads drop.
Fortunately, Birmingham have the players who can cope with the fiery atmosphere that is guaranteed to engulf St Andrews on Sunday. Whether Villa players have the same mentality - even those who have played in Old Firm derbies - remains to be seen. Perhaps the best way to beat the historians will be by ensuring all 11 players in blue are still on the pitch at the end of the 90 minutes!
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