'.... Petrov, Herd, Heskey.....'
Hutton, midfield? Heskey, still in midfield? Wha...
And thus, that's how I knew we were going to be carved apart for fun by Spurs on Monday night.
Very little about that team selection, and formation, made any sense to me. Once I'd got my head around who was where, it was obvious Alan Hutton was moved from right back to right midfield to nulify the threat of Gareth Bale - even though it could be argued Tottenham's most potent attacking player all season has been Rafael van der Vaart. But I had a problem with that. It suggests the manager didn't have faith in Hutton to just play at right-back as normal and pick up Bale, and it suggests he didn't have faith, either, in Cuellar, the player drafted in for this specific game.
And it meant that at right midfield, we had a player not comfortable in the position, so unlikely to offer much going forward, and unlikely to do the things you would usually require from a midfielder - composure on the ball, ball retention, a subtlety of play that is often beyond a full-back - and especially a full-back in the Hutton mould.
The sensible selection (or my sensible selection) would have been Marc Albrighton at right midfield. He's no defender but has the ability, and notion of responsibility, to track back and put in a defensive shift and, of course, remains an attacking player. Villa would have had an outlet in Albrighton, and the option to give him the ball, allowing him to create chances too.
Having Albrighton to consider may well also have forced Bale on the back foot on occasion, and pushed him into defending. As it was, Bale had zero defensive duties, and created both of Tottenham's goals.
Had McLeish considered Albrighton - who didn't make the bench - out of form, he could have pushed Herd across from central midfield to right midfield. Hardly a stretch for Herd, an athletic, defensive-minded midfielder who has appeared at right-back for Villa. He'd have tracked Bale all night long, and also offered more on the ball than Hutton.
It wasn't all about Hutton, however. The continued Heskey midfield experiment shows no sign of abating, and deploying him in that role again at White Hart Lane was ineffective and baffling. A Villa midfield including Hutton and Heskey was never going to do anything other than cause mild inconvenience to Spurs and their line-up of Bale, Parker, Modric, Van der Vaart and Lennon. Harry Redknapp could not have asked for an easier return to touchline action.
Post-match reaction to Villa's defeat, from Villa fans, has been incredulous, hysterical, critical. Over the top? Perhaps, considering that, on the face of it, a 2-0 away loss at Spurs is hardly the season's worse result. But the manner of the defeat is troubling; I read a stat earlier today that Villa have now dropped into the bottom two of the Premier League's 'lowest average match possession' table. Very poor indeed.
My own take is that McLeish's choice of players - not so much his formation, but the players he decided to use in that formation - is cause for real concern. The way to combat a team like Tottenham, who crave possession and have the options to hurt you if they have the ball, is not to pack a midfield with blockers and runners. That's just damage limitation. All that happens is that you end up repeatedly giving the ball to the opposition for them to have another go. Again and again.
That same Villa formation, with two or three players changed for players actually comfortable on the ball, and the result may have been different. The performance WOULD have been different. That McLeish had a bench of players I would term 'footballers', in the purest sense of the word, was incredibly frustrating for me; Bannan, Delph, Ireland, N'Zogbia. All midfield players, all technically gifted and capable.
Not to mention the criminally under-used Clark, who has demonstrated before that he can play competently and nearly in a midfield role; you want an extra defensive midfielder for a particular match? Why not try Clark, who has done the job several times before?
The worry now is that McLeish is reverting to type. That was the big fear upon his appointment as Villa manager, that he would, despite richer resources around him, retreat into the notions that made Birmingham City unremittingly dour and uninspiring (not a dig at them, it's a commonly held view among some BCFC fans that McLeish evoked a fairly dire style of football: after all, how was it that their manager seemed unwilling to trust David Bentley and Alexander Hleb with key roles last season?)
McLeish tried something on Monday night. It failed, hopelessly. It was one game. Was it a blip? He has the benefit of the doubt, for now, and I expect him to release some of the shackles for Sunday's trip to Swansea (though I predict a difficult match, Swansea certainly know how to pass the ball).
But with a difficult December around the corner - games against Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all coming during the month - McLeish needs to get the balance right, and soon. It's time to start playing to his players' strengths, and stop banging square pegs into round holes.