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Sunday, 26 December 2010

Villa players not earning their spurs


I'm going to get it out of the way early, I don't think the ref had a good game at all.  I think several incorrect decisions really affected the game (although not necessarily the result).  There, no more need be said 'til another day!

What is wrong with Villa!?! I've said it before, but it was clearly evident against the 10-men of Tottenham.  If a team is compact and defends in numbers against them, the Villa attack has no ideas.  Too many passes are sideways or backwards, players aren't moving to create space and on far too many occassions the frontline are playing with their backs to goal.  There were a couple of times that Delfouneso actually ran at the defence and caused some problems, but he was forced into doing this from midfield and didn't really result in a chance at goal.

Speaking of midfield - really pleased to see Delph back.  He made a few quality passes and hasn't lost any of his 'enthusiasm' but were Villa really so short of midfielders that he had to make his comeback in such an important game?  It was a very young team, and there were positives.  Lichaj did a better job of containing Bale than most other fullbacks this season.  Albrighton delivered some good balls - especially for his goal.  Petrov coming back is massively important.  He has a bit more control and creativity, which was lacking for most of today.

My biggest irritant is the tackling ability, particularly in defence.  It was far too easy for Tottenham players, particularly the likes of Bale, Lennon, Van der Vaart, to step away from a tackle.  For example, Bale running at Warnock (Bale's weaker side) on the counter attack, it is text book to stay on your feet and keep him on his weaker side, away from goal.  But Warnock over-committed and allowed Bale inside on to his left foot and create the winning goal.  Bleh...

With away games at Man City and Chelsea coming up, dramatic improvements will be vital if Villa are to avoid a relegation battle.

At least the cricket went well last night, I'll probably stay up to watch it again tonight!

Look out for my next post - I'll be talking about the Queen's speech of all things!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The man is a genius (West Brom verdict)

Okay, so maybe 'genius' a step too far, but Houllier made some big decisions today that seemed to pay off.

Some of his choices were enforced by injury.  With both Gabby and Young (Luke, that is) pulling out this week, the decisions were between youth and experience.  Up front, GH opted for the fit again Heskey - not always the fans favourite - over the seemingly overlooked Delfouneso.  Without suggesting that Nathan couldn't have done the same job, Emile's strength and direct running caused West Brom problems and despite a few rusty moments, made GH's first decision look justified, especially after getting on the scoresheet.

Perhaps a tougher decision was whether to go for the experience of Habib Beye or the youth of the American, Eric Lichaj, to replace Young at Right Back.  Again GH's choice seemed to be the right one, opting this time for youth.  Lichaj had a tough job against the tricky Jerome Thomas, whose pace and tricky, matched by several of West Brom's players, looked menacing.  However, time and time again the American timed his tackles to perfection and calmly stepped him to disposses the West rom winger.  His long throws also promise to be a useful weapon.

With Petrov, Reo-coker and Dunne all missing, Houllier made the often petulent Ashley Young, captain for the day.  Whilst the theatrics weren't entirely eradicated, there was a certain maturity to Young's game as he looked back to his tricky self.  On many occaisions he drew fouls in dangerous positions without quite so much of the rolling around on the floor. He took up the mantle of leadership in his stride as he looked to inspire the team after setting up the first goal with a near post flick.  His delivery from set pieces, and open play for that matter, is still a cause for concern, and I'm not entirely sure why the 'better than Beckham' Marc Albrighton isn't taking them.

I've already alluded to what I think was Houllier's boldest decision - leaving out Richard Dunne at the heart of defence.  I have always thought that Cuellar is a fantastic defender (and he didn't disappoint today), but to leave out arguably one of the premier leagues best central defenders over the last decade was a brave decision.  A change was needed - a goal difference of -9 after today's game highlights Villa's dysfunctional backline - but one so swift and dramatic was indeed creditably enterprising.

There were some glaring frailties throughout the match.  More should have been made of some swift counter attacks (perhaps a striker like Adebayor may take advantage?).  In defence, players often committed themselves too early with the front men of West Brom often leaving Villa bodies stranded on the floor.  Plus there seems to be no strategy for playing the ball out of the full back position (particularly on the left) other than to hit it long and hope that someone will chase it.

Priorities for transfers have to be up front and left-back (Steven Warnock has looked decidedly shaky all season).  Villa could do with a creative midfielder - someone to replace Milner (like Stephen Ireland perhaps?) although the likes of Bannan with either Hogg or Clark alongside have done exceptionally well in their first real season.

There are things to be pleased with today - particularly Villa's dominance for 35 minutes of the 2nd half - but a tough Christmas could still see them near the bottom before the mery-go-round of the January transfer window.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Houllier's back

Bring back Kevin MacDonald?

There seems to be a lot of criticism levelled at Gerard Houllier at the moment.  Many are justifying this criticism based on Villa's recent results and their lowly league position.  Fair enough?

Well no, actually.  O'Neill had plenty of time to build a 'squad' and Villa achieved sixth place 3 seasons in a row.  Pretty good going, but without any real progression.  You only have to look at Man City and Tottenham to see the kind of progression needed to go further than sixth, and a look at the top half of the table shows how teams like Bolton and Sunderland are also starting to progress.  The noises coming from St Andrews are that Birmingham 'closing the gap' on Villa.  Critics are saying that Houllier has the same squad of players as O'Neill but can't produce the results.  These critics seem to be forgetting the curse of March, the sale of Villa's most influential player last season and the lack of any real incoming players.  Add to that the long injury list and the fact that other teams know how we play (based on last season) and it's not a real surprise that Villa are struggling to find results.

Houllier is trying to change the way Villa play.  Unfortunately this seems to have resulted in sideways and backwards passes.  A lack of strikers (or at least quality strikers) has meant formations that don't appear to be very positive - but scoring goals is not the real problem - 2 goals against Man Utd and Arsenal are proof of that.  The problem is how many Villa are conceding.  Whilst Houllier picks the team, he has to stand by players that have performed so well in the past - he doesn't really have many options.  Mistakes and general poor performances have cost Villa, and this is down to the players.  There is a lack of creativity, particularly in midfield, the defence has looked disorganised and there is no bite in attack anymore.

Houllier has moved quickly to build up a quality team of coaches and scouts to add to the already successful Academy set-up.  It will take time for this to have a big effect, but rest assured it will.  Villa have already been linked with more players in the last 2 months than in the whole of O'Neill's tenure and the quality of these players is a vast step up.  Only time will tell whether any of these links come to fruition, but it's clear that Houllier's pulling power is much greater across Europe than O'Neill's.

Houllier needs time, players need to get much better and fans have to be patient.  This is a transition period for Villa, a period that will go much smoother if people get off Houllier's back.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

My Bodymoor Heath visit (Monday 29th Nov 2010)

It’s every boys dream to play football and to score a goal for his beloved team.  For most of us this stays merely a dream as we grow up and realise we are not as great at football as we thought.  It then becomes every man’s desire to meet the people that are living his boyhood dream.  Thanks to Bet188, I was given that opportunity and experienced life as a footballer on an unforgettable visit to the training ground of my beloved team, Aston Villa.

Any day starts of well with bacon sandwiches and this only added to with a bit of Barry Bannan on the side.  Having drafted the diminutive Scottish international into my fantasy team, this was my opportunity to inspire the midfielder to score me some points.

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, we ventured outside to watch Gerard Houllier conduct the first team training session.  With an important Carling Cup quarter final against local rivals Birmingham City, the positive atmosphere and general sense of fun was very apparent.  In particular the likes of Agbonlahor, Beye and Carew, together with assistant manager Gary McCallister, were in particularly high spirits – laughing and joking whilst maintaining a high level of competitiveness.  The manager even took time out to say hello and invite us to join in with the session. Unfortunately we did not have our boots, although we did offer our services for the upcoming cup tie!

Once the players had thawed out, we posed for pictures and collected autographs before heading to the players’ dining room for some lunch.  It is a very surreal feeling to be queuing for food behind James Collins and John Carew (not to mention belittling!).  Again the upbeat vibe was palpable, especially from young Ciaran Clark who was obviously buzzing from his 2 goals against Arsenal.

We were very privileged to be given a tour of the rest of the facilities, and could clearly see why Bodymoor Heath is one of the best training facilities in the country.  We were also fortunate to meet some of the high class coaching team that do such a great job behind the scenes.  I was particularly impressed with Kevin MacDonald and Tony McAndrew and the ethos of developing the person as well as the player.

I’ve always been a fan of Villa and have always felt that it is club who treats their fans exceptionally well.  After today, and the way all the players and coaching staff gave up a little of their time for 2 totally random fans, I am delighted and incredibly proud to be a follower of Aston Villa!