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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.

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