Villa’s Faults Too Easily Blamed On Age
Aston Villa are in deep trouble. A disastrous recent run in the Premier League – two points from eighteen and 20 goals conceded in those six games – now sees them one point outside the relegation zone. It has now been confounded this week by their FA Cup elimination at the hands of Championship outfit Millwall and the two-legged League Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of League Two’s Bradford City.
The romance of the Bantams magical run to Wembley, full of cupsets, including three wins against Premier League opposition, has left a trail of top flight teams with identity crises. Wigan were the least bothered but Arsenal and Villa were both dumped out of the competition staring into the horizon for answers.
Whilst Arsenal are in slow decline from the elite top level, Villa would gladly settle for that kind of problem. An excellent sixth place finish as recently as 2010 seems a distant memory for the Holte End faithful. That Martin O’Neill team was expensively built and probably reached its peak that year. When he unexpectedly left at the start of the following season, the team was taken over by the abrasive and tranquilizing style of Gerard Houllier and they inevitably finished lower. To be fair, a mid table finish in ninth place was about par.
Another change on the bench was brewing though. So the obvious thing for chairman Randy Lerner to do was appoint the life-sapping manager who just oversaw the relegation of their biggest rivals Birmingham City. A brand of football that is so synonymous with paint drying you’d assume he’s sponsored by Dulux. His name sends many into a combination of sleep and rage so we won’t mention Alex McLeish. Shit! Crap shit! A tedious, terrible manager.. Zzzzzzzz…
They would finish the 2012 campaign in a lowly sixteenth place, avoiding the drop by just two points. Worse than the stats was the horrible, devoid of fun, routine displays that made you feel the Mayan Apocalypse prophecy may just be coming early.
Aided by justifiable fan revolt, that man got his marching orders. However, he would be back in management at Nottingham Forest at the end of 2012. Is this some kind of sick joke for the City Ground supporters? #Pray4ForestFans
But back to Villa…
They made a good appointment in the summer with the impressive Paul Lambert coming in after an excellent job at Norwich. He accepted a big job on his hands to cleanse the team of the previous regime without a big transfer war chest. He made a tough and excellent decision to drop club record signing Darren Bent for the better all round qualities of 21 year old Zaire-born Belgian, Christian Benteke. The newly formed youthful side would inevitably have ups and downs as they evolve together. Come the 15thof December the youngest Premier League XI of the season, at 23 years and 309 days old, produced one of the displays of the season in dismantling Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield. The Andreas Weimann goal was a magnificent team goal and my goal of the season so far.
It felt like a defining moment. It seemed they were heading in the right direction and with confidence mounting the only way was up for Lambert’s troops.
Then they lost 8-0 at Chelsea.
On top of that debacle, they lost their next two home games 4-0 and 3-0 to Tottenham and Wigan respectively. Within two weeks Anfield was forgotten. In their last three league games they’ve managed two draws and a 1-0 defeat at home to fellow relegation rivals Southampton. But to lose to a fourth tier team over two games is hugely disconcerting with the challenge ahead. If they lost at the start of the season to the same team, like Wigan, the damage would have been less. But on the verge of a final, and in the context of their season, this cupset only dents their fragile confidence further.
Many people have looked to blame the youth and inexperience of the side for their struggles. This can be a lazy assessment. Last season’s dismal performances by older personnel were never blamed on too much experience. Neither was their fantastic Anfield victory attributed to youthful innocence.
QPR are also struggling. They have a bulging amount of experienced players that are overplayed and overpaid. Wright-Phillips, Bosingwa and Green are just not very good these days. Clint Hill managed to run away from Luis Suarez when the Uruguayan simply dribbled at him, in a straight line, during the Reds’ easy win at Loftus Road. Birth certificates weren’t used as part of the analysis then. Instead it was down to an absence of quality, bad form and poor motivation. Surely some young players are lacking in these departments too and are not just inexperienced.
Monday night. St Mary’s Stadium. Southampton’s 17 year old Luke Shaw (same age as the Swansea ballboy) gave a performance of such quality and composure at left back that he outshone one of the stars of the season on the opposition in Everton’s Leighton Baines.
One of the most overlooked aspects of supposed maturity is that some players get worse instead of better. The dribbling skills we witnessed in the 18 year old Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney are non-existent these days. The take-the-world-by-storm, frighten-the-life-out-of-the-opposition freedom of expression disappeared from their games the older they got.
How will Shaw develop? I hope he gets better and perhaps at left back there will be less pressure. But there will be a worry that experience can stifle creativity, liberty and expression at times in the quest to do the supposed (low risk) right thing. Technique is picked up at a very young age. By the late teens physical and mental characteristics should and will be improving. It is around this stage that “professionalism” and the sly “tricks of the trade” start getting picked up and taught to youngsters that will help careers progress.
The Villains possess many young players. Some were already on their books, others were bought in by the Glaswegian gaffer. Benteke and Weimann, as well as midfielder Barry Bannan, have shown a lot of quality. Their age hasn’t been questioned. Others such, as Delph, Lowton and Bennett have left a lot to be desired. In addition, the likes of seasoned campaigners like N’Zogbia and Ireland have been under performing for a long time.
Age is lazily blamed when bigger issues are lack of quality in defence and unmotivated out of form grown-ups. With Villa being run as a tight ship, these guys, on bigger contracts, have not been pulling their weight and are holding back the squad.
Lambert needs to organise a tighter defensive unit in which space isn’t so easy to find. They have been conceding far too many goals from set pieces. Unsurprisingly their man to man marking system has escaped criticism. Three of Bradford’s four goals were direct headers from corners. Millwall’s equaliser last night came from the same source. Just imagine the shit storm if they were zonal marking! Whichever system is applied it is down to the players to seize their roles and responsibility and make better work of attacking the incoming crosses.
The longer their position doesn’t improve the more pressure will grow on Lambert. In just his second season coaching at the top level he has shown some very good performances and I hope Lerner sticks with him.
If you are after an “experienced safe pair of hands” then why not bring back Alex McLeish?
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