Remi Garde’s reign in charge of Aston Villa began with a 0-0 draw at home to Premier League leaders Manchester City on Sunday, a result which has had many Villa fans looking up the word ‘optimism’ in the dictionary to reacquaint ourselves with the name of the strange feeling.
With more positives to take from a match than we have had in weeks, here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the stalemate.
The initial test of Garde’s capabilities was always likely to come in the form of his team selection. After he only took charge of his first training session with his new players on Thursday, fans waited with baited breath on Sunday morning to see whether the 49-year-old would be able to learn more about his squad in three days than Tim Sherwood had learned in months, and so it proved.
Carles Gil was promoted to the starting XI alongside the club’s Jordan contingent of Ayew, Veretout, and Amavi, while Joleon Lescott and Kieran Richardson were two of the deserved omissions from the side of recent weeks.
Amavi’s return at left-back was particularly pleasing, with Richardson having been largely at fault for several of the more recent goals that Villa have conceded – it may be obvious to everyone that the former is a better player than the latter, but it was good to see that Garde (unlike Sherwood and Kevin MacDonald, it would seem) clearly has his eyes open.
Villa’s success in stopping the rot of seven successive defeats was built from the back. Amavi coped pretty well on the whole with the pace of Jesus Navas (Richardson probably would have been left needing counselling), while Ciaran Clark was a world away from his poor showing against Tottenham Hotspur last Monday. Clark has played as a left-sided centre-back for his entire career, and it’s no coincidence that he was far more assured on Sunday than at White Hart Lane. Micah Richards was massive against his former club alongside Clark and the number of clearances and interceptions made by the pair, along with some improved positional play, were a huge factor in Villa becoming only the third team (after Manchester United and Barcelona, no less) to stop Manuel Pellegrini’s side scoring in the last 28 games.
The midfield was also much improved, thanks to the solid core of Veretout, Idrissa Gana and Carlos Sanchez. The latter in particular put in one of the better performances I can remember from him recently, breaking up the play and turning possession over effectively as well as showing some improved passing. Gana’s energy (‘tired’ indeed) was vital in swamping the midfield and keeping Yaya Toure subdued, while Veretout showed promise on a rare start, despite taking half an hour or so to settle in. The structure of the side was evident throughout, and my word wasn’t it a mercy not to see a vital central midfielder pulled off the field with 20 minutes remaining to spark a late collapse?
Luck played its part, undoubtedly. If Kevin de Bruyne had decided to tap in that cross from the right rather than attempting to backheel it home from close range (that’s what £55m buys you, apparently), or if Brad Guzan’s face had been in slightly the wrong place from Raheem Sterling’s header, or if Fernando’s header had been a couple of inches lower, then Villa would have seen a gritty point slip away.
Nevertheless, City ultimately failed to find the breakthrough and there is undoubtedly a lot of promise from Garde’s first appearance. If Villa can begin to show more of an attacking threat again, and if we can get to the stage where Carles Gil is fit enough to last longer than 60-70 minutes each week, there is definite potential for a change in fortunes.
Click through to the next page for the bad & ugly…