With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over seven years ago on the site…
Well, here we are again, impending lockdown, inept defending and the uneasy questioning of our favourite Villans. It can only mean the Good Bad and Ugly of the week.
Villa were so good against Southampton, but unfortunately it was a saintly good, a teacher’s pet kind of good. It must be a referee’s dream to get a Villa match as they won’t be in your face, they will be completely respectful and will only question decisions in a calm manner.
Let’s take both of James Ward-Prowse’s excellently hit free kicks. Where was the wall? It looked to the untrained eye that it was at least 15 yards back on both occasions. I don’t think the magic spray even needed to be used. Anyone who has played at any level knows the drill.
1.You set up the wall about 5 yards away.
2.You make the referee march you back then when he has turned his back, you creep forward.
3.You make the referee enforce the rules.
If anything it wastes a bit of time and gives the taker something to think about.
You can call it what you want, gamesmanship, being streetwise, but the fact remains that this Villa side need to show a mean streak more often. Ward-Prowse, was booked in the first few minutes, target him and be in the ref’s ear every infringement he makes. Players on a break, foul him as near to halfway as possible, not a few yards outside your box Douglas Luiz. Sometimes Villa play like they are at a school sports day and are going to get a participation award anyway.
While the final score flattered Villa, as the game was over as a contest at 4-0, Saints boss Ralph Hasenhutti suggested credit must go to Villa for not just letting the game fizzle out. Hasenhutti said Villa displayed a “fantastic mentality” to carry on playing in the face of a lost cause. Getting three goals back certainly took the sting out of the defeat and hopefully the player’s can carry on their momentum into their visit to the Emirates.
Games are won and lost in midfield is an easily parroted trope but there’s a reason for this. It’s true. Villa’s four big players aren’t gelling at the moment. It reminds me of when Sven tried to fit Gerrard and Lampard into the England team. Something has to give, if not in personnel, then in instruction and Dean Smith alluded to this after the Saints game.
By telling Ross Barkley to play as a number 10 in the second half, he got closer to Watkins and didn’t become a spare part on the wing. This seems natural, too often already we can see Barkley and Jack beside each other on the left wing leaving the right overloaded. It’s OK having fluid formations but there needs to be some direction and discipline in there.
McGinn had as many touches in one move at the end of the game, as he did in the whole first half. Without structure, McGinn especially suffers as he gets bypassed. He needs a partner to bounce off and if it isn’t going to be Grealish or Barkley, then it has to be Douglas Luiz.
Hopefully, in time, the midfield will settle into more defined roles.
If the midfield needs tweaking, then Villa’s zonal marking from set plays needs to be rebuilt from ground zero. It’s all well and good to have a plan and stick to it, but you have to leave something spare for the unexpected. You can’t have a situation where John McGinn is left to deal with an opposing centre back at a set piece, it’s a criminally naive oversight.
If you are using zonal marking, then at least cater for the main opposition threats within it. There isn’t much between any team in the league this season, so there’s no scope for giving gifts to the opposition from set pieces.
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Villa did manage to go second in one league last week. The FIFA Ethics and Regulation Watch Group (no laughing at the back) ranked the teams in the Premier League on a series of ethical metrics, including: club ownership, type of sponsors, fair employment and fan interaction, as well as their tax history.
Before you consider the hypocritical nature of FIFA judging ethics in any shape or form, the league table has a few standouts. Fulham are top followed by Villa and Burnley. Fulham, the smashed avocado on toast brigade always top these lists, but Burnley are a bit of a surprise after their plane flying banner antics during lockdown.
In the ethical relegation zone are Man City, bottom, followed by Wolves and Sheffield United, mostly because of shady ownership and gambling and alcohol sponsorship. While it’s funny, to poke fun at clubs near the bottom this seems like another nonsensical exercise to create jobs within football that aren’t needed. Hundreds of data analysts, marketing people and now ‘ethical auditors’ are presumably being paid fortunes, while clubs at the lower end of the pyramid are struggling to survive without match day income.
Finally, with the country moving into lockdown, football may be the only watchable release for many fans. Try not to get swept up by social media and the amplification of everything you read, remember online personalities are commenting and baiting you for a reason, they need calls, clicks and views – and you are just another statistic in their algorithm.