Good, Bad and Ugly of the Past Villa Week
By Phil Shaw
Watching Aston Villa this season will go down as one of the great frustrations in life, just when you think they’ve changed, the old ways come back.
The only good thing is that we all know Aston Villa can do much better than they showed against Arsenal and Wolves.
This isn’t a ringing endorsement, as they couldn’t have done much worse in spells in both games.
In an effort to take some positives, Villa somehow were still in both games until the final whistle, and did come close to getting something.
Of course, this is papering over a giant crack, which we will get onto now.
Villan of the Week?
Suggestions welcome… maybe Marvelous Nakamba, simply because he’s fit again.
Anyone who has worked in a call centre, or in a complaints department, will know what’s called the ‘broken record technique’.
It’s simply repeating the same line over and over again until the customer gives up, or listens.
Unfortunately, football isn’t a customer service role and opposition teams aren’t going to give up, when Villa keep repeating the same mistakes in midfield.
Against Arsenal and Wolves, the Villa midfield was again pretty useless.
The varying combinations of McGinn, Ramsey, Luiz and now Sanson, have been used to death by two separate managers.
Considering Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard deploy different tactics and formations, the issue comes down to the personnel selected.
It just doesn’t work, and now I sound like the broken record.
After the Arsenal game, I was happy to see Morgan Sanson at least given a chance to show if he could bring something different to the mix.
I wasn’t happy to see him further forward at times than both John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey
If you’re going to play with a Coutinho or a Buendia in your team, you need the balance of at least one holding midfielder.
Yin and Yang.
It’s a simple fact, John McGinn isn’t the answer in the holding role, so why have two separate managers now attempted to shoehorn him in there?
I understand, McGinn is Vice Captain and trusted to give his all in every match, but you wouldn’t play him at centre-back if Villa were short, would you?
Playing him deep, is just as bad.
Smith and Gerrard have endeavoured to fudge the situation by sharing the holding role, in a fluid midfield.
Again, this doesn’t work. A Premier League team with aspirations of success can’t leave the holding role to whichever midfielder is the furthest back at the time!
This falls on both managers Villa have had this season.
Gerrard’s time is mitigated slightly by the injury to Marvellous Nakamba, but he’s had long enough now to realise you can’t carry on with the midfield as it has been against Arsenal and Wolves.
It draws me to a different conclusion altogether…
When Gerrard came in, he said he would create a ‘no excuse’ culture and scenario for the squad.
Playing John McGinn, so badly out of position, suggests the other players have run out of excuses in Gerrard’s eyes.
Looking down the squad, you’d think very few of them would have been brought in if Gerrard was in charge the whole time.
It’s stereotyping, but some of them just don’t come across as his type of player.
Douglas Luiz, Morgan Sanson, Bertrand Traore, Leon Bailey, Trezeguet, El Ghazi and Matt Targett don’t really fit the profile in my eyes.
Would you honestly bet your life savings on any of them being at Villa Park next season?
It’s an ‘Ugly’ scenario for Villa’s recruitment team and bank balance, but also for fans who know players can outlast managers.
Anwar El Ghazi got Villa over the line in the Play-Off Final against Derby.
Luiz and Trezeguet kept Aston Villa in the Premier League during Project Restart.
Targett and Traore were top performers last season.
Bailey and Sanson haven’t even got started.
Unfortunately, things like this only matter to fans, and the managers that signed them and improved them.
Steven Gerrard has no ties to these players and the continual shoe-horning in of players he trusts, just suggests that he’s can’t wait until pre-season and the transfer window.
This isn’t the sensible way to run a football club in the age where squads continually outlive managers, but you can find examples at every club.
Manchester United spent £40 Million on Donny Van De Beek and used him less than Morgan Sanson, even when their midfield was worse than Villa’s.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City need a centre forward as much as Villa need a defensive midfielder, yet they persist with false nines.
Liverpool limped through last season with a makeshift defence because of injury and only just scraped into the top four, when a decent signing in January would have made their lives easier.
Arsenal let their number one striker Aubameyang go when their only other striker, Lacazette, hasn’t scored in weeks.
Premier League teams don’t operate in the common-sense world that fans believe they should.
The waste in fees, wages, and turnover of players and staff is monumental.
Any fan can see that Villa need to finish as well as possible in the league to be more attractive to new players. This is the ‘Continuous Improvement’ Villa CEO Christian Purslow craves.
Yet, sitting in mid-table, where’s the motivation for the current team in this? If you think the manager doesn’t trust you, then why make it easier for yourself to be replaced?
This is the Catch 22 of life in the Premier League and why teams continue to fail when they can’t break their glass ceiling. Villa are just another part of it.
I think Villa fans are now realising this season is just fizzling out into an expensive non-event, before starting again next time.
Unfortunately, the longer you take to improve, the harder it gets.