Villa’s Week After the Tough Trio of Arsenal, Chelsea & Liverpool
With the nightmare start out of the way for Villa, 3 points is not a bad return. It could and should have been more, with the Kevin Friend Show at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night depriving of us the point (at least) that we so richly deserved, and with Liverpool looking like a result was there for the taking, particularly in the second half. Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Villa’s first nine days in the 2013-14 season.
The performances. With the exception of a lacklustre first half at Villa Park on Saturday, Villa’s displays against three of last season’s top seven have been nothing short of exceptional. The side have shown incredible resilience when going behind in all three games – we looked the better side in the game at the Emirates from pretty much the moment Giroud scored, were Chelsea’s equals on Wednesday night, and a much-improved second half could have yielded a result against Liverpool at Villa Park.
Fabian Delph has been fantastic, taking charge in the centre of midfield, winning the ball and driving forward, which nearly paid off spectacularly against Arsenal when he hit the inside of the post from 20 yards after powering through from the centre of the field.
Christian Benteke has continued in the same vein as he finished last season, scoring three goals in the first two games, and was only denied a Villa equaliser on Saturday by a top-class save from Simon Mignolet.
Karim El Ahmadi had two good games in the capital, and Jores Okore looks to be a superb acquisition in the centre of defence, bringing a composure that neither Nathan ‘rash challenge’ Baker or Ciaran Clark seem to possess. Tony Moon has shown promise and can evidently finish decently too, and if Agbonlahor can replicate his Emirates display he’ll be a key asset this season.
Dirty sheets.Villa haven’t gone 90 minutes without conceding for 25 games now, which is bad. Seriously bad. Giroud’s opener at the Emirates was a terrible goal to concede so early on, with Arsenal being left with two attackers roaming free in the box under the attention of a single Villa defender. The own-goal at Chelsea was unlucky but avoidable, and for the winner Villa’s defenders must have thought Ivanovic had been sent off, because they certainly weren’t marking him.
Villa’s ‘goals against’ column is a desperate problem. As much as he wouldn’t be my first choice, seeing Baker go off injured at the Emirates made my heart sink – the last thing we need is to have an even smaller number of central defenders to choose from – and although Luna looks pretty nifty going forward, for me the jury’s out on his defending.
I have a nasty feeling that it’s going to be difficult not to highlight the defence as the negative aspect every time this column gets written throughout the season. Perhaps I’ll just have to find a different way of phrasing it each time.
It would also be remiss not to mention Villa’s depressing failure to break a side down at home again. Yes, Liverpool are hardly the side with the weakest defence in the league, but we looked utterly devoid of ideas, at least until it was too late to do any real damage.
With the exception of the, well, exceptional demolition job we performed on Sunderland in April, we scored 17 goals in 17 league games at home last season, which is pretty far from being anywhere good enough. Home form is an issue we’ve highlighted on more than one occasion here at MOMS, and it needs to improve quickly.
Unavoidably, and with apologies for griping about officiating decisions so early on in the season, Kevin Friend’s bottling of big decisions at Stamford Bridge.
Even aside from the fact he wouldn’t have been on the pitch to score the winner, had Ivanovic been sent off as he should have been for shoving his arm towards Benteke’s face, Chelsea would have had to take a striker or a midfielder off to fill the gap in defence, and Villa would have found ball retention easier and had a great deal more space to exploit on the counter-attack.
As for that John Terry handball, it’s a penalty. Without question. Doesn’t matter that it’s from close range, doesn’t matter whether he’s looking or not, doesn’t matter if it’s unintentional. His arm is up in the air like a child asking the teacher whether they can go to the toilet, there’s movement towards the ball, and the ball hits it. Penalty. It would be foolish to assume Benteke would definitely have scored, but he should at least have had the chance to try.
Honourable mention in this section goes to Jose Mourinho. Yes he admitted that we deserved to have come away with a point, but all that nonsense from his high horse about Lambert needing to mature, and us being a long ball team? Face it, Special One, your side hardly gave good value for money. Thank you for your condescension, but we really don’t need it.
Overall though, a more than encouraging start. Play like we did for most of those three games, and we should turn over some of the teams in this season’s Premier League. Oh and Lambert, if you’re reading – A CREATIVE MIDFIELDER PLEASE!
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