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Euro 2021 Provides Carrot for Improvement in Aston Villa’s End of Season Form

THE GOOD BAD & UGLY

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 eight years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

A timely international break is over, leaving Aston Villa 10 games to define their season. It’s the Good Bad and Ugly of the Villa week.

England possess a generation of attacking talent that I think rivals the ‘Golden Generation’ and yet, they play like a club team that’s terrified of relegation.

The Good

In any normal season, the International breaks are too long, boring, and pointless to get excited for when up against the product of the Premier League.

This last International break was different. It felt like a break we all needed.

The overdose of football on our screens has left not only Aston Villa looking jaded but most of us watching as well, so for once, the word ‘break’ has recharged the batteries, something Villa’s big players definitely needed.

Ollie Watkins, fresh from scoring on his debut, probably had a more relaxing week than he normally does, carrying the whole attacking intent and pressing game of Aston Villa. On England duty, he got to train in nice surroundings and get a taste for the international life. If he wants to stay in the squad, Villa will surely benefit because, he needs to end the season on fire.

The same can be said for the returning Captain Jack Grealish. 

This was probably the worst squad he could have missed. Three games against pitiful opposition, and the chance to cement his place as not just a squad member, but starter, missed due to injury. Seeing Jesse Lingard somehow make it into the squad and then play in all three games will have got the Villa talisman’s nerves on edge.

Tyrone Mings, has a different dilemma. He actually looks a better defender when others play instead of him. John Stones’ woeful error against Poland and the one-man circus that Harry Maguire can be, make Mings look as good when he’s on the bench as he is on the pitch.

With ten games to go, all the Villa players will need to end the season the way they began it to make sure they aren’t on a beach all summer.

Villan of the week — John McGinn

After an overhead kick, John McGinn followed up with a brace against the Faroe Islands. While the opposition wasn’t great, McGinn again showed why he should have been the one entrusted to move further up the pitch when Grealish was out. 

Now as it appears that the window of opportunity has passed, the team selection for Fulham will be very intriguing. Will we see the attacking McGinn that Scotland get, or will we again listen to excuses of tiredness, for a laboured performance in a deeper role? 

It’s over to you meatball.

The Bad and Ugly

Time for an international bad and ugly special this week.

‘In North Macedonia, born and raised…’

It’s not the start of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it was a result that reminds me why International football is worth watching.

Maybe I’m still a romantic, or it’s because I come from a small country that sometimes punches upwards, but International football never feels like a waste to me. 

Whether its Gareth Bale elbowing an alleged racist, Timo Werner fluffing a sitter before North Macedonia scored the winner against the Germans, or Luxembourg beating Ireland, there’s something in International football for everyone if they go looking. That is unless you were watching England.

England under Gareth Southgate could very well be the 2004 Greece of the next Euros, but it will be by choice rather than necessity.

That Greek team had only one chance of success, and that was to play conservatively and hope to edge games. It worked, and they will forever be remembered as European Champions.

England on the other hand possess a generation of attacking talent that I think rivals the ‘Golden Generation’ and yet, they play like a club team that’s terrified of relegation.

The club mindset has infiltrated the international game when it had no need to. 

International football is a place for maverick players and maverick managers. There’s no threat of relegation, no threat of financial ruin and multiple chances to fix any poor results. You can pick a whole new team without spending any money!

Great international teams shouldn’t play like they are in a League Cup preliminary and saving themselves for the weekend league match.

There needs to be some sense of imperfection and freedom, to achieve greatness for your country.

Brazil ’82, Argentina ’86, Holland ’88 and the final four in Italia ’90, were all teams that are still fondly remembered, even if they had their flaws.

They all had an identity, and free from the normality and monotony of club football, were let loose on the world stage with epic results. But things were changing. The final of Italia 90 was a dour, bad-tempered affair.

USA ’94 was another warning. Brazil, despite playing some brilliant stuff in the tournament, shut up shop in the final. Pragmatism replaced the samba, and they only won the trophy on the lottery of penalties. 

Spain vs Holland and Germany vs Argentina followed the same patterns, as the losing managers lost their nerve and didn’t remove the shackles allowing the stronger teams to win.

The talent and choices available to Gareth Southgate, mean he has the options to play however he wants, and yet, he chooses to play cautiously. He picks players he knows, players who put in steady, safe performances.

It may be ugly, but it will get you to the tournament every time, but England shouldn’t bank on being successful with such a mindset as Greece were in 2004. 

Tournament football isn’t about safe choices. It’s about the unexpected. Paolo Rossi, Maradona, Roberto Baggio, Paul Gascoigne and Hagi were players as likely to put in a 2 out of 10 performance as a 10, yet they had the potential to win it all on their own. 

Picking a team of 7/10’s is fine until the opposition magician puts in the game of their lives.

UTV

Follow Phil on Twitter here – @PRSGAME

Check out the latest MOMS podcast show (featuring Phil)

1 COMMENT

  1. Good piece on the International scene. Southgate was an F.A. “safe choice” for the job, right place at the right time, so we shouldn’t be surprised at his safe team selections. His record in management speaks for itself (relegation in three years at ‘boro), under-21s (bottom of the group in the finals) and senior team (semi-final, but only after beating Panama, Tunisia and Sweden in normal time. Lost to the only two decent sides we played – Croatia once and Belgium twice). I would love to see England set the Euros alive, with Jack in a star role. Doubt it will happen though with Southgate in charge

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