Serious problems remain, however. Leandro Bacuna is barely more of a Premier League right-back than I am, and though the superb Riyad Mahrez gave Jordan Amavi a rough time on the right flank, one shudders to think how much worse the damage would have been if the Algerian winger had been up against the Dutchman instead.
Alan Hutton is hardly Cafu but at least right-back is his best position, and to be honest I find it hard to believe that he would be a worse choice.
Another potential option would be to move Richards out to right-back, where he has played before with distinction. There are two issues with this, however: firstly, Richards is reportedly keen to play only at centre-back, and as captain he is likely to get his wish; secondly, he is a big improvement in the heart of defence, and his two excellent pieces of defending to prevent Vardy scoring showed the quality that we would miss in the centre of the backline if he was moved wide.
Meanwhile, the bizarreness of the selection of Gabriel Agbonlahor as the lone striker was only mitigated somewhat by the lack of other options. Yes Gabby’s pace caused some problems on the break, such as for Villa’s second goal when he also did well to set up Gil for the Spaniard’s stunner, but he is just not a direct danger to defences anymore and hasn’t been for some time.
I don’t think of Gabby as a ‘striker’ anymore, because that term implies that you occasionally do actually strike. If Christian Benteke was our chief weapon last season, Agbonlahor is the gun loaded with blanks that we now rely on as an attempted deterrent, hoping that nobody will realise that it is effectively useless.
Rudy Gestede has failed to impress since coming on to score Villa’s only winner of the Premier League season so far, and Jordan Ayew has yet to settle into English football, although that is admittedly something which comes only with game time. Libor Kozak, in good form pre-season and who netted the winner for the Under-21s on Monday night, surely has to be worth a try in the coming weeks.
Losing a game in which you were 2-0 up with 18 minutes remaining is not acceptable in any form or in any situation. Sherwood and Villa had to close the game out – we needed to shut the door on Leicester’s attack by reinforcing the midfield and making it difficult for them to find any foothold back in the game. What we actually did was the exact opposite.
This was an implosion the magnitude of which we haven’t seen in a long while. Villa missed Idrissa Gueye’s energy in midfield, particularly as the game wore on and Carlos Sanchez tired. Sanchez is undoubtedly a good ball-winner and was one of our best players for the first hour, turning the ball over in midfield and acting as the first step in building our own attacks. However, after that point he crumbled, reverting misplacing passes and being caught on the ball, the latter of which directly cost Villa a goal late on.
Sanchez is an important cog in the midfield now but the pace and intensity of the Premier League catches him out in the final third of games, particularly in high-pressure matches such as Sunday.
As a result of this, he should be one of the first candidates to be substituted in games around the hour mark, particularly when Gueye, who appears to have far more energy than the Colombian, is alongside him in the midfield. However, I ask this question seriously: when was the last time that Villa had a manager who was proactive rather than reactive in his substitutions?
Tactics Tim sure as hell doesn’t fit that bill at the moment, and he, Ray Wilkins and the rest of the coaching staff need to improve at recognising the danger that Villa are consistently in of throwing away games in the second half. The fans can see it coming a mile off; we need them to be able to prevent it.
Sherwood was absolutely crushed in his post-match interview, the first time I’ve ever seen him like that. Perhaps it is a good thing, then, that Villa have such a crucial week ahead. At the end of February last season we had just lost 1-0 to an utterly woeful Newcastle United side, Sherwood had been in charge of two games, losing both, and we were sat in 19th place.
We then beat West Brom twice in the space of four days, a week which kickstarted a mini-revival which saw us win five of our next nine games in all competitions to move clear (well, clear enough) of relegation and reach the FA Cup final. It may be an entirely different stage of the season, but with Albion in the league up next and the first second city derby against Birmingham City for four-and-a-half years, three days later, we could really do with another double-derby-win week.
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