Most Villa fans will probably be feeling at least slightly aggrieved to have not left Swansea with a point after what developed into a reasonably encouraging performance in the second half on Boxing Day. Meanwhile, the clash with Sunderland at Villa Park was another exercise in frustration as Villa failed to create any real openings until Jack Grealish’s introduction. Here is a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Villa’s Christmas double-header.
For the Boxing Day clash with Swansea Paul Lambert set up as he had (successfully) in the draw with Manchester United last time out, with three centre-backs and three central midfielders. At the Liberty, however, the formation seemed a strange choice against a Swansea side who so frequently find joy down the wings through Jefferson Montero and Nathan Dyer and attacking full-backs Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor.
Having found themselves outplayed throughout the first half, a switch to four at the back and the introduction of Andreas Weimann and (belatedly) Jack Grealish in the second half contributed heavily to a much-improved second 45 for Villa.
Although Dyer should have put the game to bed when Villa’s defence left him in enough space to manoeuvre a Boeing, if it wasn’t for Lukas Fabianski’s tremendous save from a Christian Benteke injury-time header or the fact that Ashley Williams suspect-looking push on Gabby Agbonlahor went unpunished, Villa would have been bringing a relatively impressive point back to the Midlands.
Villa’s performance level, particularly in the second half, was a considerable improvement upon the dross which we have been made to sit through for most of the season. They looked unusually adept with the ball, and it was encouraging to see the ball being passed about on the green stuff rather than being launched through the air like a (un)guided missile – Squawka even reported that Villa were the team to complete the most passes in the Premier League on Boxing Day, a level of footballing competency which has been alien thus far.
With Agbonlahor suspended for the Sunderland game, many fans would have liked to have seen Grealish be given a starting berth, but they and the young winger himself had to settle for a 25-minute cameo in which he showed more creativity than we have seen from Villa for the vast majority of the season.
When Grealish plays, he lifts both the crowd and his teammates, and surely the time is getting ripe for him to be given the chance to shine in a starting spot in a Villa side which is desperately devoid of creativity, especially when you consider that the alternative is the zero contribution of Charles N’Zogbia.
Carlos Sanchez was undoubtedly the main plus point throughout the Sunderland game, putting in an accomplished, composed performance which was unrecognisable from his early season displays. His passing has improved hugely (he was virtually metronomic at Villa Park on Sunday), and he is that rare breed of Villa footballer – one who doesn’t look flustered on the ball and seems to know what he wants to do with it when in possession. The Colombian is showing all the signs that he has adapted fully to the Premier League, and that he could become the crucially important player that we all want him to be.
[Click ‘Next’ for the bad and ugly]