The Good Bad And Ugly Beginning to 2023
Welcome to 2023, the year of Aston Villa’s epiphany and enlightenment from the dark age just passed. Well, it was for a week anyway before some bad and ugly things happened.
Taking an overhead view of Aston Villa’s league position coming into 2023 does give fans cause for optimism. Sitting on 22 points with less than half the league campaign played is a good starting position.
Apply simple maths to the position and fifty points is about par for where Villa should finish with, bearing in mind how bad some of the season has been to date.
That would see them finish well clear of relegation and in and around 10th position in a normal season.
The reason for this step-back approach will be addressed in the later sections, but from looking down the barrel of relegation under Steven Gerrard, Villa are now ‘there or thereabouts’ to coin the phrase of a certain former manager.
In the league anyway, Villa are coming up on the rails, as long as nothing throws them off course…
Villan of the Week – John McGinn
It had to be someone not involved in the games against Wolves and Stevenage, so the choice was simple. John McGinn has looked sharper and more focussed since the World Cup break and barring a couple of misses against Liverpool on Boxing Day was integral against Spurs.
The injury came at a costly time for both him and Aston Villa, so hopefully, he continues the upward trend when he’s fit again.
Not the FA Cup game, that’s coming in the Ugly section, this will look at what happened against Wolves at Villa Park.
Coming off the back of a season’s best performance away at Tottenham Hotspur, Wolves at home was a chance to cement progress. It’s like a penalty shootout, a wonder save from your keeper only counts if you score the next penalty.
Villa badly fluffed their lines against a Wolves team who had more desire and intensity.
Starting with Matty Cash on the wing, Villa were lopsided and lucky to still be in the game at half-time. Worryingly, there was an air of nonchalance across the team in the first half.
It was as if they felt they only needed to turn up to roll over Wolves, who were in the relegation zone.
To Unai Emery’s credit, half-time changes and formation tweaks turned the second half into a more even affair and barring a ridiculous miss by Leon Bailey, Villa would have pinched it.
This would have been harsh on wolves, but when one of your most expensive signings is one-on-one with the keeper on his good foot, it’s symptomatic of the forward player’s poor decision-making, that he takes it around the keeper onto his weaker foot and misses.
I don’t blame him for being distraught at the end.
These are chances that other teams don’t seem to miss. Villa fans are well within their rights to expect more of signings like Bailey, Buendia and Ings, Christian Purslow’s famous ‘aggregate’ to replace Jack Grealish.
But they aren’t the only ones in the squad who more is expected off…
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Right, let’s get stuck into the FA Cup game. A home game, against an admittedly very well-drilled League Two team, with the draw opening up, is a chance a team like Aston Villa cannot afford to pass up.
It’s a disgrace to every fan who turned up at the ground and every other who watched at home, that the game wasn’t taken seriously by the Club.
This was no, heroic goalkeeping display by the opposition, and no under-strength selection. This was a team full of internationals and players just back from the World Cup.
It was a lack of care and a poor attitude by the players and probably the coaching staff as well.
Villa, despite being pedestrian at best, had managed to get themselves in front with their one moment of quality in the match. A quick passing exchange led to the much-maligned Morgan Sanson belatedly scoring his first goal for the club.
What should have been a routine win, turned into an ugly non-event of a match.
Villa and in particular the midfield seemed to be obsessed with getting their passing stats up rather than winning the match, while the rest of the team was playing as if it were against their children in the back garden rather than a battle-hardened outfit.
Stevenage to their credit kept their shape well and easily repelled any threat to their goal at source.
Anyone who has any experience in football knows that it only takes one moment to change a game, and thanks to a combination of a poor choice of pass from Robin Olsen and a casual effort at a turn from Leander Dendoncker, the moment arrived.
Stevenage, unlike Aston Villa, knew what to do when the time was right and dispossessed the Belgian forcing panic at the back. Dendoncker hauled the striker down, got sent off and the penalty was a formality.
Let’s not forget that this all happened after Unai Emery had brought on no less than five first team regulars as subs!
Stevenage boss Steve Evans, said he could see the fear in the Aston Villa players’ eyes after the equaliser, but I wish it had been fear, fear can inspire you to persevere, what you saw was apathy.
Fear doesn’t make you not notice a short corner being taken, neither does it make you slow to close down or casual in trying to save the ball.
Fear is Steve Evans looking for logic to describe what happened because it was so ridiculous that a team like Aston Villa could care so little about progressing in the FA Cup.
That’s the ugly truth of what happened.