There are games where a team loses by a few goals, 3-0 for example, and the old cliche comes out, ‘It wasn’t a 3-0 game’ or ‘the score didn’t really reflect the run of play’. Liverpool vs Aston Villa was not one of those games, quite the opposite. This was a 3-0 game, and Aston Villa’s out of the blue goals actually make the scoreline more flattering than it should have been.
At Anfield, Villa were thoroughly outplayed and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to take heart from such positives as Rudy Gestede’s goals, or the assists from Hutton and Amavi. As the table reads – ‘Villa: Played 7, Points 4.’
What’s more worrying is our next games are against Stoke, Chelsea, Swansea, Southampton, Spurs, City, and Everton. Hardly a good run-in for a team that earned only one point against WBA, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, and a struggling Liverpool.
Claims of ‘we were much better second half’ (or for 20 mins in the second half) no longer hold any weight either. When was the last time Villa played for two halves of a game? This is the top league in the country and this is a professional team yet concentrating for an hour and a half once a week seems beyond the team and management.
Villa have players with the ability to threaten and to score. Gestede showed that today, Adama is an obvious talent, and we all know what Grealish can do, even if he didn’t have a great game today (he is young and deserves plenty of patience).
What Sherwood doesn’t seem to possess is the ability to read games and approach them accordingly with the correct tactics and personnel. From the minute you saw the starting line-up, it seemed Villa weren’t set up to win, despite recent victories at Anfield. They didn’t really go for it in the game until it was too late, and even then our goals were surprises rather than from a concerted effort to win the game.
This all follows the illogical substitutions and tactical naivety that led to disappointment against WBA, Palace, Leicester and Sunderland.
Even against Birmingham City, Sherwood’s claims that the first half went exactly as he had planned are ludicrous at best. Villa were lucky not to be down by the half in which case one late goal may not have been enough to win. Caution is needed when giving any credit to ‘the enemy’ but it’s hard to argue with Gary Rowett’s reflection that “I am not sure whether a tactic of getting booed off at half time would be a good one.”
Once again tactical decisions seemed to be completely removed from the situation on the pitch against Liverpool. Most of us called for a midfielder to be replaced with a more attacking player in the second-half and even that came too late. It was clear that Sherwood was wary of conceding more goals and if that was the case why remove the one midfielder who has helped Villa’s defence and structure all season, Carlos Sanchez? Westwood (and the persistence with his god awful set pieces) was hardly going to be a match winner today.
Ayew seemed like the perfect player to provide an extra outlet who can hold up the ball or add some spark, especially after his cameo on Tuesday, but yet he remained benched through the key closing stages. If Sherwood was still hesitant about Ayew’s Premier League readiness, then Carles Gil would have sufficed and been able to play off big Rudy. Any shift in tactics would have shown more ambition that what appeared to be 9-0-1.
Last season ended with an assertion from Sherwood that Aston Villa would not be in a relegation battle again. While the fact that our promising young team, complete with plenty of newcomers, will take time to gel must be considered, the simple fact is that if we don’t get points on the board in the first half of the season we will be in a relegation battle again. As it stands Villa are already facing a fight to get out of the bottom three.
Nothing can be taken for granted, particularly in a year when every team in England has invested and improved. I’m not going to rush onto a ‘Tim Sherwood out’ bandwagon yet, as it’s early days, but we need to see more threat, more understanding of what’s going on the pitch. In saying that the club must learn from the mistake of sticking with Lambert’s sinking ship too long should progress fail to materialize.
Optimism vs Realism
I was once an overly optimistic fan, always assuming we would come good. Over the years I realised that optimism doesn’t automatically make you a better fan, it simply glosses over cracks and postpones necessary addressing of problems. I try not to be overly negative either but some serious realism is needed.
Following Villa is beginning to feel more like masochism than passion, but next week we will all (myself included) tune in to what will hopefully be three points against Stoke (there’s that optimism again!).
While Liverpool were favourites they were not a team to be feared on current form. Despite the Anfield outfit being under pressure and out of form, Villa spend large periods of the game with 10 men behind the ball. Sherwood had spoken in midweek that his players wouldn’t be approaching this game as tourists, but they still gave Liverpool too much respect.
I am a firm believer of a very simple footballing adage – if you set out to win a game then you might actually win. If you set out to draw a game, you will most likely lose. That seems overly simplistic but it is undeniably true. What is beyond my comprehension is how a team can seemingly stay set up to draw, when they are already losing after two minutes?
I actually like a lot of the players in our squad now and there is undoubted potential but that potential is unlikely to stick around if we are in the Championship. There’s a long way to go and hopefully the team will click soon, but as of now you can officially colour me worried.
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