After Villa’s stunning four-goal first-half blitz at the Stadium of Light last weekend, there was cautious optimism for the visit of Swansea to Villa Park on Saturday. To say that the game didn’t live up to these hopes would be an understatement, and here is a look at the Good, Bad and Ugly of the disappointing 0-1 defeat.
Villa’s main positives from the game came in familiar form. It’s getting to the stage where there really isn’t a great deal to say about Ciaran Clark anymore, except to reiterate that his transformation from Championship-standard fourth choice to club captaincy contender really has been remarkable.
He still makes the odd mistake – he should perhaps have done better for Bafetimbi Gomis’ winner on Saturday – but at just 25 he’s already displaying a level of maturity and nous usually expected from defenders well beyond his years. With Swansea winning the midfield battle from the first whistle, Clark was the key factor in keeping the score down, putting in a number of key tackles and blocks and clearing a Wayne Routledge shot off the line.
The other unsurprising positive from the performance was Fabian Delph’s display in midfield. Still the only midfielder, possibly the only player at all, that we have who is capable of taking a game by the scruff of the neck, you could see his desperation and frustration throughout the game that his efforts were not being matched by some of his teammates. At times Delph must feel like one does when playing on a FIFA team with someone who actually can’t really play FIFA – passing the ball to a teammate risks possession being lost seconds later, not to mention controllers being broken in anger.
Off the pitch, there was a protest in the Brigada 1874 section of the Holte End against the coverage by the BBC, the Sun and the general British media of the pitch invasion which took place after (and, admittedly, during) the FA Cup quarter-final victory over West Brom two weeks ago. The hypocrisy of the BBC’s stance on the matter has been well-documented by MOMS and it was good to see Villa fans doing their best to prevent the horribly unfair damning of fans’ celebrations from simply being swept under the rug.
[quote_center]We can only hope the fact that [Gil] has played a total of just an hour in the six games under Sherwood isn’t indicative of Tim not rating him[/quote_center]
I’m sorry to say it, but Tactics Tim got his tactics wrong this week. The middle of the pitch needed packing and three central midfielders were required to compete with Swansea’s core of Ki, Jack Cork, Jonjo Shelvey and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Playing with Charles N’Zogbia and Scott Sinclair out wide left Delph and Tom Cleverley chasing the ball in the centre of midfield and meant that Villa were overrun from the off.
Villa were therefore unable to make it difficult for Swansea to pass the ball around, which they did at complete ease. With ten minutes on the clock the away side had already found a way in behind the defence four times, with only offside flags and good recovery defending preventing them carving out an opening goal.
Although I maintain that Scott Sinclair has been one of Villa’s better performers since his arrival, he was wasteful and occasionally selfish in front of goal on Saturday. He seemed more intent on getting one over on his former club than actually contributing as he normally does, and after last week’s horror miss he seems to be developing a habit of failing to put away chances.
As for Leandro Bacuna, he may have come away from the Stadium of Light last weekend with a couple of assists but he is 100% not a right-back. Swansea’s introduction of pacey winger Jefferson Montero – admittedly a tricky customer at the best of times, due mainly to his apparent ability to go from 0 to 60 faster than Lewis Hamilton – was clearly an attempt to expose Bacuna’s defensive weakness and it worked perfectly.
Villa’s right flank of Bacuna behind Charles N’Zogbia is just so weak. Yes both players looked good against Sunderland but I’m fairly confident that I would have looked good against Sunderland last weekend, because they couldn’t have beaten an egg. N’Zogbia has undoubtedly improved (pretty much from absolute zero), but he isn’t good enough to be our midfield’s main attacking threat.
This feeds directly into another worry: the continued overlooking of Carles Gil. The Swansea game was crying out for his introduction, and to see him ignored again was a real cause for concern, even allowing for the fact that Sherwood had his options limited by being forced to withdraw both Cleverley and Christian Benteke because injury knocks. We can only hope the fact that the Spaniard has played a total of just an hour in the six games under Sherwood isn’t indicative of Tim not rating him.
Even if he continues to be benched for the majority of the remainder of the season, Gil has been retained at the club and will surely survive any reshuffle of the squad that Sherwood carries out in his first transfer window as Villa manager. In fact, given what we’ve seen of him so far from his little playing time, it would perhaps be fair to argue that he should be one of the players that the team is built around for next season.
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