With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…
By Phil Shaw
If a week is a long time in Football, then an Aston Villa Month can be a generation. October can Foxtrot Oscar now.
Not much, is there? But, sifting through the wreckage of the West Ham performance, does bring up a couple of bright sparks.
Matty Cash had an excellent game, making goal saving clearances at one end and consistently intercepting and driving past his static midfield.
Cash even managed to keep Villa Twitteratti’s favourite player, Saïd Benrahma, so quiet that he got hooked on the hour mark.
Villan of the Week — Marvelous Nakamba
He’s not perfect by any means.
Nakamba showed a bit of grit against West Ham when the chips were down.
Like that tackle against Agüero at Wembley in the League Cup Final, he put in a few crunching ones when Villa went down to ten men.
I’ll ignore the dying fish impression after Fornals crunched him and also a few of his concrete boot passes.
If the season continues to head South, Nakamba will be a player you will need in a scrap.
‘clearly the visible instructions given and the apparent lack of individual freedom of expression is crippling the fluidity of the team’
The players got it last week and while it’s tempting to lay into them again, I think you have to start looking at bigger issues.
Just what has happened to Villa? What does your eyes as a football fan for years tell you is wrong that is being masked by the endless trail of statistics?
Villa look slow. For a young team with Watkins, Cash, and Bailey in the starting line up, slow shouldn’t be an issue.
But it’s more than that. It isn’t pace, it’s thought.
Aston Villa are slow to do anything on the pitch. Whether it’s shoot, run, pass, close, tackle, dive for a shot. The list is endless, and the culprits are endless on the pitch.
Remember James Milner’s chipped goal against Hull? A quick throw in and lob over the keeper.
The ball goes to Sidwell the sub, he gives it to Agbonlahor to take the quick throw in, and seconds later Milner has lobbed the keeper.
This Villa team would take sixty-seconds to set up for a long throw from Cash. Every single time…
The long throw is something I’m a big fan off, in the correct circumstances. It should never be the preferred method of attack against all teams.
This is a coaching decision, and you can blame Villa’s mental slowness on instructions coming from above.
I’m not excusing individual player errors, but clearly the visible instructions given and the apparent lack of individual freedom of expression is crippling the fluidity of the team.
The passing of coaching from John Terry and Richard O’Kelly to Austin MacPhee and Aaron Danks, from the outside, looks to be too drastic a change.
Last season the ‘Greek Chorus’ behind Smith got the blame for his lack of proactivity, this season it seems to be the opposite.
The Greek Chorus look to be in charge, and they are proactive to the extreme at times, finding perceived solutions to the problems that didn’t exist last season.
Attacking Set pieces were a problem – tweak them.
Defending set pieces wasn’t an issue – so leave them alone.
Villa’s main issue was an over reliance on the ‘Jack Grealish’ formation.
This is what needed all the work, yet still because of injuries and COVID-19 protocols, nobody can be sure if the new ‘Plan A’ has even been on the pitch in training, let alone on a match day.
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A month ago, I wrote about Dean Smith’s three-year anniversary, and it’s time to add something further…
Dean Smith’s title isn’t manager, it’s ‘Head Coach’. This title means he’s a cog in the system, rather than the Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger style dictator.
We don’t know and probably won’t ever know, unless he releases a memoir, what goes on in the upper echelons of NSWE-era Aston Villa, so we can only make judgments based on what we see.
The perception is Dean Smith is a decent guy, so if coaching appointments or their decisions aren’t going well, is he brutal enough to shutdown something that isn’t working without remorse?
If MacPhee has messed up the defending of set pieces, then he needs to be told to go back to the drawing board, the ‘Nice Guy’ image of Smith suggests that he backs them to turn it around.
But then Smith goes against this with the dropping of Tyrone Mings for the West Ham game.
Is he changing the only thing he has control of, or is something else at play? It wasn’t the actions of Mr ’Nice Guy’ Dean Smith.
If you are going to drop your captain, it has to be a clear-cut decision. Dropped for a reason. There wasn’t too much detail in his most recent press conference, when he addressed it.
Mings hasn’t been perfect, but neither has McGinn, Targett, Konsa, or Buendia.
Why make him the scapegoat?
I couldn’t help but think back to when Ruud Gullit dropped Alan Shearer on a wet night at St James’.
A managerial power-play like that has to work, but there also has to be justification, so that it can’t be used against you.
Just what has Mings said or done in training through the week to get dropped before others?
This was precisely the game to return Mings and Konsa back to the centre-back partnership that was at the heart of many a clean sheet last season.
The fact you have to bring Mings on early in the second-half kind of undermines your initial decision.
Now Smith has to face the endless articles from Football Manager players come football writers, telling him what he needs to do to fix things.
I’m not a coach anywhere near the level of Dean Smith.
I’m not going to give him a tactical solution, he has a greek chorus for that, but my eyes tell me something’s gone very wrong since the last international break.
The ugly decision to drop your captain for a game which would have suited them, makes everyone question what’s going on behind the scenes.
If something is rotten in the state of Villa, unless it gets sorted this could soon end in a (Craig) Shakespearean tragedy.