The Good, Bad & Ugly
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
It’s International break week, so it’s a chance for Aston Villa’s players to try new things, like scoring goals again. It’s the Good, Bad and Ugly.
I said last week that if Ollie Watkins got on against San Marino, then he had every chance of making the same impression that Darius Vassell made against the Netherlands on his debut.
It may not have been a scissor kick, but it was a tidy, striker’s finish with his only chance of the game. It should have been noticed that Watkins could do in one shot what Jesse Lingard and others seemed to struggle to do against a pitiful San Marino side.
Not to be outdone, John McGinn scored his version of a bicycle kick for Scotland, showing that the player Villa have been searching for is still in there somewhere, but more on that later.
Ex-Villan Steven Davis, equalled Peter Shilton’s 125 cap record for a British Isles team in a close defeat against Italy, and the NI Captain will no doubt break it in the immediate future.
Villan of the Week — Aaron Ramsey
After joining his brother, Jacob, in signing a professional contract with Aston Villa, Aaron captained the team that swept aside Brighton in the FA Youth Cup, netting a brace in a composed display. After the Moore brothers and more recently the Gardners, Villa have another set of brothers hoping to make it into the first team. The possibility of their younger brother Cole making it a trio, is one to follow with interest.
The game against Spurs was a terrible throwback to games under Lambert, McLeish, Garde and even Eric Black at times. Villa didn’t register a shot in the first half for the first time since 2014 vs Southampton in a puzzling display.
The reason I say puzzling, was because the general play wasn’t awful. There was just nothing going on with the ball at all. It was like the batteries had run out on the Playstation controller, every time Villa took possession.
It’s too simple to say they miss Jack Grealish for his ability, as any team would miss their best player.
Villa miss him for the role he fills in their planned attacks.
The Villa style of attack is built around Jack Grealish. In his absence, the formation and plan rarely changes and Villa look like they are playing a different sport.
Against Leeds United, the plan changed and the best performance in his absence followed.
In the other games and particularly against Spurs, the team set up and continued to play like Grealish was playing. This meant the ball needed to stick when it was played up front.
For all the energy of Trezeguet, the directness of El Ghazi and the mystery of Traore, none of them can occupy an opposition defence for long enough to create space for their team like Grealish does.
The gamble of having only one method of attack is a scenario that should have been looked at by the management team, when they knew their captain was going to be missing for six weeks.
They’d even had a taster of what happens when nobody plays that role in the games against West Ham and Brighton, where he was nullified.
Too often Targett makes the overlapping run, that works so well when Grealish has the ball under his spell, only for the stand in player to have lost possession or already had a shot. When this happens too much, Targett, like any player, will stop making the run and resort to endless crosses into the box.
They needed to get someone else to play that role, or play differently as a team. But it hasn’t happened.
Is it because they’ve spent all season trying to get Grealish the ball as quickly as possible, and they’re set in their ways?
Or do they just not have it in them?
The summer transfer window may be bad news for some of this team who haven’t taken their opportunities in the captain’s absence.
Further Reductions below…
The ugly, is exactly what is missing from Villa’s midfield.
It has been since the turn of the year and the arrival of Morgan Sanson hasn’t provided the new skillset that is needed.
At the moment, it is hard to tell the difference in Sanson, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey and the aforementioned John McGinn. On their own, they are competent footballers, yet in the current formation they are all reduced to being the same player.
A midfielder, who always looks out of position.
Marvellous Nakamba and Ross Barkley are at least two midfielders that offer different characteristics. Surely to have a balanced midfield at least one of them needs to play?
Unfortunately, Barkley’s form has fallen off a cliff and Nakamba can never follow up a good performance with another. This has led Dean Smith to shoehorn in Sanson, Luiz, and Ramsey with the undroppable John McGinn.
Villa need a no nonsense midfielder, who knows when to play the ball and when to play the man.
All the best teams have a player who operates in the shadows and gets the job done.
Jordan Henderson, Fernandinho, Xabi Alonso, Matic, Roy Keane, and Kante are modern examples, and Spurs have an excellent example in Pierre-Emile Højbjerg.
What Villa need, is someone in the mould of Brazil’s Dunga.
This player needs to come in with not only the ugly skillset, but the ugly attitude that demands respect from not only the opposition but the rest of the team.
An 8/10 player every game, who never gets the headlines.
It was a Brazilian player Villa had before the turn of the year and the answer for Villa’s misfiring midfield may be as simple as that.
If Douglas Luiz can rediscover his form, we may realise that he was as important a player in Villa’s season as anyone
Without any Ugly in midfield they will continue to get results like they did against Spurs.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @PRSGAME