By Chris Kemp
A parent might describe a horrible incident as a “teaching moment” – so, after Villa’s third defeat in a row without scoring a goal, here are a few things Villa learned from a week that ended with a heartbreaking last eight minutes against the champions on Saturday…
WINNERS NEVER QUIT
The eventual collapse against Manchester City firstly reminded Villa that champions never quit. While Villa fans will point to the great work done in keeping the defending champs at bay, the City players’ heads never dropped.
Yes, it took two well taken goals but when Benteke came on to the field and when N’Zogbia came off, there was nowhere for the ball to go as Villa dropped back. Even Jack Grealish was stuck as another defender. That’s not to say Villa gave in so much as caved in at the end. Guzan couldn’t have done much more and without Senderos (low risk/high yield defending) and Baker (high risk/high yield defending) it could have been far worse. If Dzeko hadn’t been having an off day this could easily have been a thrashing.
The numbers don’t lie. Villa have scored just four goals all season and have let in eight in the last three games. Low possession is nothing new, but once again there was just one shot on target for Villa in 95 minutes on Saturday.
Something else easy to overlook (especially with the heralded return of talismanic Benteke for half an hour) was the unexpected absence of Gabby from the line-up. Weimann hasn’t been the same player we saw before he signed his new contract, but even his biggest fans can see he’s not as fast as Gabby and not as good in the air as Benteke which meant the counter-attack was already going to be an uphill battle. And standing alone between Mangala and Kompany for long periods at a time would demoralize a lesser striker just as much.
There were though definite positives. Senderos will be an outsider when it comes to Player Of The Year awards, but he has been outstanding. N’Zogbia might have only shown it in bursts, but clearly Manchester City didn’t expect those deep Dalian Atkinson-esque runs from him. Baker looked like superhero Thor flying with his hammer… without his hammer… as he flung himself at the ball. He looks more and more like the second coming of Ugo Ehiogu – and he turned out pretty well.
Bottom line: without the improved defending, the return of the bomb squadders and the general toughening up (you can attribute that to Roy Keane if you want) this would have been ugly. And that’s the biggest lesson of the week. Let’s hope school is out for the next few games.
The loss of Czech striker Libor Kozak to another long-term injury is a massive blow. Eight months after his broken leg he was getting ready to return, but a set-back has him out of action certainly for the calendar year. According to PL, his leg wasn’t up to a return and any optimism over his comeback as he began running with the ball in training was all undone. Could a slower recovery plan have helped?
Fans can only imagine what Libor has gone through after eight months of frustration so he can’t be blamed if he was feeling good. It’s just one of those things.
All of which means Villa have gone from having neither of their somewhat traditional big centre forwards, to having almost two, then back to having one in the space of a week. And given that Benteke will presumably not be at his sharpest just yet (that wasn’t much to be learned about his fitness on Saturday given his limited time on the ball) fans might be hoping a loanee can join the club ASAP.
What do Philippe Senderos and Tom Cleverley have in common?
They both arrived at Villa to a mixed fan reception but can be proud of how they are winning over the dubious.
Senderos won the FA Cup at Arsenal amid injuries, up-and-down form and eventually loan spells that didn’t amount to consistent playing time (around 100 games in six years). His contract expired and he joined Fulham before more injury issues kept him out of the team at first but he stayed for four years. He jumped ship to Valencia before Fulham’s relegation was confirmed last season. Then there was the World Cup where Villa saw him taken to the wood shed in Switzerland’s 5-2 defeat to France.
Cleverley has a similar story to tell. At just 25-years-old he has 13 England caps, but is at his sixth club if you count his apprenticeship at Bradford City. He was part of the Leicester City team that won promotion, then had a fruitful spell at Watford, followed by a productive loan to Wigan. When he arrived at Villa Park his reputation was tainted by some Manchester United and England fans who just didn’t think he was good enough (to replace one of the best English midfielders in a generation: Paul Scholes).
Nobody wants them, Villa don’t care. And if their early form can be maintained, that’s just fine. In fact, Villa should clearly consider more unloved players looking for a fresh start. Joe Cole might end up being another example, if he gets fit enough to play. With nothing to lose, what cost is a friendly arm around the shoulder and the chance to play again?
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