Another surrender: no points and no goals scored as the Villa lions looked more like apologetic church mice, frightened to make a fuss. What did Aston Villa fans learn as both short-term and long-term hope slipped further away?
VETERAN GAMBLE: BUSTED
Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott appeared to be just what Villa needed: two English defenders (good) who have been recent winners (great) and former internationals (wonderful) and have reputations as leaders on the pitch (outstanding).
But could they only do it in a good team? Increasingly the answer looks like that might be true.
Richards won the league with City in 2008-09 but had been the captain since 2007 – City’s youngest ever player to lead the team – and was named player of the year at the club. He was also England’s youngest ever defender and earned 13 caps. During his career he also won the FA Cup and League Cup while at City.
Since joining Villa, and being named captain by Tim Sherwood, he has played in 22 games and scored two goals. He has been a mainstay in a defense that has conceded a league-worst 55 goals and is often criticised for his poor positioning by fans.
Lescott played more than 200 times for Wolves and was key in securing promotion to the top flight in 2003-04. Despite missing the entire following season through injury he returned the following season and was named in the Championship Best XI and was named Wolves Player Of The Year in 2005-06.
After a move to Everton he was named “Mister Consistency” by one fan group and earned his first of 23 England caps. Eventually he moved to Manchester City for about £24m in 2009 and won two Premiership Titles, the FA Cup and League Cup. After being released by City he was part of the WBA team that kept six clean sheets in 10 games under Tony Pulis.
Named vice-captain at Aston Villa he has scored twice in 18 games but fans have blamed Lescott specifically for conceding certain goals at the back. He’s also earned the ire of fans after car-tweet-gate.
To be fair, both players are older than they were at their peak but they haven’t looked close to recapturing the form or showing the commanding presence that earned them the move to Villa Park in the first place. Most fans wouldn’t miss either one if they left for £5m (Richards) or Los Angeles (Lescott) this summer. Or tomorrow afternoon.
GARDE: RIGHT MAN, WRONG TIME?
If Remi Garde had inherited Brian Little’s team in the mid-90s, he would have been winning games with a swagger. Softly-spoken Little certainly made the team his own with some deft signings – he was even so bold as to sell Paul McGrath – and as a result his team won games and had an identity that fans and rivals had to appreciate. The spine was intact, it was packed with goals from all over the place and won one of the most one-sided cup finals in League Cup history. Garde could have tweaked it and carried on, business as usual.
But he inherited a knackered out old cart horse with just 49 league wins in the past five seasons (excluding the current pantomime), no player worth more than his bus fare home on the transfer market and being run by a group obsessed with cutting costs from refusing to invest in new signings in January to reportedly skimping on biscuits in the VIP boxes.
He started out making a fundamental mistake – carrying on with the 4-3-3 formation. Lambert’s first mistake as manager was to stick to the fashionable formation despite never really having the players that fit into it and refusing to yield. Garde might have thought it made sense to keep the players in a system that was familiar to them, but it hasn’t worked.
The switch to 5-3-2 of late is too little too late and hasn’t worked either. The formation is irrelevant if the players don’t fit into it or aren’t good enough. Perhaps if he looked more at the style of the team, it might pay off. He has talked about getting “ugly” to win games, but it looks to the untrained eye to be much the same – trying to draw teams in and hit on the counter (resulting in two shots, one on target against City). An aggressive high line, a 4-4-2 and relentless bombing the ball into the penalty area for Gestede and Kozac hasn’t even been considered. That would be certainly be ugly. But would it work? Fans will never know because there’s no chance of that happening.
Also: the substitutes. When Gestede comes on, 0-3 down, he’s not making much difference in his 20 minutes. Why not abandon the 5-3-2 at 0-2 down, when everyone inside the stadium knew if nothing drastic (different!) happened, the result was confirmed?
He was quoted as saying he’s “tried every solution” after the City game. “Every” in this sense meaning “a couple of”. Clearly the job has proved too big for him given the subpar quality of the squad and the lack of backing from his employers. And that’s too bad.
GUZAN OR BUNN?
The reason Man City were kept at bay as long as they were was down to Brad Guzan in goal. He had a great first half, there is no doubt. In fact he probably would have saved Aguero’s penalty had it not gone wide.
But if you’re the man holding a bucket under a leaky roof, there’s only such much water you can keep off the carpet.
At this point in the season, when Villa are struggling to find goals and leaking so many of them, it’s almost irrelevant who’s between the sticks. Both are likely to be out the door in May, along with many, many other players.
Villa should have got a decent keeper in last summer though.
OUTSIDE THE BOX
Not for a second is this column advocating for Paulo DiCanio to come in for the last nine games as was suggested in one newspaper this week, but the club is doing the same old thing and expecting different results. It’s time to think differently if there’s any hope of staying up (and the biggest saving grace is while Villa might be last in the league, there’s some real crap between them and survival).
Would firing Garde be fair? Only from a certain point of view. If Garde had been given the money Sherwood (and the Committee For Signing Inadequate Replacement Players) spent this summer, maybe he could have found a few gems. But don’t forget Sherwood was fired after losing six games in a row. Garde just lost his last four in a row scoring two goals and conceding 15.
The bigger problem is, if Garde is loathe to change things too much or likening fielding a more attacking team against City to being “suicide”, then who could possibly want to come in and turn things around with no money and a team that capitulate after the first goal goes in against them? Not to mention working for a very unpopular group of bosses.
Follow Adam Keeble on Twitter @keebo00
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