By Chris Kemps
New contracts posed a few questions, racial accusations posed another, Robbie Savage offered up some answers, but Arsenal had the final say to round off an eventful week.
Contract deals for Alan Hutton and more surprisingly, Paul Lambert, were the big talking point until the Gunners shocked a packed, but contaminated Villa Park. Robbie Savage had to have his say on Villa’s fine start, but Aleksandar Tonev couldn’t (allegedly) keep his mouth shut.
A CONTRACT SPORT
The new deal given to Alan Hutton proved to Villa fans that all can be forgiven and forgotten. Hutton was among the players that management would rather have given away than given a chance in the first team squad.
A year ago, the Scottish fullback was happy for his international teammate Barry Bannan for “getting out” and was “angry” that no deal could be arranged to see him move away from Villa Park due to, it sounds like, no team wanting to take on his £30k+ a week salary.
He was training with the kids and found himself with Matt Lowton and Leandro Bacuna ahead of him in the first team pecking order. But the truce offered to all bomb squadders gave Hutton the opportunity he needed to prove he probably was the best fullback at the club all along… as long as he could keep his temper.
His new deal was the ultimate olive branch, not just from club to player, but from player to club. With the new contract (that must surely include a pay-cut) that will keep the 29-year-old at the club until he’s 32, Villa was saying: “Sorry for the things we did while you were earning so much money” and Hutton replied with: “All I wanted was another chance.”
Even this early in the season, Hutton’s form is the best Villa have seen and those interested suitors might be have been readying a move if Villa were still looking to get his big salary off the books in return for a token (if any) transfer fee.
Paul Lambert’s extended deal is another thing entirely. Was there a need to extend Lambert’s contract by 18 months? Was he in danger of being fired? Looking to move? Pencilled in as the next manager at Old Trafford? No, no and thrice no. Was some new tactical move paying dividends and contributing to Villa’s great start? No again – the strategy is the same (just ask Robbie Savage… more on that to come).
Let’s not forget Roy Keane took a double-pay-cut to take up his position at Villa while quitting his lucrative TV work to do so, and his influence certainly hasn’t hurt Villa any.
Certainly, there have been some shrewd signings that have made significant differences to the defense and added more bite to the midfield, and there seems to be a new confidence after a pretty indifferent pre-season. But even with the big wins and defensive master classes, was the new contract a reward for several seasons of tactical stubborness and crappy near-relegation-zone finishes? Or yet another olive branch to say: “We know it’s been tough… thanks for not kicking up a stink”?
If it was recognition of the good start to the season, will PL get another new deal after his next run of three wins, one draw, and two defeats (if you include the horrific Orient game)? Couldn’t the new deal have waited until Christmas at least? The timing of the announcement, after the Liverpool win, says it all: faith in Lambert has never been higher. The deal was always in the offing – who else would take the job? He wasn’t the first or even second choice when he was hired. It seems to be a publicized “well done, you” and a nod as if to say: “It gets better from here”.
We shall see.
The three-minute collapse against Arsenal was unfortunate, but given the status of the squad, it wasn’t surprising. Villa started brightly enough, but the revelation that a nasty bug was running rampant through the team answered a lot of questions.
All the pre-match plans were rendered useless – and probably covered in sick – as Westwood, Bent, Baker and Weimann were added to the infected list. All of which makes the extremely bright start even more impressive.
It was good to see Grealish get some playing time with the ball at his feet and not being kicked to the grass every 15 seconds, but after the damage had been done in the first-half, Arsenal had two good reasons to play keep-away in the second half: it helped them out tactically and they didn’t want to get too close to the Villa players and fall victim to the plague themselves.
With big games against Manchester City and Chelsea up next, the squad should be resting on the sofa watching TV and drinking orange juice until further notice. Because the best laid plans aren’t worth anything if you’re stuck in the toilet.
There’s not many Villa fans out there who would buy Robbie Savage a pint given the chance. Well, not of beer at least. But his last comments about AVFC, the way they play, and their change of fortune were not just backed up with statistical fact: they were pretty hard to deny without that.
Passes made during a game are down from two years ago (332.3 from 374.7 – 18th in the league) along with pass accuracy (19th in the league), possession (18th), shots per game (19th) and shots on target (20th). That’s hard to counter – but also easy to explain, and Robbie does so – nothing has changed tactically to cause this upturn in fortune.
These same tactics have seen Villa dice with death over the last few seasons. Any progress, Robbie says, is down to new signings and player growth. He also says outright that Villa’s good start is “no fluke”.
The team has limited shots on their own goal and are obviously working hard on the training ground (when they aren’t throwing up) and have a terrific attitude. This doesn’t mean you have to buy him a drink, but he is (once again) holding his hands up and giving credit where it’s due. Wait… does that make him more controversial? Or less?
Villa fans could debate the worst of Paul Lambert’s signings until the Blues are back in the top flight and not agree… until this past week when a front-runner has emerged.
Aleksandar “looks great on YouTube” Tonev hardly set Villa Park alight despite arriving with Stan Petrov’s personal blessing. It was clear when he got into the first team he had some work to do to get up to Premiership standard – and didn’t help his cause any by insisting on shooting every time he got the ball, regardless of where he was, where his teammates were and (presumably) what he was being told to do.
It would be hard to think of any real contribution he made during a game other than to instigate groans as another wayward shot flew up over the goal towards the Balti Triangle. But after being formerly charged for racist abuse against Aberdeen’s Shay Logan while on loan with Celtic last week, his chances of coming back to Villa are slim-to-none with some tabloids claiming his contract could be torn-up if he’s found guilty.
Wigan: if you’re still interested… indeed, if you ever were interested in signing Tonev, let’s talk.
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