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    Player Match Ratings: No Fortress at Villa Park!

    By John

    Two home defeats in four days has been very, very hard to watch. The season is in tatters and all we have left for is to secure our safety. We currently have a 7-point cushion between the bottom three and ourselves but that gap will not last forever if our results do not start improving. Barnsley now have as many wins away from home this season as we have wins at home and away. Yesterday’s visitors are also thirteen points above us. They play as a team. We play as a bunch of individuals. They wanted to prove something to the players they recently sold to us in the same way that Brentford and Forest did.    Our visitors started strongly but we then started to create chances and look the better team before referee Eltringham intervened by awarding a dubious penalty. As a team that is short of confidence and belief that was the last thing we needed. Having conceded another, we then pulled a goal back just before half time. That should have provided us with a platform and a momentum to seek a win or at the very least a draw from this game in the second half. Sadly, we gave an inept second half performance and it was the visitors who got the crucial next goal that sealed the game for them with over half an hour of the match left. Had we pulled another goal back we could have pressed for a late equalizer but we instead surrendered meekly.       Steve Bruce went back to four at the back for this one but our problems go beyond that. We do not play for each other as a team. Our new signings like other signings before them appear to have been swallowed up by the growing malaise that our club has been subject to over recent years. Players that have impressed and scored goals for fun at the clubs they were bought from see their form drop and their goals dry up when they join us. The boss has a much bigger job than he and we thought that he had when we went on that early “new manager bounce”. He has to turn this club around by the end of the season and install a positivity in the players we have that can make next season markedly different to this and the last one. We need to make a strong promotion challenge next season but that currently looks to be beyond us.      My player ratings from a game that was frankly nothing other than an embarrassment are: Sam Johnstone – 5 – Guessed the right way but Armstrong’s firmly hit 25th minute penalty beat him. Bradshaw turned a 43rd minute cross just past his outstretched hand and into the corner of the net for their second. Got down to hold a 78th minute Moncur shot near the post.        Alan Hutton – 5 – The last of a host of defenders to try to clear the ball out of the area on 58 minutes but only succeeded in finding Bradshaw who hit his second of the night. Headed a 67th minute Lansbury cross wide.         James Chester - 6 – Solid enough.   Nathan Baker – 6 – Our return to a back four was a return to his central pairing with Chester which is one of the few positives we have seen this season. Did well enough.      Jordan Amavi – 5 – Made a welcome return to the first team. Started very well but he was unable to maintain that high level of performance throughout the game. Harshly adjudged to have brought down Watkins inside the area to concede the penalty that gave them their opener and needed to try to get closer to Yiadom when he crossed for their second. Albert Adomah – 5 – His fierce 15th minute shot from outside of the box was tipped over the bar by Davies. Lifted an 84th minute shot well over the bar. Conor Hourihane – 5 – Headed the ball into the arms of Davies on 32 minutes from around 8 yards. This was still some way below the form and influence on games that he had shown when he was with the visitors.       Henri Lansbury - 6 – Had an 11th minute shot from inside the box saved by Davies and picked up the ball and hit a 21st minute shot that took a deflection before being gathered by Davies.     Jack Grealish – 5 – Showed a couple of glimpses of the ability that he has but not for the first time this season let this game pass him by without looking unduly concerned that it was doing so.    Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – MOTM – Hit a 26th minute shot from the edge of the box that went just wide of the far post before turning in Adomah’s 44th minute cross for our only goal. He then hit a 55th minute shot from the edge of the box a couple of feet wide of the post and made a decent run into the box 10 minutes later but his attempted cross was blocked and put out for a corner off Davies’ leg. Looked likely to give us a late consolation goal on the 90th minute but he lifted the ball onto the top of the net. Needs to look up for colleagues when making runs and to work on his relationship with Hogan. Scott Hogan – 5 – Headed a 13th minute Amavi cross a couple of feet wide of the far post. He makes some promising runs but was again starved of service.        Substitutes: Birkir Bjarnason – 5 – Replaced Hutton on 73 minutes. Failed to make any impact following his introduction.        Andre Green – 6 - Replaced Lansbury on 73 minutes and looked lively unlike others around him.       Leandro Bacuna – Replaced Grealish on the 76th minute and was not on long enough and did not do enough to gather any rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
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  1. This was not a great game or performance from us but the mark of sides that get promoted is that they are able to grind out results when not at their very best and this is what we managed to do this afternoon.

    We now stand seventh in the table having won our fourth successive league game. We are unbeaten in our last eight games and are just a point behind the three clubs immediately above us that occupy three of the four play-off positions. We are also only 4 points off Wolves who occupy the second of the automatic promotion places and we visit them next.

    Bolton fought hard for something from this game. They were uncompromising and took full advantage of the lenience the referee gave to their challenges on our two strikers. Once we went in front it could be argued that the game was won given our visitors had not scored in their last six games. Win it we did but it was a little too close for comfort towards the end of the match and the referee’s whistle was much more welcome than the referee himself was.

    Having won this battle between two founder members of the football league we now face an international break that is unwelcome as we have built a momentum that would be nice to build upon without any delay. Both teams now face a testing battle during the rest of this season at different ends of the table.

    Bolton have a bit of a mountain to climb to hold onto the Championship status they claimed back last season having had their worst start to a season in 115 years. Although we increasingly have the look of a thoroughbred moving up through the field as the winning post approaches this race is not a sprint and today’s game demonstrated that we should not start counting our chickens just yet.       

    My player ratings from a game that continued our winning and unbeaten league runs are:

    Sam Johnstone – 6 – Got down well at his left-hand post to keep out a shot from outside of the box from Ameobe on 9 minutes. Got down again in the first minute of first half stoppage time to keep out an Armstrong effort. He looks solid.  

    Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – A decent all-round performance.                

    James Chester - 7 – Solid once again.    

    John Terry – 7 – He is a rock in our solid defence.       

    Neil Taylor - 6 – Made a nice 90th minute run but was fouled as he was about to pull the trigger on the edge of the box by Henry who was yellow carded as a result. Was then given a straight red 4 minutes later when a yellow seemed more appropriate for what was admittedly a rash high challenge on Le Fondre. No doubt we will be appealing this decision.  

    Robert Snodgrass – 7 – Had a very decent shot from just inside of the area well saved at his near post by Howard on 79 minutes. Worked tirelessly and will improve further with more games.           

    Glenn Whelan - 6 – Worked hard. Lost possession a couple of times but this was a steady enough display.   

    Conor Hourihane – 6 – Did his job effectively but I think he is more valuable to us when given the opportunity to get forward more often.

    Albert Adomah – 6 – A very good first half.              

    Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – MOTM – Hit our winner from the spot on 39 minutes when Howard went left and he coolly hit the ball right. Headed a Adomah cross over the bar in the 3rd minute of first half stoppage time. Should have done better on 37 minutes when a superb long ball from Elmohamady fell to him as he moved into the box but instead of squaring the ball for the waiting unmarked Adomah to tap it into the net he hit the ball wide of the far post. Made up for that when he was brought down by Beevers for the penalty that he himself converted.      

    Keinan Davis – 6 – Held and manhandled at every available opportunity by the defenders he came up against as was Kodjia who was also given little to no protection from the match officials other than when he was brought down for the penalty.           

    Substitutes:

    Scott Hogan – 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 72 minutes. Made a nice run into the box on 78 minutes having picked up a ball from Whelan but his shot was blocked by a defender. Looked good in the time he had to do so.    

    Josh Onomah – 6 - Replaced Adomah on 73 minutes and did his bit to help steady the ship at the end.

    Chris Samba – Replaced Snodgrass on 89 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but did play a loose ball back shortly after coming on that could have cost us the win and then bravely got his head in the way of an on-target shot from Madine in the 5th minute of stoppage time to secure our victory.     

    Up the Villa!

    John Lewis

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    Sunday, August 28, 2011

    The retrenchment of expenses plan and the future of the club

     
    Archie from the latin lions started a good debate about the finances of the club on the VillaTalk forum. He posted:
    “I have been very struck by the recent decision of the club to cut paltry expenses like the free cup tickets for the staff (when the stadium is half empty in the first cup ties) and the free Match Programmes for the Lions Clubs' chairmen. 

    Obviously I have no problems to pay the match programmes from now on, this is not the point. 
    What leaves me perplexed is that the sums that you can save with this plan of retrenchment of expenses will be about 1/1000000 of the costs that you have for some average players with top player wages like Dunne, Beyè and others. 
    So, decisions like these, on one side don't improve the financial situation of the club and on the other side cut to the quick the most genuine part of the club, the staff and the fans, giving the strong impression that the property is preparing to sell up the club, and in order to do so must give the purchaser the impression that the books are balanced and that there are not useless expenses. 

    Obviously I hope to be wrong but this is my impression at the moment”. 


    The discussion is a good one, and led me to the following thoughts

    There are two sides to this coin, and they're both valid. The one side is that over the past 3 Summer windows, and the January windows the net result of transfer spending is a sizeable income. Over the whole of Randy's time, the total is a net outgoing of about 32 million (it's impossible to be precise, because a lot of fees are undisclosed). 

    So in recent year supporters have seen us very much as a selling club, selling off the better players and not replacing them with the same quality, after an initial period when a great deal of money was spent, that took us from down the bottom of the league to consistent top 6 (but no better) with good cup runs, too. 

    The other side is the wage bill. It was allowed to get out of hand. Far, far, too much money went out of the club to players and agents that was simply out of proportion to their contributions to the club and team. That situation has to be addressed, the wages have to be at a sustainable level. 

    Making that adjustment was always going to be painful and involve a period of transition for the team. That's still going on. 

    So how's it progressing? What's good and what's bad? 

    Well, clearly, a significant number of highly paid players have gone - Barry, Friedel, Milner, Young, Downing, NRC, Luke Young and so on. 
    Then again, others have come in - Shay Given, N'Zogbia, Darren Bent, Ireland... and some remain - Beye and Cuellar are not first team regulars, but are surely on high wages. 

    So I suspect that there's still a way to go, yet, to bring down the wage bill. Additionally, of course there's the wages paid to managers, and pay-offs to them and their staff when they left. Those one-off hits will affect the figures. And we don't know what moneys were paid to players leaving, in terms of them claiming all kinds of bonuses and so on, to which they would claim entitlement under their contracts, if they did not formally ask for a transfer. It might seem "wrong" to the likes of us, but that's the mess football is in, generally. 

    So cutting the wage bill - work in progress. Hard for everyone, basically. 

    What's good? - well, it may not be exciting, exactly, but the facilities for corporates (>100 boxes and suites) and to an extent some of the facilities for fans - the Holte suite for example, have been upgraded and enabled more income to be taken on a match day. Sponsorships are much better than a few years ago. These are good things for the club, financially. And the TV deals are much higher than they were. 

    What's bad - ticket prices. Also the way it is reported that sundry minor costs such as the coats in Archie's OP, and SC chairmen's Programmes - various trivial items are being made into a big thing at the cost of goodwill. That's bad. 
    They really messed up with the ticket prices, IMO. To have an increase of around 7% on average, in a recession, whilst selling the best players and appointing a manager who was not exactly wildly popular and who has a record of dull football was both insensitive and counter-productive - particularly when so many games are moved for the TV. 

    It's extremely unfortunate that while doing all this the only communications from the higher echelons of the club have been what looks right now like a deal of bluster from General Krulak and a letter from Randy which looks like an accountant got hold of it, left just the first part untouched, changed the rest and then forged his signature. Paul Faulkner sent a slightly better version out later on. 

    People might comment that as fans we're over-demanding, for ever wanting "spend spend spend" and have no appreciation of the intricacies of running a club. And they'd probably be right. 

    But then the club doesn't exactly go out of its way to inform us, to teach us, to help us understand. The communication we get seems to be of a fairly basic style - bombard us with texts and e mails about shirts, tickets and packages - tell us we're great and our support is great in missives handed down, or the kind of friendly, well meaning tub-thumping from the General. 

    What's utterly lacking is any shade. A form of communication that fills in the gaps between "buy stuff", "we're going to win" and "great fans". There's nothing influential or informative coming out of the club. Stuff gets raised and then quietly forgotten about. For example the Olympics next year - VP dropped out of hosting games because the ground would be being rebuilt at the North stand end. HO'K's plans would be revealed to us., we were told. But nothing.... 
    OK, change your plans to adjust to changing situations, but perhaps having told us one thing, they have a duty to tell us about the change? And it's that same thing with the plans for the team, or for that matter the Club. 

    "Committed as ever" is about the size of the detail we've been given. Well sorry, but the evidence before our eyes says something different. The evidence before our eyes says that we're not aiming for the Champions League places, we're all about financial retrenchment. So talk to us. 

    I'm certain that better and more honest communication could have seen things turn out differently. As it is, because of the lack of proper information us fans have been stridently voicing our displeasure, the Club people feel bombarded and defensive and even less inclined to talk to us, thinking that all we do is unjustifiably moan. 

    What's that saying about before criticising a man, walk a mile in his shoes? - in other words try to understand his situation for a time before you have a go at him. 
    Both the Club and us lot, the fans, need to try that. The club, to their credit have been contacting and speaking to us individually about why we haven't renewed season tickets. I wonder what they'll do with whatever conclusions they draw? Will they tell us? 
    Then again "why haven't you spent 500 quid on us?" might also be seen as a bit "me" focused - you know "why have you stopped paying me money". For football fans, I think, the relationship between fans and their club is not about and certainly should not be about money. Which is where many of us are massive hypocrites, of course. We want them not to just treat us as consumer units from whom they can take their 50 quid for a shirt and 38 quid for a ticket whilst simultaneously we demand that they spend 15 million on a winger. 

    The only way that situation can change is by communicating. We know what we think (I think) and we write it on here and on other sites, we talk to Radio and sometimes even the telly and the local or national press. 

    The club has the odd SCG forum and talks to some fans they know personally, but there's not been enough communication for us masses, that at a level much beyond "buy this thing". 

    Now, more than for a long time, the Club should be a force for a "feel-good factor", but it's not, is it? It was when Randy was spending money, and we loved it. We still admire him greatly for the good things he's done, but currently I think we have every right to be concerned about the future and the plans for the club. They really need to talk.
     

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Backdrifts (honeymoon is over)

     
    Here we are in the middle of summer, there’s no cricket on today, and with only men playing with their sticks and little balls to occupy the commentators, I thought I’d sit down with a cup of tea, a chocolate biscuit and ruminate over the state of things at Villa Park.

    Now obviously there’s a lot gone on over the past few months, and equally obviously there are very few fully content Villa fans around at the moment. So this article tries to look at things from a wide angle and voice some opinions on the general air of frustration and anger apparent on the message boards.

    Let’s start off by going back 6 months or so. The team was losing rather more games than was comfortable, the manager was deeply unpopular with a large part of the fanbase and a number of the players. There was real concern over the possibility of relegation. A concern that was only eased in the last couple of weeks of the season. We also had 2 of our better players who seemed unlikely to sign new contracts, and who would therefore be candidates for sale. In the case of Ashley Young it had been apparent for a while that he wanted to move on and with Stewart Downing, though he had initially indicated how happy he was at Villa, there was a change of heart or maybe he just said he was happy, because players often don’t tell the truth about their true intentions? Either way, before the season had reached its end he was clearly wanting to go.

    So what’s happened more recently?

    Well, firstly we have a new manager. Leaving aside the circumstances of the change - unfortunate, serious illness - most fans would have been pleased that a change would be made. It just didn’t work out with Gerard Houllier did it?

    Secondly, Manchester United came looking for Ashley Young, and he duly went, with Villa getting around £15 million in exchange - not bad for a player who didn’t have a great season (though he shone at times) and had only one year left on his contract. Decent business by the club.

    The next event to look at is the choice of new manager, and the process around identifying and recruiting him. Leaving aside rumours and speculation we know that Steve McLaren was due to be interviewed and that Villa, for some unknown reason, cancelled the scheduled interview and ruled him out. A wise move, in my view, though we don’t know what that reason was.
    We do know that Robbie Martinez was a target, and we also know that, admirably and unusually, he decided loyalty to his club Wigan was of primary importance. Whether he’d have done the same if, for example, Liverpool had wanted him is another matter. We also know that (many people’s favourite) David Moyes said that he had no interest in moving to Villa. Mark Hughes was said not to have been a target, despite his sudden resignation from Fulham. 
    With things dragging on rather, we then had the bizarre sequence of events that saw Alex McLeish appointed, after he resigned from the Small Heath Alliance role. Whatever our travails, that lot are in a much worse state.

    Anyway, his record is mixed. Good and less good with Rangers, and 2 relegations with the Small Heath as well as, strike a light a trophy and their highest ever finish a couple of years back. He has also done solidly at Motherwell and Hibs in the past. A mixed bag.

    In some ways he is an impressive man - dignified, straightforward and highly recommended by many who know him.

    What he is not, is “glamour”. There’s a fair part of the Villa support that yearns for a “star” name - BFR was perhaps the last man with the sparkle to lead the club. Others point out that Villa has often thrived under the control of the less extravagant types - from Mr Saunders, to Brian Little, Graham Taylor even. Of course what people really want is someone who wins.

    With no games to judge Alex McLeish by, many look at his association with “them”, the 2 relegations he oversaw and have simply decided “no way”.

    My reaction was rather more confused. When I first heard he was a serious candidate, I didn’t think “yes” or “No”, but I reacted to the likely reaction of others - “that’s not going to go down at all well” and “Jees, have they gone totally chuffing mad?” Still, he’s ours now, and I wish him well and the best of luck. He’s definitely going to need it.
    He's started off well, in getting 20 million quid for a player who clearly wanted to be elsewhere, who was apparently moping about the place and who has had perhaps 7 good months in the time he's been at the club. Stewart Downing is a good player, but he's definitely not worth 20 million quid. Good work 'eck.

    Anyway, all this carry on at Villa, in isolation, wouldn’t really be of much concern to me, we’ve had ups and downs, ins and outs and all that many times before, but there’s something else, something more general and it’s best summed up, perhaps by the phrase ”what is the (football) world coming to”.

    In this, I know I’m far from alone. The majority of my football mates are of the same feeling. It ranges in intensity, but all of us are pretty dejected at the general state of the game.

    For me, when Randy took over at Villa, I was thrilled most of all that we had a bloke in charge who seemed to be at the club because of football. That might sound odd, but I look around at other clubs and see a number of owners who seem to be in charge because of money. Randy with his renovation of the place seemed to understand and to demonstrate that he understood the importance of the Club as a sporting institution, not as “an asset” or “an investment” or “a franchise”. I liked the way he stayed in the background, in he didn’t interfere, he just got people in and let them get on with their business, unlike owners at many other clubs, or the previous chairman at this club (and he didn't even own it). Randy was a barrier against the prevailing attitude that Premier League Football is simply a "product" or a means to get some limelight or influence that has so disillusioned many of my friends.

    I’m not quite sure I still feel that way. Maybe I’ve been spoilt, or maybe no-one, not even Randy, can hold back the tide. Who knows?

    The thing that’s so galling about football being marketed as a product (apart from even having to use words like “marketed” and “product” when talking about sport) is that there’s no active place in it for supporters. There’s a deliberate downgrading of us from being a core part of the game, to being passive units to whom nylon replica shirts and season tickets must be sold, all kinds of “purchase opportunities” thrown at us. Can’t I just watch 22 men kick a ball about, please? And can’t I please do so for a reasonable price? and may I do so at a time that is broadly convenient to me, rather than to satellite TV, or the police?

    It’s like we're just units corporate football wants to sell to. We're not treated as a part of the game. We have no value other than as a means of shifting nylon shirts and expensive season tickets, or Sky subscriptions. The game is "sold" at such a base level, there's no depth to it, no appreciation of the culture and ethos of support. They want us to cry if we lose, wear a replica shirt for the camera and be part of the background to their 3D programme. They use us, they think we're theirs. They don't value us. This, I think, together with the predictability of the final placings is what has done for many. None of that was caused by, or is unique to Villa, but our club is a part of it now. As I said, I thought, when RL came along "here's a bloke who values the club the players and staff and fans as something other than money. He's a bloke who already has money, he wants to be in the game, for the sake of the game, for the sake of the club." But it doesn't look like that's the case any more. He doesn't speak to us, which is fine, but his mate, the General, says "judge by what we do" and then they do something daft, or do nothing, or do the same as the other clubs and owners. Sponsorships get cancelled, kits are late, players leave...

    Maybe that’s harsh on Randy and CO. - maybe it’s a not the case in reality. But it appears to be like that. Could the reason be that one man (or one man and a couple of mates) cannot run multiple Sports clubs? Cleveland & Villa and still also do all the other stuff - the art, charity, finance and so on?

    MO'N as a bit of a control freak was happy to take on that workload at Villa, to run the club as he saw fit (which had it’s downside), but broadly worked, then, whatever you think of the football style, or players bought and sold.

    The club was run as a team. We were part of it, but after Martin O’Neill left it looked like GH and PF have been less capable at the whole leading and initiative thing. Bluntly, where's the action that shows us what the board is about?

    I’m sure some adjustment to FFP rules and overall accounts is necessary. If so, I think we should be told. What I’m talking about here, though is that there’s been no authoritative figurehead, and this gap, combined with a clear lack of information about the aims of the club, about the overall direction we want to go has left not just me, but many more supporters quite downcast. 
    What too, does it say to sponsors, to players, to all the other people involved with the club? Can anyone say with any certainty what the aims of the club are? Is it to balance the books and survive? Is it to aim for the top 10, the top 6, the top 4? Is it to be a kind of production line for good young players to be sold on at a profit? What is Aston Villa for, these days, exactly?

    If Alex McLeish can get of to a reasonable start, the current antipathy towards him will fade and maybe he can, with his directness and honesty start to tell us what the heck we aim to do - he’s, to my ears and eyes, and better communicator than Houllier. So far we’ve heard cautious words about money available and working with what we’ve got. Hardly stirring stuff. When fans see rival clubs buying our players, spending gazillions and moving up the pecking order many think that with Villa seemingly all spent up and intent on profiting from sales and cutting wages that we have no hope. I doubt that season ticket renewals and shirt sales are going to be what they were a couple of years ago.

    Despite all this, football is not completely broken, as many people proclaim. It’s still possible, as the likes of Blackpool, Swansea, Norwich, Brighton and so on have shown, that good management at board and team level is the defining factor, rather than pure money. There are other examples too, though most are in the Football League, rather than the premier league, which was set up for money, operates for money and has money is it's core reason for being.

    It is still possible to find examples of outstanding managers, people who can work and build attractive, successful sides without simply buying everyone else's players. So what I want as a Villa fan is for the Club to try, I also want the club to be sustainable and still here in 100 years and fully accept the need to operate sensibly. Tell me what the lay of the land is, and I’ll set my sights accordingly.
    The template for Villa is with a good manager, a board that works with the manager towards a common agenda and goal, with players who are committed, staff who want to be here, who enjoy the work they do and with the whole club operating with a touch of class and style, the whole thing from fans to the man at the top will go in the same direction. And all of those things are possible with no money (relatively). Every single one of them.

    Can we say that over the past couple of years that’s what‘s been happening? I think not. The respect for those things and the focus has gone. The Club these days is more likely to say one thing and do another, or just to say nothing. No explaining, no communication. Raise ticket prices and sell the best players. These behaviours are factors that lead to the opposite of a "common goal". You can see the evidence all over the messageboard, in the form of fans comments. You can see the evidence in want-away players, in the downgrading of the status of the club from “challengers” to “mid-table at best”.

    Some people have said this has all occurred because the board is not "football savvy", but the things I’m talking about are common to all walks of life, whether it be running a business, a political party, a charity, or organising a village Fête...

    It's my belief that there are many good people at our club, it's not lack of good intent, or lack of integrity or honesty that's the issue. What needs to happen is that the ragged ends need tying back together. They need to open a fresh can of Leadership, look up the word "Communicate" in the dictionary and then get back to pointing us all in the same direction (once they've decided what that direction is, of course).

    Finally, back to those horrible words "product marketing" - the team is the thing that sells tickets, it sells shirts, it also sells pies and beer and hospitality and sponsorship and TV rights. It always will be. So make sure it's as good as can be.
     

    Thursday, June 02, 2011

    Gérard Houllier - Au revoir

     
    Soon another name will get to have the privilege of managing Aston Villa Football Club, The new manager will, in all likelihood have the opportunity in the closed season to assess and rebuild the squad here, and will be able to set the team up in the way he wants, after a period of pre-season friendlies, training sessions and a fair bit of “getting to know you” time. None of those things was available to Gérard Houllier when he joined Villa in early September last year

    Instead he was brought in after the shock walk out of Martin O’Neill (in timing if not in eventuality) and had to take the controls of a club that was reeling and veering in the wake of MO’N’s departure.

    In such circumstances things were never likely to run altogether smoothly. The club had perhaps been wrong footed, and whilst the efforts they went to to try and identify and recruit MO’N’s successor were thorough and diligent, the search took longer than ideal and left supporters and players restless in the uncertainty.

    These were the cards Gérard accepted as his hand. To be frank he didn’t play them well. He spoke of the club that had finished 6th in the preceding 3 seasons as being a natural 7-12th placed club. Perhaps, given the situation, that was a realistic objective for the season ahead, but it certainly got the goat of the fans - it sounded unambitious, it sounded, to some, like a slight on their team and a pre-prepared excuse not to aim higher.

    There were also some issues regarding players who had previously played under Gérard at Liverpool - Friedel, Warnock and Heskey. He certainly seemed to revitalise Emile, who along with Marc Albrighton was a dynamic force in our attack. Brad Friedel remained the true professional, kept his head down, and concentrated on keeping goal. But in Stephen Warnock we saw that things were not all sweetness and light. Warnock was exiled, seemingly never to return.

    Results were up and down in the early months, and away performances were largely poor, and if the performance wasn’t poor, then we still managed to lose.

    The meeting with his former club, Liverpool, at Anfield on a Monday night 3 months into his time in charge at Villa was to prove another débâcle. Not only was the team given a shoeing by Liverpool, themselves struggling, not only did the players look utterly demotivated, but then Houllier added salt to the wounds by firstly completely ignoring the Villa supporters who had been singing and cheering all night for their team, for HIS team, in favour of opting to applaud the fans of his former club on the Kop, and then compounding the error by post match comments appearing to suggest that he was happy to lose to Liverpool.

    Unsurprisingly a furore errupted. Angry supporters, a media that’s always ready to jump on a story and then the damage limitation exercise. The whole escapade was revealing. It showed several things. Clearly Gérard had, in part, come back to English football to try and prove something to his former club, a club whose supporters he holds in high regard, and fair enough. But that drive led him to show, perhaps, at best, a disregard for the Club, players and supporters of his present employers. He sort of apologised, but didn’t seem to acknowledge, or maybe even realise, that he had been unwise.

    Efforts to repair the damaged relationship with us Villans followed - the club tie, the thanks to the fans after games. These efforts looked stage managed, but things began to pick up, to move on. The FA cup gave us good wins over Sheffield United and Blackburn and maybe, just maybe, a good cup run could be the saviour of our season?

    But like that game with moles and mallets, as soon as you pop one on the head, another appears. At a team bonding session it was alleged that Collins and Dunne had over lubricated themselves tonsillarily and let rip with their views on training methods and coaches.

    It was evident that perhaps too many changes had been made, too quickly. yet at the same time there was an old Houllier habit of blaming others - a defeat to Bolton in March was blamed on Martin O’Neill’s defensive zonal organisation. In truth while the defending all season was largely poor, it was bad finishing that cost us that game. Darren Bent a welcome January signing, who scored the goals to keep us up and whose finishing is normally so good, had missed 3 clear chances, Stewart Downing another and there were numerous other near things. In Downing and Bent, Heskey before he was injured, in Bannan, Albrighton, Clark and others from the youth set up we could all see there was talent at the club. The results were not matching the sum of the squads parts. For every performance like the 2-2 draw at home to Man Utd, where a injury hit and youthful Villa side tore them apart, playing an attractive brand of football, before tiring and succumbing to 2 late goals, there was an utterly woeful performance, like the defeat at Man City in late December, in which the players didn’t seem to know what to do, to care, or to be playing “for the manager”.

    And it was Manchester City who played a part in the next foot/gun/bang moment. Drawn away to them in the FA Cup, Houllier put out a depleted side. Despite some good football, the side was shown up and then dispatched by a full strength City side.

    Fans were again furious - there were only 2 league games in March, why rest players? That we then lost the next game at Bolton only made things worse. And the league table wasn’t looking pretty.

    Following a grim home defeat to Wolves, the fans turned on Gérard Houllier big style. I’ve never heard or seen a Villa crowd turn on a manager with such intensity. If I thought in December that his time was up, it was clear at the end of that Wolves game that there was going to be no way back. While feeling for someone subjected to that level of antipathy, in what is after all, only a game, and must be a dreadful experience to undergo...well it just wasn’t working.

    After thinking that Houllier would never regain the sympathy of the supporters, and that he had brought much of the situation on himself, things took an altogether more serious turn. Houllier was taken ill with chest pains, a legacy of previous problems, and no doubt exacerbated by the reality of his working situation. Thankfully he appears to be on the mend, I truly hope so, and perhaps too it’s made a few people realise that there’s a lot more important things than games of football. Certainly the best wishes of all Villa fans, and many more from the wider world are with Gérard Houllier.

    In his enforced absence, the team brightened towards the end of the season, probably co-incidentally. Though we lost another local derby, this time to Albion, we managed to win against Liverpool and Arsenal, and end up somewhere in the middle of that “7th - 12th” place bracket the Houllier mentioned back in September. Throughout most of the season, ironically, we’d have snatched anyone’s hand off, offering 9th.

    If I was to summarise my feelings about the time Gérard Houllier spent at Villa it would be along the lines of “a decent man, with a philosophy about the way to play that game that I understand and like, but one who through circumstance and his own flaws, as well as his strengths managed to live up, and down to all the expectations of him” which as summaries go is pretty muddled.

    It’s undoubtedly the right thing that he leaves the club, football’s not worth dying for, or getting ill for. And Aston Villa needs a change, too.

    Salut et bonne santé, Monsieur Houllier.
     
  3. After Tuesday night's impressive and perhaps slightly unexpected League Cup romp in Norwich, Villa rather annoyingly dropped another place in the league owing to one of the teams below us beating one of the teams below us. That's twice this weekend that has happened *grrr*. I think most can agree that we are playing better than results or league position would suggest. Indeed our trouncing of one of the form sides in the league in their own back yard would point at that fact. Yes they were full strength.

    But we now need to start translating those good performances into league wins. The positives are as follows. We have stopped shipping goals. In fact we are now keeping regular clean sheets even against sides like Arsenal. We are unbeaten in 4 league games and our team is now playing the kind of football that suggests the players really know how to play with and find each other. The only thing missing is that we start to pick up 3 points in the league instead of 1. We need to transfer Tuesday's cutting edge into Saturday's away trip.

    For a start, in my view that means starting with a front 2 of Benteke and Weimann. Two assists for Benteke and a brace for Weimann was just the attacking ticket that was needed and I would hope that Paul Lambert would see fit to continue with that forward line-up; indeed that whole starting 11 in the game against Liverpool. The one exception being if Captain Ron Vlaar becomes available again after injury. But even then it would be harsh on Baker to drop him.

    The League Cup is a great distraction and now that we're in the semi-final for the umpteenth time it is a little more than that. We're 1 round away from a 'day out'. But if we don't bottle that momentum over the next fortnight then the Christmas turkey might stick in the throat a little.

    I wonder is it the pressure of the league getting to them? These lower division players who have played in the League Cup before but not in the Premier League. Is that why they're not phased by the League Cup and why they are so good in it? Is the PL that daunting in comparison or is it simply the way the fixtures fell? I dunno.

    Anyhoo, Liverpool and Tottenham are two of our next three games and I think both are potentially vulnerable. While Liverpool's form has improved of late, they did scrape past Southampton 1-0 (I know they beat us earlier in the season) and leave it late against West Ham. Neither of whom I'd describe as being particularly impressive sides. The worry for me is the return of everyone's favourite buck-toothed Uruguayan who will doubtless be up for the occasion after his enforced absence. If we can stifle him then I'm quietly confident that our young charges will be under-estimated and could maybe pull off a shock.

    Meanwhile, Spurs still seem to me to be slightly disjointed without knowing what their best 11 is. Or certainly their best front 6. They are still a team in limbo. If we can take our newfound cohesion into that game then we could over-match them tactically and come away with the points. It's far from the Spurs of Redknapp. They're not rolling over sides anymore. They're giving teams a chance and again I think we could do it.

    Sandwiched between these ties is an away trip to Chelsea where I don't expect much joy to be honest. Even allowing for my disdain of Rafa Benitez, I think his Chelsea side are improving and the quality of his players will be too much for us. Without checking, I can only hope the World Club Cup dates and travel somehow mess with their fitness and fatigue and that we can capitalise on it. You never know.

    After those 3 we go on a fairly soft schedule for a while. Well, as soft as a Premier League schedule is ever likely to be. So even if it doesn't go to plan in the next 3, it won't be doom and gloom. If we can start (or continue?) scoring goals while keeping it tight at the back then it doesn't take a genius to work out the end result. I think we're pretty close now.

    Let's start on Saturday.

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  4. What a hideous time to be an Aston Villa supporter. A very active transfer window continued right into its final hours, during which an actual game of football had the temerity to burst our bubble. With the signing of Brentford's Scott Hogan waiting to be announced, the new Villa man's former club destroyed his new one in front of the television cameras.

    After that reality check, another. Villa lost at Nottingham Forest on Saturday to round off an appalling week and to continue our poor start to 2017. If January killed off our play-off hope, February's conduct with its corpse has been questionable at best. In this week's Aston Villa Review, Chris and Steve welcome some new faces and lament some old habits.

    Listen to the show:

    Click to play / right-click to download (MP3)

    Import to podcatcher of choice (feed)

    Subscribe in iTunes-SzCgyR6tlo


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  5. I've an awful flu-like chest infection right now, so there are two boxes waiting to be unboxed. I'm frustrated.

    So for now I am giving away a prize, which is great if you love Star Wars!

    Subscribe to my channel to be in with a chance of winning!

    www.youtube.com/c/denjamediauk

    o02n94.jpg

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    Latest Entry

    Back from the game, and well, i dont quite know what to say about that......

    First things first..... last minute winners away from home in the cup are bloody epic, and I dont care who it was against, but moments like that are what football addicts out of us. Absolutely fan-bloody-tastic, the away end went mental.

    More rationally, we look very at home at this level.

    Defensively we are just a joke. Comical really. First half we played OK, we contained the expected rush early on, put our foot on the ball, played through it pretty comfortably, scored a couple of good goals and seemed to have it in the bag, easy street. It wasnt a particularly impressive performance, just comfortable

    Second half, well, we got played off the park from 45-85 minutes. Totally outclassed. They scored two, could have easily been four or five. Just a total shambles of a football team, so, so fragile. Then, at 2-2, instead of crumbling away altogether, we suddenly stepped up about 20 gears, passed it quickly and incisively, nearly scored twice, then did score.

    How important will that goal be? We will see. It felt like a big moment.

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    This year The Premier League have outdone themselves and managed to sell the TV rights to next seasons Premier League games for a staggering amount of money, an amount which will cost 3 unfortunate teams around 60 million pounds this summer when they suffer relegation to The Championship. Fans saying they cannot wait for the 'bubble to burst in football' I can't agree with you more - however it is not happening this summer with the fee's and ludicrous amounts of money only increasing in 2013.

    What this means for the three unfortunate clubs that face relegation is that they will not only have current players clamouring to get back into the Premier League - as these increased fees will certainly be finding their way into players' pockets with increased wages and not into the fans' pockets with reduced costs - but also that their would-be rivals in Premiership will have a considerable amount more money to spend in the next 12 months than they do (and even more if the clubs cannot win instant re-promotion - a much harder task than is expected, with Birmingham, Blackpool, Blackburn, Wolverhampton and Bolton all finding themselves in the bottom half of The Championship at the moment). All this makes this January window possibly the most important January window for a long time.

    Clubs such as QPR will no doubt invest heavily as Harry Redknapp aims to make his mark on an over-paid and under performing squad at Loftus Road. There are already signs of a turnaround with positive results from both Chelsea and Tottenham. The question of QPR's large investment is more a matter of 'when' than 'if' as relegation could cripple a club where players such as Julio Cesar expected to fight for Europe this season rather than relegation.

    Southampton's - who have a game in hand on their relegation rivals - capture of £12m Gaston Ramirez shows the Saints are not afraid to dive into the market if they see a good player they can take on board. Whilst Alan Pardew's Newcastle have already secured Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy, another two outstanding coup's for the Magpies who still have Yohann Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa to return from injury. This is not a squad that will be fighting relegation come March despite their ridiculous poor form (and no away wins) this season. Martin O'Neill's Sunderland have also dipped into the market for N'Diaye and are also reportedly battling it out with neighbours Newcastle for the capture of Toulouse's midfield warhorse Moussa Sissoko. Even Reading have the signature of Daniel Carrico, the former Sporting Lisbon captain.

    Curiously then, after a £20m summer spending spree that Aston Villa have yet to dip into the market. Lerner's expenditure however, despite the large looking number, was the bare minimum the Villa squad required. A small, young, inexperienced squad at the start of summer somehow managed to come out the other side younger and less experienced. Which would be fine. Except it is the quality of the squad that is the problem.

    Skip back three years ago and the Villa squad reads like a dream compared to nowadays, particularly in midfield where players such as Gareth Barry, Stiliyan Petrov, James Milner, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing ran rampant to now be replaced by midfielders who are caught in a persistent no mans land.

    'Midfield playmakers' Ashley Westwood, Barry Bannan, Fabien Delph, Karim El-Ahmadi and Stephen Ireland make up the Villa midfield. And those players all have one thing in common, they are known for their passing skills and nothing else. The strength and defensive nous previously offered by Barry and Petrov, the undying engine and work rate from James Milner and the get-up-off-your-seats action from Ashley Young - is all missing. And perhaps the most worrying thing for Villa is that a team with 5 playmakers in the midfield - can't string more than a couple of passes together. A team of 'creative' players that can't create a thing.

    Former Crewe captain Ashley Westwood joined the club in the summer and has looked by far Aston Villa's best midfield player this season - bizarre then that Paul Lambert insists upon substituting him at any given opportunity. The only midfielder who can so far keep the ball and not lose possession. He is not a strong midfielder but with him on the pitch vs Chelsea, Tottenham and Wigan this christmas we only conceded 3 goals. Compared to 12 without him. The signings made by Lambert this summer (by and large) have been positive. Christian Benteke, Matthew Lowton, Ron Vlaar and the aforementioned Westwood have been stellar in the majority of their performances this season. So why isn't Lerner entrusting more of these to be made? These players are not the problem, it is the ones that were already at the club causing the majority of the issues.

    Other than just the midfield Aston Villa's squad just lacks any kind of quality. Yes it is young, yes it needs more experience and an experienced Centre Back and Defensive Midfielder are a must for Villa in January. But one must also look at the quality of players. 17 year old Luke Shaw looked a revelation for Southampton until his injury in Saturday's game between the two clubs, whilst 22 year old Joe Bennett looked appalling during Villa's 3-1 defeat to League 2 Bradford. Sometimes players are not good enough and whilst Bennett and El-Ahmadi have shown flashes of potential quality it is not enough and it will not be enough to keep Villa in the league.

    When you look at Villa play for even just 90 minutes it is clear where the issues lie. A lack of quality and experience in the defence causes horrific errors in every single game, the same is said for the midfield. Perhaps these under performing playmakers could perform better at what they do best if they weren't being asked to try and be strong defensive midfielders too? But aside from the negatives, if you watch Villa you also see the potential throughout the team. The 3-1 win at Liverpool this season shows there is potential there. Christian Benteke, Andi Weimann, Matt Lowton, Ashley Westwood and Nathan Baker are some huge positives for the Claret and Blue army this season and some good, smart purchases could completely turn the club around. These players by themselves can not keep Villa up, these are the players that should be developing at the club with quality dotted around them to help them learn from their mistakes. However, at the moment these players are being relied upon to BE those experienced, calm pro's. They are expected to make up for the frailties of their team mates. Frankly, it is not fair on them.

    Another - much needed - investment of £20million could keep this club in the Premier League at a time where failure to hold onto your Premier League status WILL cost a club £60m this summer. It seems bizarre that with so many good purchases made under Lambert than the club would fail to spend this January. Lerner is toying with the future of the club for what must be pennies to a man who has recently sold his other sports team (The NFL's Cleveland Browns) for One Billion Dollars.

    In my opinion £20m keeps us in the Premiership this year and effectively gives a return of £60m this summer. If Randy Lerner fails to deliver yet again, I am afraid he must go.

  6. A 2-0 loss at home and a pair of clubs near us in the table beating clubs at the other end of the table. Disaster?

    Our chances of staying up actually slightly improved.

    16th 0.1% unchanged
    17th 0.6% +0.1%
    18th 2.4% +0.9%
    19th 12.3% +4.1%
    20th 84.6% -5.1%
    1. Villa: 99.3% (-0.1%)
    2. Sunderland: 86.9% (+8.0%)
    3. Swansea: 43.4% (+7.4%)
    4. Bournemouth: 28.8% (-12.6%)
    5. Newcastle: 24.1% (+1.2%)
    6. Norwich: 15.2% (-3.2%)
    7. West Brom: 1.2% (-0.3%)
    8. Chelsea: 1.1% (-0.4%)
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  7. There's no Defense!

     

    LesRic.jpg

     

     

             Nobody will deny, the goals against Villa this season are going to send us down, but who is to blame? We can look around the Villa team and see areas with a lack of experience in their positions. Villa have Gana, Veretout, Ayew, Amavi, Okore, and more, but one area we have experience is defense. We look at Guzan, Hutton, Richards, Lescott, Clark, and Richardson, and we have 1490 games at a Premier or Championship level. If that is the case, then why are conceding 2 goals per game in the Premier League?

     

             Over the years, through my coaching experience, to have a strong defense, you need a decent and vocal goalkeeper, and two well organized central defenders. One of those defenders, needs to be able read the game extremely well, and take charge of the defense. Have Villa got that?

     

    I think Guzan has shown enough in the past, he is a very good keeper. He has made a few mistakes this year, but with such a lack of confidence in your defense, who would blame him.

     

             As we look at the central pairings that have been used over a number of games this season, we have:

    Richards & Clark (8 games, conceding 1.75 goals per game)

    Richards & Lescott (7 games, conceding 2 goals per game)

    Okore & Lescott (4 games, conceding 1.25 per game)

     

    We can say, certain pairings may have played against stronger opposition, but in the end we have to make the decision, certain pairings may just not work. I look back at the games throughout the season, and so many goals have been conceded by poor positioning, or players not attacking the ball while it's in the air. 

    The two goals against Norwich, Richards wasn't close enough, and didn't challenge Howson. Richardson, marking nobody, doesn't close down Mbokani Bezua, as the ball floats over Clark's head. Is this down to the manager’s instructions? Or are our players just that bad or just can't give a rat's ass.

     

           The confidence maybe low, and a win may change things, but I feel a lot of the blame falls on our captain. Clark has made a couple of mistakes, and Lescott is a lot slower these days, but our captain's ability to control the defense is the major problem.

     

    Richards is awesome at challenging for a long ball in the air, or challenging a forward as he receives a ball with his back to goal. Sadly, his wanting to charge up field, and lack of defensive awareness is killing us. If he had been in charge of the Titanic, it would have sank long before it hit the iceberg.

     

    All the other three defenders, should position themselves off Richards. Defending is a lot about positioning and angles, and not just how strong you may be in the challenge. I have worked with flat back fours for over twenty years, and the only time Villa's defense has looked right is when Richard's hasn't been there. I'm not saying Richards shouldn't be one of our central defenders, I'm just saying he shouldn't be the one controlling it. 1490 games between them, and we looked like they have never played a flat back four before. I am not exonerating the rest of the players for their part, but when you don't have a leader you can rely on, then players start to do their own thing, and it all falls apart.

     

    I'm not blaming Richards for, Lescott's slowness, or Clark's naivety, or Richardson's lack of ability to attack a ball, but I blame him for not being the lighthouse to keep everyone safe. People claimed, he was going to be an England regular for years to come at the age of 17, but his career flounder at Man City. He played with Lescott there, and formed a strong partnership, and friendship, sadly that partnership is now failing because Richards is the leader. I believe the Lescott partnership could be the one that brings a holt to the flow of goals, but only if Richards takes a step back, and hand over the reins to his friend. 

     

     

    I believe if Richards isn't willing to do that, then it has been shown in recent weeks that Okore is.

  8. After what feel like weeks we've finally revealed our new logo and rebranding. With a massive thanks to @TheHolteTweets on Twitter and Michael Scrivens from towerandcrane.com we have a professional looking new logo, cover art and a video intro. 

    It's something we're immensely proud of and an image that we're really happy to represent our work. The lion's mane is shaped to resemble that of a speech bubble to reflect our opinion based content. 

    See the full reveal here:

     

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    This is an ongoing blog which will look at each area of Aston Villa’s squad of players that are contracted to the club at the end of the 2016 season. The first post will go through all the Goalkeepers at the club, looking at whether the club should attempt to keep them on, or try to offload them out of the club. After a season of failure, following years of near misses, it is easy to suggest that the entire squad should be ripped up, so the aim is to look objectively at every player.

    1 - Brad Guzan

    The big American goalkeeper is slowly becoming part of the furniture at Villa Park, having been signed originally by Martin O’Neill. This makes him the second longest serving member of the senior squad, behind Gabriel Agbonlahor, which can be viewed in two very different ways. Having been there for so long he will understand the club, the fans, the expectations and be an old head in the dressing room that doesn’t cause trouble or grab the wrong headlines. However, unfortunately for him he has been the goalkeeper to have taken Villa through year after year of relegation battles and his form took a nosedive that he didn’t seem to quite recover from.

    He is still the USA’s first choice keeper and has helped keep us up in many seasons. Under the new management, especially with the new goalkeeper coach coming in, he is worth giving another chance. If the club receive any serious bids I can see him potentially wanting to put the last season behind him with a fresh start, but he doesn’t need to be forced out the club.

    31 - Mark Bunn

    A strange one in the sense that he hasn’t showered himself in glory during his time at the club, but hasn’t been any worse than Guzan this season and has pulled off a couple of impressive saves. He hasn’t been a regular first choice keeper since 2009 with Sheffield United in the Championship. With his career slowly heading downward, and seemingly only ever signed permanently as a backup keeper, I would prefer it if he was moved on in the summer.

    13 - Jed Steer

    Jed has been at the club a fair few years now and has never made the step up from third choice keeper, which would initially ring alarm bells and suggest he’s surplus to requirements. However, this season just gone he’s been sent out on loan to Huddersfield and by all accounts has done a good job for them, to the point that they’ve extended his loan twice. A keeper who is young and still developing, Aston Villa could do a lot worse than keep him at the club, even if it was as second choice. Whether he’d want to be second choice is another question though. The chances are he has found his level and if Huddersfield are interested in keeping him permanently, I would let him go.

     

    41 - Bradley Watkins

    I know relatively little about this goalkeeper, but what I am aware of is that he has slowly overtaken Benjamin Seigrist in the eyes of the academy staff, who looked a capable goalkeeper himself at one time. I would guess though, at 21 years old, he probably hasn’t progressed to the level that would make him a viable bench keeper. With his contract up at the end of the month, it is unlikely that it will get renewed.

     

    To summarise, I would only be looking to keep hold of Guzan for next season, but even then I wouldn’t say no to a reasonable offer. There are a lot of good goalkeepers in the lower leagues and this is one position we cannot afford to take a risk with. Rumours of Daniel Bentley are very welcome as I think he would be a fantastic option, but there are other keepers, such as David Marshall, who we could launch an ambitious bid for.

    I would consider signing:

    • David Marshall - looked good for Cardiff in the Premier League, plenty of experience
    • Boaz Myhill - was at West Bromwich under Di Matteo and Clarke, looked solid when called on
    • Daniel Bentley - My preferred choice, an excellent young keeper for Southend who looks ready to take the next step. Hopefully Aston Villa can convince him to do that with them.

    It would make sense to build from the back, so a solid goalkeeping signing early on in the transfer window would be a signal of intent.



  • Posts

    • He has done ok considering the circumstances. But if we don't learn from this and buy a left back in January then I give up. 
    • You're right, maybe 'garbage' is too far. But given the (lack of) difficulty of their opponents so far this season, and their poor points return, and the likelihood that they will be in the relegation zone after the next five games, I don't think it's far off.  On a more general point - Krychowiak, Livermore and Barry are all water-carriers. Why do they play with three versions of the same player? It's no wonder they don't create any chances. 
    • I actually agree - with much of what you say  do I think Bruce is useless ? No -  do I think he is good enough to manage Aston Villa ? No I don’t 
    • Only Phillips offers any creativity and mark him out WBA offer nothing except set-pieces. Krychowiak has been played as advanced midfielder when i saw them vs Arsenal 
    • Did Milner not play there on sunday
    • Kevin kilbane slaughtered walsh on the radio and pretty much blamed his ego for not bringing in Giroud. Also said he isnt shy to tell you about his role in Leicester success
    • Alan leaves at the end of the season, it could be so sweet if we also get promoted and gabby also departs.
    • From what I saw (which was off and on of the second half) Grealish looked skillful but didn't link up at all well with his teammates. O'Hare looked quite sharp in terms of runs. 
    • Only Niasse looks like he might score regular goals, which makes them a fairly unattractive proposition. Rooney could score more but won't be told or coached, and nobody else looks like reaching five for the season. Ironically, they'd probably be better off with a Pulis/Big Sam type (not them, but of that mould) until January, when they can panic-buy the striker they need. However, you can't appoint a manager for just a couple of months. 
    • If they are serious about challenging in the future then they should poach Silva from Watford.  Whether he would go is another question but that would show they mean business.