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Venimus, Vidimus, Vicimus!


John
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So we completed our second Italian Job within a week yesterday by beating Fiorentina as we had Juventus in the Peace Cup Final. These two just might not be the only Italian outfits to be conquered by the rampant Villa lion this season!

As they did in the Peace Cup the youngsters that make up the present Villa squad showed again yesterday that they can offer Martin some selection alternatives in the coming season and some of them will see next season as an opportunity to make a claim for a regular place on the bench if not in our starting line up.

I have been encouraged by the performances of these previously considered “fringe” players and by our pre-season as a whole. I also think lifting that trophy last weekend may have done a lot more for the club and for those players who were involved in particular than we might at first think. As the late great Brian Clough once said about Forest’s victory in a competition with a similar profile “The Anglo-Scottish Cup was something to us, to the club and the players. It provided us with a cup, and players who hadn’t won anything with a medal – players like Woodcock, Withe and half a dozen others who had got nothing out of their careers until we got our hands on that trophy. Success of any description was something this club hadn’t known for nearly 20 years. Our lot tasted champagne (for the first time) and found they liked it”.

We do still need more players to add to our squad so that we can realistically look to mount a challenge on all fronts next season. Downing will be a major asset when he becomes available. Fabien Delph looks a real prospect and by choosing us has shown that we are the club of choice for young English players who are looking to make the transition from young players with potential to England regulars. Habib Beye has provided us with added experience and cover at the back as well as with that “Monday, Tuesday Habib Day” song that I’m sure our very own Fonz will much look forward to hearing. Add a striker, a midfield player and a centre half as a minimum and our squad will look a lot nearer to one that can challenge next year than many of us had thought would be the case only a couple of weeks ago. Young players who had generally made up our squad numbers on the back of the programme last season have through the games they have now played moved forwards and onwards. They will offer cover next season and they will not come into games with fear but looking at them as a chance to enhance their reputations at our football club.

Yesterday’s game in isolation did not teach us too much. A pre-season friendly rarely does and that is particularly the case in one in which 19 players participate. But our players showed promise and the enthusiasm that we had lacked at the end of last season. Fiorentina were solid at the back, did compete solidly enough, came into the game as our substitutions came on and off in the second half and so did give us a worthwhile run out, as would be expected of a team that finished fourth last season. They also demonstrated that very few Italian defenders can resist the opportunity to make the odd dubious if not cynical challenge even in a friendly.

My player ratings from a game that acted as a hors d'œuvres for the season feast of football that is to come our way are:

Brad Freidel - 7 – A good stop from Jovetic on 32 minutes and Brad was solid and reliable when tested as we have come to expect.

Eric Lichaj – 7 – Has shown Martin with his pre-season displays that he offers a viable alternative to making next Saturday’s game a Habib day.

Ciaran Clark – 7 – Grew into the role as the game wore on.

Carlos Cuellar – 7 – A solid first half performance from a player who looks to be relishing the opportunity to prove himself in his natural position.

Nicky Shorey - 6 – Solid enough.

James Milner – 7 – Hit a punch from their keeper Frey just over on 3 minutes and was denied by the keeper again 40 minutes later. Looked very good and ready for a big season before his substitution on the hour.

Fabien Delph – 7 – Slight of stature but big on potential as was the young Gordon Cowans. He has pace, skill and although opponents will think they can push him off the ball easily enough I think he might just surprise a few of them with his resolve to make a big name for himself at Villa Park and his willingness to put a foot in.

Craig Gardner – 7 – Hit a decent free kick from the edge of the box on 12 minutes that Frey pushed out and hit a good Heskey cross wide 4 minutes later that he might have hit with his right rather than his left foot.

Ashley Young – 7 – Brushed aside a challenge on 37 minutes and then went on a determined run before forcing a decent save from Frey. Looked very lively.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 – Has the pace and a full season behind him now and will now need to produce consistency and goals if the coming season is to produce the goods for us and a World Cup squad place for him. The next few weeks rather than this brief outing will show whether he is up for the challenge.

Emile Heskey – 7 – (MOTM) Emile is fast becoming our pre-season goal machine is he not? He hit our winner on 14 minutes when he applied the requisite finish to Ashley’s cross who had been fed by Milner. Looked up for it from the start and on this form he will be pressing Big John for a starting spot.

Substitutes:

Marc Albrighton – 7 - Replaced Carlos at half time and did nothing to dampen the high expectation levels that his pre-season performances have so far created. He has the potential to make significant progress at this football club.

Curtis Davies – 7 - Replaced Ashley for the second half and conceded a penalty on 75 minutes with a hand ball but otherwise looked what he is a top class central defender who we will need to stay fit over the course of this season. But, his ongoing shoulder problem is a real concern with our current lack of cover for the centre of our defence and I wonder why we did not use the summer to try to remedy this problem rather than risk it going during the season and our being without Curtis for what could potentially be months?

Brad Guzan – 7 – Replaced Brad the elder at half time as in the fullness of time he surely will in the long term. Last weekend’s penalty stopper extraordinaire continued to look a real keeper yesterday and this is one playing area that we already do have real strength in depth in. A good stop from a Gilardino header on 52 minutes and made another from Baracar 8 minutes from time.

Nigel Reo Coker – 7 - Replaced Gardner on the hour and looked up for it from the start as he encouraged all around him with his verbal advice and his own high level of performance. Reo is another who looks much more comfortable playing where he knows he can best influence a game and he looked like our captain when he came on with or without the arm band.

Steve Sidwell – 6 - Replaced Milner on 60 minutes and looks likely to have more opportunities this season than he did last to show his true worth. Steve was the victim of a couple of rash challenges shortly after his introduction.

John Carew – 6 - Came on for goal scorer Emile on 60 minutes to the usual adoration and will be up for the game next week.

Nathan Delfounseso – 7 - The fourth of our substitutions on 60 minutes when he replaced Gabby. Nathan looked keen to make an impression and now needs to begin to find the net with some regularity to progress and build on his clear potential. Whether he would have found that easier to do at Leeds on loan rather than coming off our bench for the odd 30, 15 or 5 minutes is open to question. His flicked header from a good Albrighton cross flew just wide on 73 minutes.

Shane Lowry – The last of our 8 (yes eight) substitutions yesterday when he replaced Fabian on 78 minutes and not on long enough to rate. If the referee had allowed the appropriate stoppage time for all of the substitutions that happened yesterday rather than the minute he did this game would still have been in play when WBA kicked off!

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Not sure I agree with those ratings, although I agree with your sentiments over all.

Brad Freidel - 7 - A good solid pro, did what good solid pro's do

Eric Lichaj - 7 - Pretty good, but he iwll face a sterner test in the prem

Ciaran Clark – 6 - Looked better next to Cuellar that Davies, not bad, but not dominating

Carlos Cuellar – 8 - Carlos did dominate in defence, I was impressed and we worked much better as a unit with him in the middle commanding things.

Nicky Shorey - 6 - Was ok, certainly good enough to merit a place in our squad

James Milner – 7 - Typical Milner, good energy, helped back, got forward, I think he's great.

Fabien Delph – 8 - I was thoroughly impressed with Delph. Calm on the ball, could buy himself space with a bit of skill, quick off the mark and snappy (if a bit too snappy) in the challenge. Seemed to pick the right pass most of the time too. The Leeds fans who told us that we got a gem here I think were right. Will watch him develop with interest, as will our more experienced midfielders who will have to play very well to keep him out of the team.

Craig Gardner – 6 - Did some great passes, but I was not convinced by his overall contribution. A bit too pedestrian in most departments to be top flight. Good utility player for the squad though and the midfield partership ticked nicely with him in it.

Ashley Young – 5 - Came out in the captains armband, but seemed disinterested. Low energy performance and a fair bit of finger pointing. I expect much more from a player with his quality. In a game when I came away with mostly positives, his performance was my biggest concern.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 7 - Would have been more effective if he had not been fouled every time he got goal side of a defender. Any other day he would have had a few chances. What he did do was good though, held the ball up well, won his fair share of headers and scared the crap out of a few defenders with his pace.

Emile Heskey – 6 - Scored a good goal, but did not contribute enough for me. Wasn't great at holding the ball up, or even winning the ball in a competitive situation. Needs to harry the opposition defence more and generally be more busy.

Substitutes:

Marc Albrighton – 7 - Looked great when he came on, good skills and passing, some of the best deadball use of the game (distinctly better that Ash was in the first half). The Italians did seem to be getting the measure of him as the game went on though, getting into the tackle much quicker. He reminded me of James Milner, which as I said earlier, I like.

Curtis Davies – 6 - The defence seemed to loose a bit of it's shape when Curtis came on. Wasn't as commanding a player as Carlos, but was still ok. Could be a result of all the subs, should work well along side Carlos though.

Brad Guzan – 7 - Very happy with Brad as back-up to Brad.

Nigel Reo Coker – 6 - A few misplaced passes and a little slow of thought and action in advanced postions reminded me what frustrates me about Nigel. The midfield looked much better with Delph in it. Also seemd to sit a bit too close to the back 4 allowing the Fiorentina midfield to advance further into our half than they had previouly been able to do. I expected a bit more up and at them from him.

Steve Sidwell – 6 - Similar to Nigel, sat too far back and was not energetic enough, I preferred the first half midfield

John Carew – 6 - Big John can foul people, but he cannot be fouled, look it up it's in the rules.

Nathan Delfounseso – 7 - Looked good and lively, did really well to get infront of his defender to win a dangerous header. He and Gabby were the best two strikers on show.

Shane Lowry – Didn't see enough of him to get an impression.

Fiorentina - 4 - I would never play this lot in a friendly again. They took advantage of it being a friendly to do some of the most cynical and niggly fouling I have ever seen. Almost every time we got a good move going or a player beat a man, in went the boot. In a competitive game they would surely have had a man sent off. As such we were able to take less out of this game than we may have liked as the main thing we got to practice was keeping cool under fire. If we had picked up an injury from any of those fouls I would have been fuming.

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The ratings were difficult to call in a game such as this Straggler and the true test for each player will be on Saturday when there will be no excuses. Let's see how close our ratings are then. :winkold:

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