Tag Archives: Aston Villa

Who’s going to push the panic button?

In case of emergency...

Amazingly, Manchester United came back from 2-0 down to draw with Aston Villa 2-2 at Villa Park. But United were lucky: Villa attacked from the beginning and outplayed United the entire match. Which means, of course, that the English media and a lot of US columnists will wring their hands. So, let’s step back and see the pros and cons of pushing the panic button.

Reasons to push the button:

1. No wins away from home. United have been in positions to score, but haven’t been able to finish teams off. Why is that? Perhaps it’s complacency, but I think it has more to do with lack of squad depth and disharmony.

2. No reinforcements. Wayne Rooney’s hissy fit last month brought into relief the lack of spending. In principle, I understand Sir Alex’s desire not to overspend. In reality, he clearly has no money to spend. It appears as though the Glazer takeover debt is finally coming home to roost.

3. No speed and no creativity. Let’s get one thing straight: Nani will never, ever be a consistent performer (unless that performance is dramatizing fouls). Park Ji-Sung is a nice player with plenty of industry, but he’s not going to float beautiful crosses. The speed comes into play at the back. Having one center back with no speed is fine; two is too many. Add to that the fact that the left and right backs have neither the speed nor the skill to keep up with Aston Villa and United has major problems.

4. Poor transfer decisions. Bebé for 7 million? Smalling for 10 million? No move for Özil at a cut-rate price? No move for van der Vaart, available on the cheap?

5. Playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. In the Manchester derby, United adopted a defensive posture despite controlling large portions of the second half. Against Villa, United was attacked from the beginning and had no response (at least until Macheda’s laser in the 81st minute, which appeared to flick a switch in the team). It looks like United is rattled, and that’s not a good thing for such an ambitious club.

Reasons not to press the panic button:

1. Sir Alex Ferguson still runs the show. Twenty-four years in charge with amazing success means he has a lot of leeway.

2. An ability to come back from the brink. United have an amazing ability to come back. In the match today against Villa, they came back from 2-0 down. They’ve done that more than once this season alone. Perhaps it’s not complacency, but an unwillingness to fight until it’s absolutely necessary (which may, in fact, be a bigger problem).

3. The kids might actually be okay. Gabriel Obertan looks like he’s developing (which only took about three years). Federico Macheda’s development curve, on the other hand, looks like the last two years of the Dow Jones index. Javier Hernández was an excellent piece of business. The downside? None of those are defenders or creative wing players.

By numbers, the cons outweigh the pros, but I’m still not ready to push the panic button. United will not win the league this year (barring some major changes in January, which aren’t going to happen) but all is not lost. At least not yet.

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Manager a-go-go, part deux

US manager Bob Bradley

Now that Martin O’Neill has left Aston Villa, speculation turns to his replacement. According to the Daily Mail, Sven-Gören Eriksson, late of the Ivory Coast, and United States manager Bob Bradley are the favorites. If Villa owner Randy Lerner thinks Eriksson can do anything for his squad, he hasn’t been paying attention. On the other hand, Bradley is interested in the position and would, in fact, be a far better choice. Additionally, the US Soccer Federation’s silence is indicating that it wants to go in another direction (convenient because Bradley’s contract ends on 31 December).

So, who should replace Bradley on the US sideline? The top choice, in my opinion, is Jürgen Klinsmann. He lives in California and has an American wife. He likes living in the US and led the Germans to a fourth-place finish at the 2006 World Cup. He is the only choice, especially since Guus Hiddink is off the market.

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Classy Krulak trashes O’Neill

Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa (Getty Images)

Of course he’d pop off like this: Aston Villa director Charles Krulak has said that Martin O’Neill fancied himself bigger than the team. Furthermore, Krulak said, O’Neill was too cowardly to stay and correct his mistakes in the transfer market.

I’m sure Krulak was doing owner Randy Lerner’s bidding, because Lerner and O’Neill have not had a good relationship for a long time. Instead of taking the high road, Lerner and Krulak descended to the low road and blamed the manager (in truth, O’Neill’s transfer record wasn’t perfect, but he is a good manager) in an attempt to take the focus off, what else, finances.

I’m sure there’s more to this than meets the eye.

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Martin O’Neill unexpectedly quits Aston Villa

Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa (Getty Images)

Five days before the Premier League’s season begins, Martin O’Neill quit his role as manager of Aston Villa. Graham Taylor speculates it’s over the transfer policy (i.e. his best players being sold without his consent).

It is, perhaps, more a symptom of the manager’s loss of control. As more wealthy owners buy clubs, they become increasingly willing to enforce their will. Take Roman Abramowich’s early days at Chelsea. He wanted to assemble a fantasy team of high-profile players. Look how that turned out. (Well, actually, it worked out pretty well, but because José Mourinho was the manager. But they didn’t get to the Champions League final until 2008, when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge.) Abramowich’s spiritual successors are the owners of Manchester City, Tottenham, and, of course, Aston Villa.

Thus, as clubs become vanity projects, managers lose control. Stability is the first victim and, as I’ve mentioned before, stability is perhaps the key to long-term success. A lack of stability also means that the owner will be unable to attract quality managers. And without a quality manager, quality players won’t come, either. (Lack of European competition also means those managers and players won’t come.)

Abramowich learned from his mistakes and now lets his soccer people make their own decisions (aside from a general directive to play attractive soccer, which Ancelotti blithely ignores). Time will tell if others learn a similar lesson but, for now, it cost Villa a pretty good manager.

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The Premiership at the quarter-ish pole

prem trophy

Premiership trophy

Being an analysis of the Premiership at the quarter-ish pole of the season. With 10 games down, who’s looking good and who’s looking bad? Well, read on, dear reader, for that and much more.

LOOKING GOOD

Obviously, Chelsea is looking pretty good right now. Check out their goal differential (+20) and the fact that they’re pretty much running on all cylinders. Sure, that’s a clichéd cop-out, but still. The fact is that Chelsea have looked good since their summer tour of the US and I don’t see a drop in form coming anytime soon. Perhaps it’s due to Carlo Ancelotti. Or Didier Drogba hitting the net more often than Adriano hits the clubs. Too soon?

Not to be too much of a homer, but I have to include Manchester United in this category, too. Other than the Anfield slip-up, Sir Alex has done a masterful job getting the boys ready to play. And Ryan Giggs has been nothing short of amazing; I don’t know how he does it, but the man keeps playing and playing and playing. I am truly impressed. The only downside is Rio Ferdinand’s inexplicable loss of form (well, maybe it is explicable: back injuries can be career-enders). I look for Sir Alex to go get a central defender or two in January.

Surprisingly, Spurs are doing well this season so far. I think that’s deceiving, though, because their goal differential is only +4. Perhaps a couple of reliable defenders and a keeper should be brought in because, Lord knows, they have enough firepower should they ever harness it. I’m still waiting for Giovani Dos Santos to show the form in the Premiership that he did for Mexico this summer; that’s the Gio I’ve been waiting for for what seems like ever.

LOOKING NOT SO GOOD

I know this puts me in the minority, but I’m not convinced that Arsenal have what it takes to compete. They have to beat back Manchester City’s challenge and catch Chelsea and United. I simply don’t think they have the personnel to do that.

Liverpool is cursed this season. Injured bodies are stacked like cordwood outside of Anfield and that’s not a good thing, especially when it’s the captain. Pool are a two-man team (those two men being Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard) unless Alberto Aquilani (and his stunning girlfriend) can make a difference. I do like some of their players but it’s my position that they need one or two more to truly compete. Actually, what they need is Xabi Alonso. Shame, really.

I’m hoping for the best when it comes to Sunderland and Stoke City but I’m reasonably certain that my hope is misplaced. Which is too bad. I’d love to see them cause some chaos.

And, finally, it’s too bad Aston Villa couldn’t maintain their form. Hardly unexpected but too bad nonetheless. And Hull City is well and truly forked, methinks. Phil Brown needs to go and Jozy Altidore needs to play, dammit!

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