March 24, 2009
This is typically the point where I'd rattle off a list of fixtures and explain exactly what Aston Villa must do in order to achieve the satisfactory results. So here it goes. United-Everton-West Ham-Bolton-Hull City-Fulham-Middlesbrough-Newcastle. There. No more analysis is required.
March 21, 2009
Liverpool Football Club have had a pretty good 10 days. First they ousted Real Madrid from the Champions’ League. Then they walloped Manchester United at Old Trafford. On Wednesday, Rafael Benitez signed a five-year contract extension. On Thursday, Steven Gerrard’s assault charges were dropped. The ducks, as they say, are in a row. And just in time for Aston Villa’s Sunday visit.
March 16, 2009
On Friday, Aston Villa were fourth in the Premier League, three points clear of Arsenal in the race for Champions’ League qualification. When they woke up this morning, they were a fifth-place side in the midst of a seven-match winless skid. Where do they go from here?
In a word, Anfield. Given their deteriorating quality of play, Villa simply don’t have time to take a long, hard look in the mirror. They must only look ahead to the next opponent. No sulking about the fans’ treatment of Gabriel Agbonlahor. No ruing the loss of Martin Laursen. Anything other than total, forward-looking focus is an unnecessary sideshow.
March 14, 2009
And so it comes down to this. Ten matches to break the top four and secure a berth in the Champions’ League. No, it didn’t go exactly as planned. No, the squad was not supposed to tire as it has; and no, Martin Laursen should not have suffered an injury at the most crucial stretch of the schedule.
But Aston Villa are there—nursing a three-point lead over Arsenal for fourth spot in the Premier League. It hasn’t been pretty. Their elimination from the UEFA Cup was pitiful and their recent form has been disappointing. Nevertheless, they remain in control of their destiny. And beginning Sunday against Tottenham Hotspur, they will embark on a three-match series that will define their season, one way or another.
March 7, 2009
Aston Villa’s sojourn in Dubai comes at the perfect time. Having not won a match since early February, getting away from the Premier League pressure cooker will be a relief to manager Martin O’Neill and his charges.
The tired squad will get a good rest and an uplifting bit of sunshine. Here’s hoping they didn’t bring a ball along. Football is the last thing these players should be thinking about this week.
March 3, 2009
Aston Villa and Arsenal have struck up something approaching a rivalry this season. Not that their pair of Premier League encounters were particularly testy. (Villa did, however, take four points from their meetings and beat the Gunners 2-0 at Emirates Stadium in November.) No, this enmity has nothing to do with head-to-head contention and everything to do with the race for fourth spot in the standings and qualification for next season’s Champions’ League.
If recent weeks are any indication, it’s a race that neither club seems interested in winning. If Everton had been in a better position when they embarked on their current streak, they might well have claimed a place in the top-four for themselves. As it stands, they are eight points adrift of Villa and can do no better than fifth this term.
And so it comes down to Villa and Arsenal. Youthful, English backbone versus stylish, cosmopolitan flair. Pity they don’t face each other down the stretch.