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Aston Villa
Posted by Kevin Hughes on 11/25/2011

'Given...'

Of course; great goalkeeper, great signing; in good form, which is probably just as well, as he'll have a busy night.

'Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock...'

Carlos! Back at right-back, just like the Martin O'Neill days again. Still, Hutton's had an indifferent start and I like Cuellar, even though I prefer him at centre-back. Bit disappointed that James Collins has kept his place again - when is McLeish going to give Ciaran Clark a go?

'Hutton...'

What? What?

'.... Petrov, Herd, Heskey.....'

Hutton, midfield? Heskey, still in midfield? Wha...

'Agbonlahor, Bent.'

And thus, that's how I knew we were going to be carved apart for fun by Spurs on Monday night.

Very little about that team selection, and formation, made any sense to me. Once I'd got my head around who was where, it was obvious Alan Hutton was moved from right back to right midfield to nulify the threat of Gareth Bale - even though it could be argued Tottenham's most potent attacking player all season has been Rafael van der Vaart. But I had a problem with that. It suggests the manager didn't have faith in Hutton to just play at right-back as normal and pick up Bale, and it suggests he didn't have faith, either, in Cuellar, the player drafted in for this specific game.

And it meant that at right midfield, we had a player not comfortable in the position, so unlikely to offer much going forward, and unlikely to do the things you would usually require from a midfielder - composure on the ball, ball retention, a subtlety of play that is often beyond a full-back - and especially a full-back in the Hutton mould.

The sensible selection (or my sensible selection) would have been Marc Albrighton at right midfield. He's no defender but has the ability, and notion of responsibility, to track back and put in a defensive shift and, of course, remains an attacking player. Villa would have had an outlet in Albrighton, and the option to give him the ball, allowing him to create chances too.

Having Albrighton to consider may well also have forced Bale on the back foot on occasion, and pushed him into defending. As it was, Bale had zero defensive duties, and created both of Tottenham's goals.

Had McLeish considered Albrighton - who didn't make the bench - out of form, he could have pushed Herd across from central midfield to right midfield. Hardly a stretch for Herd, an athletic, defensive-minded midfielder who has appeared at right-back for Villa. He'd have tracked Bale all night long, and also offered more on the ball than Hutton.

It wasn't all about Hutton, however. The continued Heskey midfield experiment shows no sign of abating, and deploying him in that role again at White Hart Lane was ineffective and baffling. A Villa midfield including Hutton and Heskey was never going to do anything other than cause mild inconvenience to Spurs and their line-up of Bale, Parker, Modric, Van der Vaart and Lennon. Harry Redknapp could not have asked for an easier return to touchline action.

Post-match reaction to Villa's defeat, from Villa fans, has been incredulous, hysterical, critical. Over the top? Perhaps, considering that, on the face of it, a 2-0 away loss at Spurs is hardly the season's worse result. But the manner of the defeat is troubling; I read a stat earlier today that Villa have now dropped into the bottom two of the Premier League's 'lowest average match possession' table. Very poor indeed.

My own take is that McLeish's choice of players - not so much his formation, but the players he decided to use in that formation - is cause for real concern. The way to combat a team like Tottenham, who crave possession and have the options to hurt you if they have the ball, is not to pack a midfield with blockers and runners. That's just damage limitation. All that happens is that you end up repeatedly giving the ball to the opposition for them to have another go. Again and again.

That same Villa formation, with two or three players changed for players actually comfortable on the ball, and the result may have been different. The performance WOULD have been different. That McLeish had a bench of players I would term 'footballers', in the purest sense of the word, was incredibly frustrating for me; Bannan, Delph, Ireland, N'Zogbia. All midfield players, all technically gifted and capable.

Not to mention the criminally under-used Clark, who has demonstrated before that he can play competently and nearly in a midfield role; you want an extra defensive midfielder for a particular match? Why not try Clark, who has done the job several times before?

The worry now is that McLeish is reverting to type. That was the big fear upon his appointment as Villa manager, that he would, despite richer resources around him, retreat into the notions that made Birmingham City unremittingly dour and uninspiring (not a dig at them, it's a commonly held view among some BCFC fans that McLeish evoked a fairly dire style of football: after all, how was it that their manager seemed unwilling to trust David Bentley and Alexander Hleb with key roles last season?)

McLeish tried something on Monday night. It failed, hopelessly. It was one game. Was it a blip? He has the benefit of the doubt, for now, and I expect him to release some of the shackles for Sunday's trip to Swansea (though I predict a difficult match, Swansea certainly know how to pass the ball).

But with a difficult December around the corner - games against Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all coming during the month - McLeish needs to get the balance right, and soon. It's time to start playing to his players' strengths, and stop banging square pegs into round holes.


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Comments

Posted by bc villan on 11/25/2011

I hate to say it but as much as I love the Villa I honestly believe we are the worst footballing side in the Premier League.
Can't pass can't tackle and haven't a clue about running into space, with every one inclined to just blindly hoof the ball up the pitch. What's happened to our academy players ? I think that all the coaching staff should be sacked and bring in some new blood with new ideas!

There's something fundamentally wrong at Villa Park and it's not just AM. Why can't the sods ever watch recordings of how good teams play and try and emulate them? - or is that too revolutionary a concept?

Posted by Bongo on 11/25/2011

Couldn't agree with you more. The selections on Monday were terrible. It makes me really worried for the rest of the season. As you pointed out, we had players on the bench who could have caused a bit of concern for the Spurs side, but McLeish chose to pick players way out of their positions, again.

He seems to be way out of his depth. Sure, we have him and that's not going to change without the massive payout it would take to sack him, but surely if not he, then others at or around the team should be able to see the problem and its causes.

Posted by bill on 11/27/2011

AM's competence to run a top half EPL squad is coming into question. He could have signed Hitzlsperger, but didn't. The midfield is a mess.
He has made questionable player choices to put it mildly. But if anyone feels Ireland could help Villa, I have to question their perspective.

At least we saw Albrighton and Clark play last year. They could very well be part of Villa's future. But not with AM in charge. I fear for Villa's future. We may be returning to the 'good ol' days' after Gregory....scrapping for 15th.

Posted by Ritchie D on 11/29/2011

The Spurs game, and the follow up at Swansea (Speed related trauma aside) have set a dangerous precedent for the coming winter - McLeish has decided that the opposition will dictate our tactics, and that's going to cause no end of pain over the next five games.

I cannot see us emerging from the Christmas period inside the top 12/13 of the league, and so I wonder where Mr Lerner's belief that McLeish HAS steadied the ship will have gotten us.

I just hope the likes of Ciaran Clark don't leave because they don't get a chance.....how Herd is playing ahead of Delph, Bannan, Clark, or Ireland is beyond me. Ball retention is the best form of defence against almost any opposition, so why not pick players who can keep the ball ? ? ?

Posted by MattfromMemphis on 11/29/2011

The exclusion of Albrighton continues to baffle me. The kid has pace. He can get back. Basically, what you already said.

I love Heskey, but really? He turns 34 in a month, and he certainly looks it. He's a sub, not a starter. Same thing with Carlos. He's a 30 year old 6'3" right back that's clearly lost a big step in the past year.

Play the kids. Play Clark. Play Albrighton. They're hungry.

Posted by A Liverpool fan in peace on 12/02/2011

I happened to watch this game and, despite not being an avid viewer of Villa I was left with the same expectation from the beginning as yourself.

The selection made little sense to me.

Why play Hutton in a position he is not comfortable in?
Why play Heskey (who in my opinion would struggle to play Championship level under anyone else)?

I could perhaps understand Collins remaining but if he was looking at a midfield that would get into spurs then he couldn't have got it more wrong.

In my view he should have gone with...
RM
Albrighton: he's energetic and a threat, I am quite astounded why he doesn't get played.

CM
Petrov, Herd:That's what he went with and it worked pretty well.

LM
Delph: I've seen him past play there for Leeds and could have done a far better job than Heskey. Quick, energetic and will stick a foot in when needs be.

I think that may have server you lot better.

I do wonder whether he was the right choice in manager for you lot though.

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About
Kevin Hughes Kevin Hughes spent the best part of ten years working and writing for the football magazine Match; once (sort of) inspiring David Beckham to copy his shaved-hair look, getting lost in Paris after the 1998 France v Croatia World Cup semi-final and other such nonsense. As Deputy Editor, he launched and established Sport, the London-based free weekly magazine, before moving on to become a consumer magazine publisher, a position he holds today. Introduced to Villa by his father and grandfather, he attended his first ever match at Villa Park as a seven-year-old in 1982… and has suffered almost constant disappointment since. You can follow him on twitter @KevHughesie

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