Saturday afternoon at 3pm represents perhaps the most defining point Aston Villa will have in their season. When games are billed as ‘must win’ or ‘six-pointers’, it usually isn’t quite so severe; those terms are overused to a large extent.
However, for Aston Villa, the game against Watford at Villa Park is simply a must win clash. If we go any longer without picking up three points, then we run the risk of being seriously cut adrift and making an escape look even less likely than it already does. Especially after Sunderland’s shock win at Crystal Palace on Monday night.
In the same way that this game is a must win, although it may not obviously seem it, for us at least this is also a six-pointer. Although Watford have had a decent start to the season and currently occupy 13th place, they are a team who we should be looking at as potential relegation candidates. A team who, if they have a bad run, could potentially take one of the bottom three places instead of us. They are a huge 11 points ahead of us right now.
However, reeling that into eight points just makes everything a bit tighter at the bottom and we need to drag in as many teams with us as possible to give ourselves a chance. These sort of games are now absolutely vital.
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Much has been made of our December and January fixtures as having a run of winnable games and a period in which will give a significant idea of our fate.
Yet, after the Watford game, we have two more horrible looking games, away at Southampton and at home to Arsenal.
On paper, it is easy to discount any hope of a win from these games. However, due to our position, we can’t afford to have that mentality. Southampton are showing more vulnerabilities this season, and hopefully Arsenal’s injury crisis continues (and worsens) until three weeks time. We must not discard these games by the wayside. After all, nobody expected we’d get a point against Manchester City.
That said, the point against City now looks extremely fortuitous in the cold light of day against the Everton defeat. Make no mistake, City had chances and should’ve scored. Nevertheless, we defended admirably for the most part. Organised, committed and battling to win that point.
It’s absolutely crystal clear to me though, had we conceded in the first 20 minutes or so of the City game, we’d have lost that comfortably by three or four and the fight that we showed would’ve been nowhere to be seen. Although it seemed Remi Garde had worked a miracle after just three training sessions, it seems Billy Smart once again took over for the Everton game.
Now, whilst Everton are a good side, we didn’t half help them to look much better that I think they perhaps are. At least the first three of their goals should’ve been cut out and avoided, with their third goal in particular being an example of the absolute comedy gold we’ve come to be so familiar with; our defence tripping over and clattering into each other whilst their one man, who is outnumbered in the box by a ratio of 2:5, nips in to score.
It was utterly embarrassing. How had Remi gotten us to look so solid and compact against City, yet suddenly look at our most frail against Everton?
I have never known a team who’s players heads drop as much as ours do when we concede a goal. This is probably reinforced by the horrible form we are in, showing the players have no belief in being able to get back into a game once we go a goal down. But we have seen so many occasions this season where we concede and any confidence or belief just completely evaporates out of us.
The Swansea game is a great example of this. Having gone a goal up, once they equalised, it just seemed inevitable that we would go on to lose. There was no notion of fighting them back and going for the win. Does this stem from the capitulation at Leicester? Can we really be that psychologically damaged?!
Whatever it is, it needs to be addressed, and quickly. Because if we don’t have that fight and determination at the very least, we may as well accept relegation now.
Watford may be a good game for us, in so much as they are the among the league’s lowest scorers, leading only ourselves, Stoke and tying with West Brom on 12 goals. Hopefully we can summon up the spirit we found against City and shut them out. In saying this, Odion Ighalo is a tricky player who both creates and scores goals, and I personally wouldn’t want to bump into Troy Deeney outside of a Birmingham nightclub.
Being a Blues fan, and getting rejected by Villa as a kid, he will be up for this and he is beginning to find his feet at this level. Despite a lack of goals so far, they certainly pose more of a threat than we do at the moment and attack with power and pace.
The flip side of their poor goals return is that they have largely been solid at the back, shipping just 14 so far. This obviously poses it’s problems for us and our non-existent attack and it is hard to see how we can trouble such a miserly defence when we have mustered just 10 goals so far this season.
In regards to personnel, I would like an XI as close as possible to the one that started against City. With the obvious exception of Jordan Amavi, left-back is a problem.
Kieran Richardson has simply consolidated the view that he is a liability on the left hand side; the more I watch the clip of the way he tried to shoulder barge Gerard Deulofeu on the touchline instead of going for the ball and nearly falling over instead, the angrier I get. I would prefer Garde to come up with a solution (Clark at left back, with Jores Okore coming into the centre) or at the very least have the hard working Scott Sinclair to start on the same flank as Richardson to offer more protection on that side.
Ashley Westwood cannot start this, or any, game in my opinion, and a non jet-legged Carlos Sanchez must come in again. Garde was refreshingly firm in dropping Jack Grealish to the U21s having been snapped in the papers out on the pop again supposedly after the Everton game. It would also be nice to see the lesser-spotted Adama Traore to at least make the bench this week.
Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see how Garde sets us up and see which Villa turns up this week.
Please, please, please give us 3 points and finally get this season going!
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