The clocks may have gone forward but have Aston Villa? The race for fourth place is now entering its final stretch and this Villa team and its lack of depth is beginning to show once again. A year on from a season that started full of promise and then just fell away is looking like its going to be repeated this time around. Finishing fourth now seems highly unlikely, and while many had them down as favourites to finally do it this time around it comes down to progress that has stalled.
They may be unbeaten in 2010 but that is a fact that is misleading. In their games they have played the Midlands club has had a battling win away at Wigan, draws against Stoke and Wolves and earning a 1-1 draw with Manchester United, at home, whilst being outplayed by a United team that had 10 men for the majority of the match. Getting to the FA Cup semi-final was done only through a dramatic against Reading. Success in the FA Cup, after being convincingly beaten in the Carling Cup final, may be a bonus as they have not won the trophy in 53 years but the course of a 38 game league season is where they will be judged. These results, and a 7-1 thrashing at Chelsea last weekend, shows that a lack of depth in their squad is becoming too much of a weakness as is their style of play, along with their tactics.
O’Neill’s men have had a number of draws, something that is familiar with the club and has led to them being called the “king of the draws”, and that looks like a lot of it has come down to their one-dimensional way of playing. They rely heavily on winger Ashley Young and are generally suited to playing away from home- but there in itself lies a problem. Strikers such as John Carew and Emile Heskey have a big presence so a lot comes from the wings and becomes predictable for the opposition because they know what to expect from Young or Stewart Downing. The reason why Villa have ‘predictable’ tagged at them is because of the pace they have in the forward areas of their team and their ability to counter-attack against teams that come at them- they either score like that or through set-pieces. This is not always something to fall back on and they invariably end up struggling to break teams down at Villa Park. Finding the balance is crucial because they need to start performing equally well at home and away to be considered a top four team- let alone blowing the chance to finish there.
Villa are a team that has all the effort but the skill and flair that sets the others apart is missing, more often than not, with them. This gets further highlighted because of the time of the season we are in whereas they could get away with it earlier in the season when they were on a fine run of form. They are suspect tactically because they are not compact enough- something that became obvious at Stamford Bridge in the embarrassing defeat. They lost possession quickly coupled with a lack of movement from their front men. Whilst their squad is primarily British, and some of the best British players available, it can be argued that they are not as technically superior as other teams are in terms of ball retention. This is not to say that they need more foreigners in the team because Villa should be applauded for having a lot of home grown players, but these players should be capable of adjusting their game tactically. Something else that comes more in to the foreground is the lack of depth in the squad. Putting the same team out more or less every week catches up with you as we enter April. These statements about needing more time and the fact that they are supposedly progressing is an excuse that should not be said because it was something that got mentioned this time last year.
If Aston Villa are to move forward then they must come up with the answers to the same questions that seem to get asked of them every time. After all, they are a massive club with plenty of fans and the only way they can overcome their difficulties is by looking at the way they are playing. A change in this should see a change in results but it remains to be seen if Martin O’Neill, as clever a manager as he is, can rectify this. Fourth place looks like it will have to wait yet again; winning the cup may be more than a consolation in some eyes, but Villa need to make sure this does not become a recurring theme.
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