Title race back on, blah blah blah, Aston Villa torn apart like a dingo on a newborn, yada yada yada, England expects ahead of international week—wait just one minute there, pal.
It would be safe to say that Villa is a sort of stand-in England B side in the Premier League, at least according to the English press in light of Capello’s on again/off again preference for the once-potent duo of Agbonlahor and Young. So while Sunday’s thrashing of Villa by Liverpool is good news for Gerrard’s form heading into internationals this weekend, it gives the lie to recent claims that England has achieved some measure of depth in the senior squad.
Villa were very poor, and while O’Neill’s decision to field a more open 4-4-2 at Anfield has taken much of the blame, the form of Heskey, Young, and Gareth Barry certainly didn’t help the cause. O’Neill even seems to have lost some measure of faith in the latter—he’s already said he’s open to letting Barry go wherever he wishes at the end of the season.
But beyond their current league woes, Villa are at risk of losing out to “mostly-foreign” Arsenal in Champions League qualification for next season. The CL would have given Villa’s English players invaluable experience playing the best teams and players in club football’s most important knockout competition, surely decent preparation for South Africa 2010.
The case might be made that England is strong enough with out its younger players or its aging but still useful internationals. At the moment, Steven Gerrard is worth ten Gareth Barrys. But Gerrard, like Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, has missed big tournaments to injury before (Euro 2004). If England is to expect any measure of success in South Africa next year, it will need a strong group of second strings. Villa’s current slide in form will not help toward that end.