For the past few season, Aston Villa has been a club on the fringes of crashing the “Sky Six” party. Coming into the 2011-2012 season, despite the appointment of Alex McLeish as manager, many supporters had hopes that Villa could challenge for a Champions League spot. To this point of the season, however, Villa have found themselves in the middle of the table with no real sense of direction of what the club will do during the rest of the season.
The current Villa roster includes an array of promising players and some solid veterans. The likes of Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor provide many of the scoring opportunities while Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia patrol the midfield. Plus, the summer transfer signing of Shay Given has helped to give consistency at the keeper position.
So with these talent players taking the pitch for the claret and blue, why do they find themselves sitting in twelfth place? First, I feel that much of the blame has to be put at the feet of McLeish whose tactics are often questionable. The former Birmingham City manager often deploys some of the most dour strategies in the Premier League. He tends to have his squads pack it in and try to play strong defensive football. Villa ranks towards the top of the league in tackles and interceptions per game. But this defensive style often leaves no offensive attack as they rank near the bottom in possession percentage, successful pass percentage, and shots per game.
This style has led to inconsistency in the Villa’s results this season. One week Villa plays Manchester United in tough match, then the next week they lose to Bolton. Recently, in a home match against a struggling QPR club, McLeish’s men found themselves down two goals at half time. As the second half resumed, Villa began to attack more and eventually came away with a 2-2 draw. To many fans, that is a fixture that Villa should have definitely come away with the full three points. Instead, with a draw, Aston Villa remains a drift in the middle of the table.
There is also the possibility that the talent at Aston Villa is not at the level that many in the media make it out to be. The Lerner ownership group has spent some large transfer sums on a variety of players that have failed to live up to their contracts. For example, while Bent can be a fine goal poacher, he does very little on the pitch to make his teammates better. This might not seem like such a horrible thing, but ownership paid over twenty million in transfer fees to acquire Bent. At this point, it’s safe to say Villa have not received a return on their investment.
What Villa really lacks is a creative midfielder to orchestrate the offense in those rare moments when they possess the ball. There is optimism that N’Zogbia could eventually turn into that player that is able to unlock opposing defenses and generate more scoring chances Bent. This sounds simple enough; however, most of the clubs in England are looking for players that can be inventive with the ball at their feet so the cost of these footballers will continue to rise making it difficult for Villa to secure a talented midfielder at the right cost.
So while there is some talent at Aston Villa Football Club, it is not of the same depth and quality as there is at the Sky Six clubs. Maybe if McLeish alters his strict defensive tactics and gives the players more offensive freedom on the pitch, Villa can make a charge up the table and settle into a Europa spot which would give their fans optimism for next season.
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