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Aston Villa Underachieving and Unattractive Under Alex McLeish and Randy Lerner

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.

Note: Follow Matt on Twitter @thehackreport

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  1. twl

    February 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    You wrote a whole article and didn’t mention the defence or Martin O’Neill.

    It was MON who bought those under-performing players and gave them huge pay rises so they’d put up with his ego-centric managerial style. I don’t like the supposed McLeish style but I do realise this is still the post-MON era with MON players – it’s not possible to properly analyze Villa team without considering the (negative) legacy of Martin O’Neill.

    As for the defence, which you didn’t even mention, center back is the most important position on the pitch. (Don’t worry about playmaker – we have Gary Gardner and Barry Bannan). Who does Aston Villa entrust the most important position on the pitch, which is most involved in the game, too?

    Central defenders are required to pass the ball back and forth with central midfielders and wingers when the team is playing keep ball, waiting for an opportunity to emerge. This is more difficult than it sounds. Central defenders who can’t do this hoof the ball up the pitch. Central defenders, because they have the best view of the pitch of all the outfielders, have to organize defensive midfielders in front of them during play, organize set piece defence, hold a defensive line. They have to do all this, and they have to be in the right position to tackle. If you don’t get your central defence right you will not build a successful team.

    So who are our central defenders? Dunne and Collins – that’s a MON hatchet job.

    When MON got Dunne from Manchester City to replace the brilliant Martin Laurson we soon gained the old Manchester City defence. i.e. a hapless, bungling, comedic spectacle the league would laugh at every Saturday. Dunne is not a defensive centre back (Vidic), nor is he a playmaking centre back (Ferdinand). Dunne is an out-of-position, desperate saving tackle, penalty given away centre-back.

    I have three questions about Collins. Who is he? Where did he come from? Why is he anywhere near the Aston Villa defence? Martin O’Neill bought him from West Ham, where he was only just holding down a spot (at right back, think). He’s in the Welsh national team along with other players from the lower leagues of English football. Not good enough.

    Get the centre of defence right and Warnock and Hutton will start to play better, the midfield will feel more confident, and if the back two can do something a bit more talented than hoof it up the pitch they will able to hold the ball more often to create chances.

  2. Villan

    February 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Martin O’Neill spent more money than an other manager in history, and probably more than most of them combined! He also paid out more in wages to non performers than most Villa managers spent on transfers. He had a Champions League budget and only ever managed sixth place. In other words; he underperformed! As soon as the money flood dried to a trickle he was off and left others to clear up the mess. Take the money away and O’Neill was nothing! He was doing at Villa what O’Leary did at Leeds. Fortunately Lerner called time on his awful transfer and wage policy before it ended in disaster.

    That’s O’Neill dealt with! As for Lerner he needs to get over it. Just because his ambitions were not realised by one manager does not mean he should not try again. The appointment of the Scotsman makes me think the American has given up.

  3. Frankie

    February 5, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    Randy Lerner does not want to spend money to get Villa to be competitive. No matter who the manager Villa will not be competitive until the boss spends to bring in quality players who are better than midtable talent.

  4. AV89

    February 5, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Rubbish. MON was the greatest Villa manager of all time (he kept us challenging in the upper reaches more consistently than even Ron Saunders could manage). As for these young talented players, where are they? Why do so many bacg on about people like MacDonald and McAndrew being gems at Villa – these are the same people who got rid of Gary Cahill thinking he wouldn’t make it.

  5. danan roberts

    February 5, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Macca – “Aston Villa expect to be challenging for and winning trophies – what is happening at present is totally unacceptable.”

    We’ve won 2 league cups in 30 years. Where has this expectantcy been born from? Whilst I agree things need a massive improvement on what we’ve seen so far, I can never understand our supporters assumed, divine right to be winning major honours. Yes, we have a proud history and one never to be ignored, but we can’t allow it to delude us into thinking we’re one of the main players in the trophy shake-up these days.

  6. geekchicohio

    February 4, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Interestingly, there was a cover story in the Cleveland-area alternative weekly newspaper on Randy Lerner and his ownership/relationship with the Cleveland Browns. There’s almost no insight into AVFC, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless:

  7. Macca

    February 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Why weren’t you referring to “Sky Six” clubs when Villa were regularly finishing top six?

    Moving on to our current position, the buck stops with Lerner. Aston Villa expect to be challenging for and winning trophies – what is happening at present is totally unacceptable.

  8. Villan

    February 4, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    We are getting exactly what we expected from the Scotsman. Boring, boring ineffective football. We were (and still are) looking at the relegation places rather than Champions League spots. Next time Mr Hackenmiller writes on this subject he should have a look at the way Villa supporters protested BEFORE the Glaswegian was appointed. The day he goes there will be dancing in the streets!

    The only mitigation I would offer (reluctantly) is that the Scotsman has a big job clearing up the mess left by Martin O’Neill. Too many expensive, under-performing, over paid comfort zone players. That is the reason there has been so little spent in the transfer market. However that may be a good thing because no one trusts the ex-Rangers man to spend a penny correctly!

  9. Steve

    February 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    “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”.

    Errrrrm, no we didn’t.

  10. Matt

    February 4, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    The best solution: go back in time, give Martin O’Neill exactly what he wants to take the club to the next level, watch yourselves compete and succeed for the next decade. Right now there is no discernible way back for Villa. Alex McLeish? You have got to be kidding me.

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