After a disappointing start to the 2015/16 campaign, Tim Sherwood’s men find themselves in a tricky predicament. With Chelsea, Swansea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Everton in their next five fixtures, how will they cope?
On paper, they should be doing far better than they currently are
That’s not to say that the team overall, isn’t good enough. The likes of Scott Sinclair, Adama Traore, Carles Gil, Jack Grealish, Rudy Gestede and Gabriel Agbonlahor are all viable attacking options in their own right, and the Villans have also strengthened defensively.
Jordan Amavi‘s already taken a shine to the rigours of top flight football in England since his summer switch from Nice for £9million, whilst Micah Richards and Jores Okore have struck up a solid partnership within the backline.
So, what’s going wrong?
They started off well, with a narrow 1-0 victory at the expense of the League’s newboys, Bournemouth. But since then, they’ve yet to record another victory in the seven games afterwards – and should have at least grabbed one or two more than they have.
A 1-0 home defeat against Louis van Gaal‘s Manchester United side was expected, but the way in which they lost, gave Sherwood plenty of positives to take from the result itself. An away loss against Crystal Palace, as well as a disappointing draw against lowly Sunderland followed next – and they could have easily taken more than a point out of a possible six in that respect.
Forgettable results galore
Then, two more forgettable results. First, the ultimate art of capitulation away at the King Power, where Leicester City came back from two goals down to win 3-2 with a spirited second-half display. Admittedly, it was the tale of two halves in the afternoon kick-off, but Sherwood’s men still should have managed to hold onto the lead they had, especially away from home – against a side with nothing to lose.
Jack Grealish‘s first senior goal, as well as a stunning effort from Carles Gil, were overshadowed by the team’s breakdown in the second-half, as they were often pinned back in their own half and struggled to fashion any chances of note – whilst Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were the creative duo helping to push the Foxes back into the match as a contest.
The west Midlands’ derby, was next. Saido Berahino (who else?) scored the one, and only goal of the match in an otherwise frustrating defeat, once again. Defensively, they were all over the place, and could have easily lost by two or three more, if West Brom were more clinical with their opportunities on-goal.
A slender, unfortunate defeat against a fragile Liverpool side in their final game of September was sure to sour Sherwood’s mood, especially after they’d shown flashes of the potential the assembled team should be displaying on a regular basis. Rudy Gestede scored a well-taken brace, but it meant nothing in comparison to Daniel Sturridge‘s two-goal haul, especially after James Milner opened the scoring within two minutes of the referee’s whistle.
1-0 at home against Stoke, the less said about that, the better. From this, we’ve concluded that the team defensively, aren’t as good as they should be. How will they cope, with a tough run of fixtures to come?
As previously stated, Sherwood’s managerial status is under an increasing amount of scrutiny. Thirteen goals conceded, eight goals scored, and things are looking bleak upon Villa Park. They’ll naturally be hoping for a positive international break in terms of (a lack of..) injuries, but their next five PL matches, are as follows:
José Mourinho‘s side have, just like Villa, underperformed thus far this season. For their extremely high standards, the league champions have seemed like none other than a mid-table club at times, and plenty of questions are being asked to say the least.
No-one could have foreseen the Blues’ slow start to the 2015/16 campaign, just a few months after lifting the Premier League title back in May at Stamford Bridge – even with their lack of acquisitions in the summer.
No match is easy for Villa, especially in their current form. Neither side will want another defeat, and this is probably the perfect time to face the defending champions. Tenative, unconvincing and under scrutiny, it could fire them to prevail even more though..
Swansea City (h)
The Swans will make the trip from south Wales, and you’d be naïve to suggest Garry Monk wouldn’t set his side out to go for anything less than a win. They’ve proved their worth in the past, they’re not scared of anyone – whether it’s Manchester United or Aston Villa in this case, they’ll always give the opposition a good challenge.
Villa will take pride from the fact that Swansea are yet to win on the road this term, but with that being said, produced some excellent football at times despite being held to a 2-2 draw against Tottenham in their previous fixture.
Two fabulous pieces of skill by Eriksen, with two sweetly-struck free-kicks, saved Spurs’ blushes, coming away with a point in the end. To stop Swansea from travelling back home with anything, what do Villa need to do though?
Firstly, they need to nullify the effect of Swansea’s star players. That’s easier said than done, admittedly, considering they’ve got quite a few of them too. Bafetimbi Gomis does a lot more than just score, I’ll have you believe. When he’s not getting enough service, he’ll drop deep into the pockets of space in midfield to try and win the ball, or add another option going forward for the team – like a AM would do.
He usually links up with André Ayew on the flank, and because their build-up play is almost inch-perfect every time, it’s often hard to stop. So, apply a lot of effective pressure, in order to force them back. The same should be applied with Jefferson Montero – another player who loves to gallop forward, but one that doesn’t shy away from his defensive duties either.
Also, they need to avoid conceding silly free-kicks. Cynical fouls in-and-around the centre circle, could be good for them in terms of slowing down the tempo of the game – especially as Swansea love to counter quickly, and have the quality to do so. Otherwise, Monk’s men will run away with the game itself.
Spurs, ah Spurs. One of the more unpredictable sides in the league – which can be a worry for both their opponents, as well as themselves too. Mauricio Pochettino’s team on paper, is impressive. The likes of Erik Lamela, Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane are a fearsome foursome, but there are also some under-rated names within their first-team too.
The midfield workhorses; Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, rarely get recognition for the amount of work they put in, on a regular basis throughout the ninety minutes on a matchday. Collectively, they make the forwards’ jobs easier, with their plethora of interceptions, important tackles and tactical awareness key to breaking up play in the centre of the park and snuffing out counter-attacks in their tracks.
They’ve got one of the world’s best goalkeepers in Hugo Lloris, whilst their backline is not too shabby either. The centre-back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld is a notable one; not only because they’re compatriots and know each other’s respective strengths, but together help to fill a cohesive back-four – especially when they need to defend with a slender lead to protect as an example.
Yet, they lack consistency. This has been the main issue for them over the past few seasons especially, which is why they’ve struggled to sustain a proper challenge for a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot, in the top four of the division. Sometimes, they’re wasteful and limp in-front of goal, and defensively, their shape splits into two and allows teams to attack them with speed and purpose.
So, this is exactly what Villa need to do. White Hart Lane is a tricky place to go, but if the tactics are spot-on, and the players know the gameplan from the beginning, i.e. frustrating the Spurs defenders, or trying to shut out the attackers going forward, they’ll get a good result in north London.
Manchester City (h)
Manuel Pellegrini‘s men sit at the top of the pile, at least they will have done going into this international break. With the absence of Sergio Agüero hurting the quality in attack, Villa would be hoping to at least get a half-decent result. But, stranger things have happened. The blistering pace of Raheem Sterling and the probing passes from Kevin de Bruyne as well as David Silva alone, are enough to give defences plenty to worry about.
The Citizens’ main weakness is predominantly in defence, and despite the signing of Nicolas Otámendi in August, it’ll still take a few months’ of settling in before the sky Blues have a solid backline – not least with the inconsistent alterations made within on a regular basis.
Start fast, ensure man-marking is not half-hearted, and City will have a game on their hands.
Last but certainly not least, a trip to Goodison Park awaits. One of the most-dreaded stadiums to travel to, not because of the area or quality of pitch, either. Everton, regardless of their position in table, or form, are one of the best teams in the league.
The centre-back pairing of Phil Jagielka and John Stones, the midfield duo of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, the marauding runs forward from Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas, the sheer power of Romelu Lukaku… goals. Aplenty.
In the last ten meetings between the two clubs (in all comps), Villa have only won two. A traditionally high-scoring fixture, it’s no surprise. The Toffees love a quick transition from defence into attack within seconds – this was reiterated during their 3-1 victory over Chelsea back in September.
They soak up pressure well, force their opponents back (regardless of whether they have possession or not), and hit them on the counter when they’d least expect it. So dangerous, yet so effective, it’s a tactic that hurts sides because they simply cannot defend against it.
For Villa’s sake, you’d hope they can try and thwart it. But if not, try and outscore them? After all, the towering figures of Okore and Richards should be able to give Lukaku – for all of his might and agility – a good battle in the final third. Shutting off the service from either flank, as well as through midfield, will be a tricky task in itself.
But, it’s not an impossible task. Just, very difficult. Like every other game in the league would be, right?
To conclude, Villa’s next five fixtures are all going to be tough. Probably the toughest point of their campaign, for the time-being. Get the tactics right, play well and show over a consistent time-span that their opening eight games was a blip, Sherwood will keep his job, players’ morale will increase – as will the supporters. If not, he’ll be nervously biting his fingers wondering if he still has a future with the west Midlands’ side.