The Perils of the Work-in-Progress
In most seasons, a 3-2 defeat at Liverpool would not be cause for concern for our support. This season, coming at the end of a run of games where points against less challenging opponents have been thrown away carelessly it adds to our mounting worries.
Post-game, Tim Sherwood urged patience as the team is 'a work-in-progress' but 'it will come good'. Having signed so many new players (amongst them young players and players unfamiliar with the Premier League ) it's difficult to disagree with him. In fact, this season's Aston Villa team are a clear indication of the perils of such a work-in-progress.
The unforgiving nature of the Premier League has exposed this. Seven games in with an uncompromising run of fixtures ahead we find ourselves in 18th place and but for a late Chelsea rally against Newcastle that would have been second bottom. In the preceding four (some may argue five) seasons of struggle we found ourselves starting to depend on other teams in the relegation battle dropping points. However, most of the time the worry was other teams catching up and we seldom dropped beneath the dotted line of doom.
We now find ourselves in the relegation zone needing to pick up points at the end of the second month of the season. Being in that situation you simply cannot sit around waiting for things to come good or for the wheels to fall off for someone else. Games become 'must win' and, to use a cliché, every point is a prisoner. Our next match against Stoke is one such fixture being against the team directly above us in the league. The mischievous amongst us will also point to the following fixture against Chelsea being a six pointer against another relegation battling side.
The stakes against Stoke could not be higher. The game is an opportunity to escape the bottom three ahead of matches against Chelsea (away), Swansea (home), Tottenham (away), Man City (home) and Everton (away). There are not many likely points amongst those fixtures and a reverse at the Stoke game will leave us needing to get something from those games in order to avoid sinking deep into the mire before the end of November. In this context, being a work-in-progress is not healthy.
But are our problems solely a consequence of a team that is yet to gel or reach its full potential?
For me, no. The manager has to accept part of the blame for the position we are in. Our players might be young and new to the league but some of them have shown tremendous promise. Adama Traore, Jordan Amavi, Jack Grealish and Idrissa Gueye are all, in my opinion, superb players who can do great things in the game. What has let them down, more often than not, has been the manager's game plan. Points were dropped against Leicester, Sunderland and Crystal Palace due to baffling subs or half time changes from the opposition not being countered. Both of these saw Villa lose initiative in games and resulted in points being dropped.
Against Leicester, after a superb Villa first half, Leicester rung the changes and began to trouble our side greatly. The sensible thing to do was to shore up the side and bring on either a more defensively minded central midfielder (Jordan Veretout) or bring on full back Alan Hutton and move utility man Leandro Bacuna further forward. Instead, Sherwood bafflingly brings on forwards Jordan Ayew and Rudy Gestede to absolutely no impact. Because that's exactly what you need when you're 2-0 up and lost initiative in a game! In the other two games, it was various shades of the same thing. Sunderland fought back following half time changes to personnel and tactics and claimed a point. Crystal Palace gained initiative after Sherwood withdrew Carlos Sanchez though admittedly even Villa's goal in the 2-1 defeat came after that change.
If even one of these games had ended in our favour we'd be in a somewhat more favourable position in the league.
It is not just in the substitutions that Sherwood confuses and frustrates. The formation that we set out in can often be a little bit strange. Sherwood seems determined to play with three defensive midfielders if all of Idrissa Gueye, Carlos Sanchez and Ashley Westwood are fit to play. As an analysis from one CABA poster stated most of the top sides in the Premier league play with just one of this type of player. The net result of this that we have three players in the side who occupy a similar role, tend not to provide assists to the forwards or score goals. This happens while more dynamic midfielders in the form of Carles Gil and Jordan Veretout sit on the bench. This system doesn't even seem to function well defensively as we defend poorly and give away many stupid goals away for a team playing SEVEN defensive players. The problems of this system were clearly demonstrated in our listless first half performance this past weekend. Ironically, even though Jordan Veretout looked somewhat off the pace when he was brought on we still managed to score two goals and make a game out of it after he replaced Carlos Sanchez.
But lets not be too hard on Sherwood. Much like the team he himself is a work-in-progress and with experience will come the knowledge and nous on how best to set teams out and manage a game. This brings us back to where we started. The current Villa side and their manager are a work-in-progress and that needs time and experience. The sad problem is that they are looking to get both of these attributes in what could well be a Premiership relegation battle. Without time they won't reach their potential but this is a commodity in scant supply in our looming situation. Yet, we need the work-in-progress to come to fruition to survive . As such, we need to hope and pray that things come into form as quickly as possible. Points will buy time and hopefully some precious ones will come our way this coming weekend. Lets hope that our manager and players don't run out of time.
Last edited by Sandie on Thu Oct 01, 2015 3:27 pm; edited 1 time in total
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A very well put together report on where Villa are at currently, and it's made me realise that this season is different from our previous struggles. Until now we've had the luxury of looking over our shoulder at the eventual failure of three teams below us who aren't quite able to catch us.
This season is different, we're one of the three worst teams that other struggling teams are looking back at.
Thanks Sandie for frightening me to death!
That's a great read. A well reasoned piece and shows we have an awful lot to do. Yikes!! Tim you best sort this out....
As things stand, uncomfortable it is, our fortunes are bound to our players and manager developing and learning on the job. I think football, for most of us, is all about short-term horizons rather than the long term project. Three points on Saturday and suddenly things look a bit more positive.