Aston Villa Learn Lessons in Control as the Ugly Bubble of the Premier League is Increasingly Exposed

Good, Bad and Ugly of Leeds and West Ham

By Phil Shaw

With worrying times outside of football beginning to creep into the game, it’s time for the Good, Bad and Ugly of the recent Villa away double-header.

The Good

Villa’s performance, away to Leeds, was about as comfortable as you can get against the current Bielsa assembled Leeds.

The Argentine bucket-sitter may have departed, but the team still make things uncomfortable with their energy levels and attitude.

Aston Villa, put in a completely professional performance at Elland Road, scoring when they should and keeping the chaos merchants at arms length.

Unfortunately, the same was true in reverse against West Ham, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Villa had learned their lesson from the 3-3 home game, and just shut Leeds down without sacrificing their attacking game.

For the first time since the Bielsa era, Villa didn’t fall into Leeds’ trap and didn’t need to defend for their lives either. 

It leaves Villa’s season in a good place. With any outside chance of relegation now effectively over, the foundations can be laid for next season.

If Villa can continue to occupy ninth position, the gap to the European spots, won’t seem as vast to the players or any new signings coming in.

Villan of the Week – Calum Chambers

If Chambers didn’t get a mention after two pieces of sublime skill, then it would be an injustice. The pass against Southampton, and the goal against Leeds, were beyond what we have come to expect from a central defender.

Even if Ezri Konsa, comes back in against Arsenal, Chambers has put a marker down, to show that he has tricks up his sleeves for certain games.

The Bad

It’s not even that bad this week. Losing against West Ham, just felt like a game too far at the minute for Villa. 

They didn’t seem to have the nous that West Ham have discovered, to play two games in a short space of time.

It isn’t even a fitness issue, it looked more mental, as the players struggled to adapt to a different challenge, than they faced in previous games.

Steven Gerrard alluded to the fact that West Ham are a taller and stronger side, and at key moments in the game, this was enough to get them over the line.

It was far from a bad performance from Villa, they just came up short against a team that scored at the right times.

Against Southampton and Leeds, Villa took the lead, forcing the opponents to come out of their shells more. They needed to do the same against the Hammers.

West Ham aren’t a particularly complicated side, you won’t find overlapping centre backs or three rotating false nines.

What you get instead, is organisation and what could be described as traditional, effective, efficient, football. 

It’s how they’ve managed to stay in the top six and Europe without spending a fortune.

Good set pieces, accurate aerial bombardment and control in midfield was key, but the breakthrough came from a moment of class from Yarmolenko.

Although, nobody was touch tight to him in the box, the way he controlled the ball with his right and arrowed a snapshot into the corner with his left in the same motion, broke Villa’s resistance.

West Ham, will probably play that way in every game this season. 

The challenge for Villa is to learn to overcome these kinds of teams, as old-school teams have had their number all season.

The Ugly 

The current situation in Ukraine is uglier than anything football related, and it feels wrong to discuss the sporting ramifications when lives are being lost needlessly.

From what we have seen this week, the ugly truth is that the two are related. 

What’s gone on at Chelsea, since Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government, is so unprecedented that nobody knows what it could lead to and anyone that claims to know is just chasing clicks.

The only sure thing is that it has put the current Premier League clubs on alert regarding their ownership structures.

Being banned from selling tickets, merchandise and having a cap put on travel, has come as a shock to a club where a lack of money was never a thought. 

It’s caused a strange request to be made, then withdrawn, to have their FA Cup tie away at Middlesbrough, played behind doors. A tone-deaf PR stunt, that has spectacularly backfired.

It felt like desperation or a tantrum. But the writing has been on the wall since the war in Ukraine began. 

Anyone who cared to research, could link Abramovich to Putin from the moment he bought Chelsea now, the only change is that it’s being discussed on prime-time TV.

Plenty of pundits and sports journalists are feeling obliged to ask the questions they should have asked for years, putting players and managers on the spot.

If you are going to work for a club with questionable owners, expect to be questioned.

The questions aimed at Tuchel, Guardiola and Howe, are just the beginning. 

People who allow sports-washing to elevate managers and players onto a pedestal have to be prepared for ugly truths.

Can any player, manager, or fan use the excuse of ‘It’s only football’ moving forward?

Could any player honestly continue with some of the campaigns and charitable work they have done before and then sign for a club whose owners’ are opposed to it?

What it means for the Premier League is another unknown. We’ve seen how the Super League debacle has just been swept under the carpet, will this increased scrutiny of ownership be the same?

Any club can be subject to a takeover, but it doesn’t mean the fans have to welcome the new owners ‘no questions asked.’

The Premier League is a cash rich bubble, but everything has to come to an end. Whether it’s the war in Ukraine, that’s the pin that pops the ugly bubble or the next crisis remains to be seen.


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