Aston Villa’s Focus Simplifies After Losing Records

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Manchester United

Aston Villa, unbeaten in ten games, scoring in every game under Unai Emery, heading to a soggy Old Trafford against a tired Manchester United? Of course, this game was the record-ender.

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The Good

Records and streaks in football are great, while impressive, they can go on too long and become a distraction. In the Championship, Aston Villa’s ten-game winning streak came to an end before the play-off campaign, and I believe they were better prepared because of it.

Of course, losing at Old Trafford stings as it always has, especially to an untidy, deflected goal from arch-nemesis Bruno Fernandes, but getting those records out of the conversation and getting back to business might just steel Villa for the tough games ahead.

In 1995 Nottingham Forest went 25 games unbeaten in the Premier League. This took in their third-place finish and stretched well into the next season. However, by the end of the run, being unbeaten was all people recognised that Forest team for. They were drawing a lot of games and the record was going to go at some stage.

Enter Blackburn, on 18th November 1995, Blackburn ended that record in a 7-0 thrashing of Forest, who would never be the same team after the record ended. Forest would go on to be relegated the following season.

Unless you are on a record to win the league, like Manchester City, or Arsenal’s Invincibles, a lengthy unbeaten record can be counterproductive, as it becomes the goal, rather than richer prizes.

Villan of the Week – Emi Martinez

On a first, casual inspection, Bruno Fernandes’ winning goal may have been put down to Emi Martinez not dealing with Marcus Rashford’s low shot.

It took an actual goalkeeper in Kasper Schmeichel to break it down for Sky Sports on their Monday Night Football show, to show that he did all he could.

Schmeichel described how the low pace on the shot was the worst thing for a goalkeeper when it was placed perfectly. With more pace on the shot, Martinez could have saved it and let the pace of the ball take it away from danger.

Instead, Martinez had to place his right hand on the ground and push off this to generate enough power with his left to push it as far from the goal as possible, allowing him to get back into position to save any rebound.

Unfortunately a combination of Fernandes beating Moreno to the ball and then the unlucky deflection, meant that the textbook work of Villa’s keeper was open to debate.

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The Bad

Since the demolition of Newcastle, it’s clear to see that the other teams in the Premier League have taken notice of Villa and planned accordingly.

It’s not often that Manchester United bring on more defenders and sit deep for the last twenty minutes at Old Trafford.

In the game before, Fulham and their testimonial style reduced Villa’s game to a walking pace. Here the United tactic was as simple as overcrowding the midfield.

For the current Villa starting eleven to flourish, they need to play against a team that goes toe-to-toe with them. Villa could easily have gotten a draw at Old Trafford if not for good defending from Victor Lindelof and the deflected goal, but you can’t say Villa deserved more than that.

With teams playing specifically to stop Villa and then grind out results against them, Villa needs personnel with different attributes than the starting eleven for the last four games.

With the injured quartet of Leon Bailey, Philippe Coutinho, Boubacar Kamara and Matty Cash still out, there’s not a lot of preparation an opposition side needs to do. They know the starting eleven, they know the patterns of play and they know the dangers and can set up accordingly.

The Ugly

When Jurgen Klopp ran like a madman, along the sidelines screaming in the face of the fourth official and pulling his hamstring in the process, it was the standout moment of the weekend’s action.

Unfortunately, this action has had an ugly, counter-productive effect on the reasons behind his celebrations.

Klopp was unhappy with the standard of referee Paul Tierney, and like most managers, he had a point. Oliver Skipp, prior to nearly being decapitated by Diogo Jota’s high boot, had almost broken Luis Diaz’s leg.

The decision that tipped Klopp over the edge was another howler. Mo Salah had been running for the ball against Ben Davies. Davies was all over Salah, pulling his arm, shirt and anything he could get the hold of to stop the Egyptian. In doing so Salah’s arm went into Davies’s face and Davies suddenly stopped fouling him and went down.

The decision, a free kick to Spurs. In the next passage of play, they got another contentious free kick which they equalised from.

While Klopp is no saint, and in fact is public enemy number one as a Manager for abusing referees, I can understand why he reacted in this way. Unfortunately by doing so, he has given the PGMOL another get-out-of-jail-free card.

The current state of refereeing has left everyone in a no-win ugly situation. If you are respectful to the referees, they continue to treat you in a condescending manner and get decisions wrong, and if you berate them because of the wrong decisions, they close ranks and play the victims.

It isn’t an easy job, but how many people in the general public have easy jobs?

Do they have a management team that allows constant mistakes and rewards poor performance? Maybe in Downing Street, they do, but not in the real world.

What Klopp did wasn’t right, but the worst thing about it is it gives breathing space for the PGMOL to hide behind the declining standards in top-flight refereeing. Instead of pointing the finger at the poor refereeing, the football media as a whole are pointing at the Liverpool boss.

Klopp should have detailed the mistakes in his post-match conference, but the ugly truth is this would have fallen on deaf ears anyway.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame