Aston Villa’s Hero in the Face of the Ugly Press – GBU

With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

A full week on the training pitch, proved useful for Villa’s fitness, as they spent Saturday night chasing shadows by the seaside. It’s fair to say, there’s material for this week’s Good Bad and Ugly.

The Good 

For some, it may be a struggle to take something positive from a performance against Brighton, where Villa were completely and utterly neutered. Yet in Emiliano Martinez, Villa now have a safety net when things don’t work out tactically further up the pitch.

Nine saves, two of real quality, protected a point in a game where Villa had no right to return home with anything.

With Martinez in nets, Tyrone Mings and the rest of the back four can concentrate on their game. Mings, despite what some would have you believe, is one of only three players to make over 100 clearances this season. I don’t see that number doing anything other than rise. 

Ezri Konsa, is being pimped out by the media to Spurs and Liverpool and the two fullbacks regularly catch the eye. All this stems from the security between the posts behind them. 

After the shaky performance against West Ham, Martinez took to the training ground to iron out what he saw as a weakness in his game. This is the attitude of a winner, and it can be only a good thing if it spreads throughout the changing room. 

Villan of the Week — Emiliano Martinez

See above.

The Bad

When Emiliano Martinez called Jack Grealish the right-footed Messi, the online response was predictable from all sides. The Villa fans loved it, others laughed or threw shade, and the rest of us, who can see where these things go, took a guilty pleasure in seeing the engagement online.

Looking at the real Messi, things are bad.

I’ll have a soft spot for Barcelona because they gave me one of my happiest memories as a child. 

In the 94-95 season, when Alex Ferguson’s all conquering Manchester United team (League Cup Aside) were drawn against Barcelona, the multitude of Manchester United fans in school were their usual selves – entitled, confident and sure of victory. 

Over two games the best team in England were dismantled by Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona team. The away game in the Nou Camp, where they stuck four past Steve Bruce and co’s defence opened my eyes.

Jump to present day and Paris Saint Germain, and Kylian Mbappé tortured Barcelona in the same way that Stoichkov and Romario did to United when I was 12. 

Barcelona 2021, are a bad side, full of expensive players, who are past their rime with a star player who can no longer cover the cracks.

Messi, while easily still in the top five players in football, is looking around and seeing players that will never be on his wavelength and constantly with question marks over them when bad results happen. 

While his wage is restrictive, surely, this summer he’ll need to move to another top side, like Cristiano Ronaldo has done his whole career, to protect his legacy? If he doesn’t, then calling Jack Grealish the right-footed Messi might be a bad thing to say.

Villa shirt sale still on below

The Ugly

There’s no denying the Villa performance against Brighton could be viewed as ugly. It looked like a training session, where only one side was allowed to attack. 

In reality, short of a few stray passes, I don’t think Villa did much wrong. The press and containment of Brighton turned Villa into training dummies, but didn’t get Brighton the three points either. It just killed the game as a spectacle.

I showed my age when talking about Barcelona, but the way that Cruyff team played along with studying the four semi-finalists of the World Cup in 1990, has helped form my opinion on what truly beautiful football is.

In the early 90s there were two leagues available to me, the English Division One/Premier League and Serie A. After being hooked on the football bug, these were my formative years, as far as learning the basics of the game and knowing what I liked, and I soaked them up like a sponge. 

Players like Giuseppe Signori, Diego Fuser, Roberto Baggio, Jean Pierre-Papin, Paolo Maldini, Marco Van Basten, Lothar Matthaus, blended seamlessly with Andrei Kanchelskis, Dean Saunders, David Platt and many more to show the skills and qualities that set the best players in the world apart from the others. 

What do they all have in common? They’d never heard of ‘the press’.

The press, in all its formats, from Bielsa, to Klopp, Pep and Graham Potter, is the tactical foundation that is fashionably accepted today.

I’m simplifying it greatly, but it nullifies the opposition, and if played correctly should allow turnover transitions higher up the pitch. 

The question I ask is, is it the football you want to watch?

The football that formed my love of the game had me outside practising Baggio’s Free kicks, Batistuta’s finishing and Maldini’s tackles. 

What are young people the same age now going to aspire to?

Are they going to be like Rocky Balboa and practice closing down chickens until they catch them? Are they going to do short sprints all over their back garden or local playing field without the ball?

What will be prioritised at youth level and via moneyball scouting will be athleticism over ability and creativity.

Against Brighton, I was happy to see them without Tariq Lamptey, Solly March and Danny Wellbeck in their starting 11. Little did I know that fresh off the production line other players slotted in and performed in the same way.

We are already at the stage where most of the Premier League are playing some form of press after the success of Pep’s City team or Klopp’s Liverpool.

Whether high like Liverpool, in the midfield, like Brighton, or all over the place like Leeds, there is no doubt that when deployed it is lethal, yet the way the pressing game is held up as aesthetically pleasing or ‘good football’ by some is a denial of what they see in front of their eyes. 

It is certainly effective, but it will never be the beautiful game any more than the long ball up to the big man ever was.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @PRSGAME

Check out the latest My Old Man Said podcast (with Phil) below…


  1. The thing with city’s press is they have flair players to back it up, they can play around you and harrase you. So wouldnt that mean they have the happy medium teams would aspire to. Flair players are great when they have workhorses around them, the players that put the shift in and make the rest of the “TEAM” work.

  2. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone was in awe of Spain: how can you beat a team who never misplace a pass? Then Germany presented a new and winning style. Now we think that Brighton and Leeds have an all consuming tactic? All this in the recent past.

    The best adapt. The best players of the 90s might find today’s game different, but they’d work it out, and so will we. If someone can find a way to stop the mighty George Foreman, we can adapt our game on the training field and improve too.

  3. brother you have not shown your age. If you are over 70 as I am you will remember Villa’s forgotten team that no media ever seem to remember – the Ron Saunders team with Cowans in his pomp. Yes it is sometimes remembered that we won the Title and the European cup. But no one seems to remember that we then won the European Super Cup – beating Barcelona to do so

    and Gordon Cowans? In four years he never missed a match fpr villa and in that time won the big three. How he and the unfashionable Saunders fail to be seen as giants of ENglish football is amazing to me

    trevor fisher

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