Clear and Obvious Problems – Ross Barkley, Defensive & VAR Concerns – Villa’s 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 seven years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

The Villa rollercoaster continues through a long international break bookended with the best and worst of our side. It’s the Good, Bad and Ugly off the week.

The Good

Starting with the Brighton game in the good column might seem strange, but it shows Villa have moved up to a level in the Premier League not seen since O’Neill, Gregory and Little’s teams. We went into this game, expecting to win and came out with the same feelings as Wigan on the opening day, under O’Neill, Bolton at home in 1998 and any number of games where Villa were the dominant force, missed a hatful of chances and conceded horrible goals. We finally got our Villa back! 

In other good news for Villa players, if not for the team, Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings cemented their place in the England squad with solid performances in all three games during the international break. Douglas Luiz, the same for Brazil and John McGinn helped Scotland make it to the Euros.

Pay Per View football is now dead thanks to the fans’ backlash. Anyone who donated to local food banks instead of this farce should feel proud and remember this when the next idiotic decision comes along from the Premier League and their broadcast partners.

The Bad

Again the Brighton game. In keeping with our season, we once again managed to put in a performance that had everything. Good, Bad and Ugly in once massive melting pot of a game. We started well with the right attitude, but like a boxer who smells blood we chased our opponent onto the ropes and got hit with our guard down. 

Our whole outfield contingent were in the Brighton half when a loss of possession and a simple through ball left Danny Welbeck open to score against us – as usual. It was very reminiscent of how Liverpool defended at Villa Park. 

Undeterred by this, Villa continued to charge forward and created a host of chances. Trezeguet was the chief culprit with none of his seven shots really troubling Mat Ryan. One of the Egyptian winger’s misses on his 50th Villa appearance actually defied physics.

He wasn’t alone as Watkins, Mings and Traore all should have done better with presentable chances.

The poor defending continued however, with Martinez having to be sharp to deny Maupay, after Mings tried to shoulder thin air, and Lallana and Wellbeck missing chances before the break. 

Villa didn’t tighten up and despite having the best start possible to the second half, when Traore crossed for Konsa to finish, they allowed the other worldly pace of Lamptey to break down the right, then let the ball go the whole way across the box for an unmarked Solly March to dispatch into the top corner.

It beggars belief how a team can switch off to such an extent that they are punished as severely as Villa are, but you have to look at the facts. At home, when Villa are forced to be the aggressor, they attack in such a cavalier fashion from front to back, that they concede too many chances. 

The goals Villa have let in may have been top-drawer, but they could easily have been scuffers from the chances missed. We have to find a balance between the force we are away from home and the adrenaline junkies we turn into at Villa Park. 

The other bad is the continuing clamour for the five subs rule to be brought back. It clearly gives an advantage to the traditional top six and the new voices in the media, who are jumping on the bandwagon, are going to hasten this in. While blind to the fact that Pep and Klopp fail to rotate their own players, Gareth Southgate and the football writers are starting to beat the drum.

Villa had their own injury to Ross Barkley but having been left out of the England squad, it is what most injuries are, sods law. If it had been McGinn, Grealish or any of our other international workhorses there would have been a case. The worry, as you saw against Stoke and Brighton, is that when the bench is needed, they fail to step up. 

The Villaverse needs to get a grip on their social media hype machine before it becomes counterproductive. After Jack’s flick against Belgium it went into overdrive with gif after gif, he did a back heel yesterday in his box that was something you’d see in the lower leagues. I’m still looking for that gif…

Would he have tried that if everyone hadn’t been sharing his every touch? 

The Ugly

It had to happen, VAR has finally made it into the GBU. The decision at the end of the Villa game defied belief. I’m not talking about the decision to award the penalty, but the decision to overturn it.

Watching the match, I thought it was a dive, seeing the ‘normal’ TV replay, I was convinced it was a penalty as Trez had his shin clattered (even considering his theatrics). I’ve watched this over again – about 50 times – and I’m still not sure what decision I would expect, if it was the Villa defender making the challenge. There’s no amount of like-seeking and Villa-signalling experts that can convince me that it is nailed-on and here lies the problem.

If I can’t decide on multiple viewings, then it isn’t a clear and obvious error from the official, no matter which way he went. The relevant criteria for VAR is well known. It isn’t the place for the VAR to interfere when it is a subjective decision. If he hadn’t given the pen and made a ball sign with his hand, 90% of Villa fans would be over it, no matter what they say online now.

By overturning a decision that has so many permutations and subjective ‘what ifs’, they make a mockery of the examples that have been upheld so far. Fernandes penalty against Konsa, Engels tackle against Spurs and many more from every match. Instead of clarifying the issue it has just added another, attention seeking referee with a Napoleon complex into the mix.

Referees are only human (I think) so what inner office politics go on among the group? Is there a perverse joy to be gained from pointing out a mistake from one of your peers or looking for reasons when they are invisible to the naked eye? Who knows? 

It is the ugly truth that instead of one inept referee we now have multiple in the same match.


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  1. “another, attention seeking referee with a Napoleon complex” 🙂
    Nice one – Good read.

  2. Not happy with the choice of the early substitute Thought it unbalanced the team. Feel there is not the technical awareness to change things when the set up is not working As for referees I feel the first requirement is to be arrogant and second to be very self satisfied There never seems to be any acceptance of errors We all make mistakes Why cannot referees hold up their hands and say “i got it wrong” Var is not the problem It is the people operating it that is the problem

  3. we need @ least 1 preferably 2 new CB’s partly because we have no real backups for if Mings or Konsa are injured , but also in a game such as Brighton Mings needs to play DM so that he can go goal hunting which is why the team let in 2 goals as Mings & Konsa were goal hunting instead of defending

  4. That’s the best analyst I’ve seen on this match, agree with with it all. Lack of depth over the course of the season is going to cost us, not a penalty decision going against us.

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