Column: Steven Gerrard’s Gamble, Villa Plot Twists and Other Loopholes

Good Bad and Ugly of United and Everton

By Phil Shaw

A two-goal comeback at Villa Park, when Manchester United are playing is normally followed by a period of anger, grief, and depression. This time round, it was Villa that were the comeback team. Now, a team struggling under Steven Gerrard is seemingly reborn with renewed confidence boosted by new signings.

Here’s the Good, Bad and Ugly of it all…

The Good

A comeback against Manchester United? Villa just don’t do that, so when Coutinho expertly finished from close range past De Gea, it was a strange feeling.

I remember this, this is what football is about. The 4-4 against Chelsea under Martin O’Neill is the closest feeling I can remember.

3-3 In the Championship against Sheffield United was more of a freak result as they imploded. This comeback against Manchester United was the least Villa deserved.

That’s the takeaway here. 

Villa deserved something from that game after a much improved second half.

Despite gifting United a two-goal lead, with two awful errors, there was a visible belief, among the players, that the game wasn’t up.

Think back to previous encounters, especially the one where Villa were two goals up from Andreas Weimann, before Hernandez stole a hat-trick.

That game hinged on the first mental setback for the team. As soon as United got one, the writing was on the wall.

Similarly, Wolves, earlier in the season, sensed the fragile nature of Villa, and did the same.

This time Villa, showed a mental strength, to recover from not one, but two self-inflicted wounds. 

Looking at the Gerrard reign so far, the desire to keep going in games cannot be questioned. It’s all about tightening up on the individual errors.

Against Everton, whose team and fans were full of fire and passion, from Duncan Ferguson taking over and Rafa being banished, Villa cut out the errors and found some steel in defence, that was missing earlier in the season. 

Now he has a winter break to drill this mentality even deeper into the squad.

Villan of the Week—Steven Gerrard

There were no shortage of choices for this one, Ramsey, Buendia, Coutinho and Digne, all put in a good shifts.

Instead, I’m picking the boss, as he actually made the calls to allow this to happen.

Things were far from perfect in the Manchester United match, yet starting Lucas Digne, was a big call, as was leaving on Ramsey, and even introducing Coutinho and Chukwuemeka. 

Starting Coutinho against Eventon also paid dividends, as it took the creative responsibility off the match winner Buendia.

If you want to punch through the obstacles that have are placed in front of teams outside the Super League 6, you have to roll the dice. 

Gerrard currently has no problem gambling at the top table.

The Bad

There’s something intangible that happens when Villa look destined to win.

After the controversy at Old Trafford, the footballing gods were lining up everything for Villa to gain redemption a few days later.

What happened?

Like everything, that involves Villa, it was a perfect storm. 

John McGinn was suspended because of a last second yellow against Brentford.

Martinez, made an error as bad as any Villa keeper in the past.

Morgan Sanson, who had been solid if not spectacular, completely messed up for United’s second goal, then kicked the water bottles harder than he hit his last pass.

On top of all this, Manchester United, actually played well for the first half, having stumbled upon a starting eleven that worked effectively without their bigger stars.

At the risk of thinking that Aston Villa Football Club is the centre of the universe, it looked to be happening again before Everton.

Everton, sacked Rafa Benitez, when they were due to play Villa next, meaning it was a passionate Duncan Ferguson in charge against Villa.

Games that were postponed when opponents like Leeds and Burnley were in poor form, are now on the horizon, with the possibility that they will be stronger (although so will Villa).

But the bad thing here, is the mentality that this only happens to Villa fans.

Perfect storms work both ways. Villa’s relegation, promotion, survival, and subsequent position were all products of many factors.

Just because Everton, went out with a bit more passion against Villa and still lost, shows footballing fate works both ways.

You only need to look at how many times the script pointed to a Villa win, before the plot twist of another defeat ruined the weekend.

The Ugly

It’s not the antics of Bruno Fernandes, or the bottle throwing at Goodison Park, it’s the current spate of Premier League matches being postponed in questionable circumstances.

The headline grabbing one was the North London Derby, that was called off after a request by Arsenal.

The reason this one is more-eye catching than other examples is down to the facts in the public domain.

Arsenal played Liverpool in the League Cup Semi-Final midweek before the game and got a very impressive draw. 

This was after playing the majority of the game a man down, after Granit Xhaka was sent off.

With the game on Sunday so soon after this, there was never really a threat of this being called off until ’sources’ close to Arsenal, began tweeting that the game was in doubt.

Arsenal, apparently, had one COVID-19 case to suspend the game.

This raises eyebrows, as they still managed to loan out two players this week, and would only have been without the suspended Xhaka from the Liverpool game.

Something’s not right here.

Clearly Arsenal weren’t breaking the rules, as if discovered, then there would be repercussions.

If the rules are being followed, then the problem lies with the rules themselves.

The only different thing about these postponements and other seasons’ is the threat of Covid-19.

All other mitigating factors are the same as any football season. 

If that’s the case, how can new rules be written in such a way, that a team can get a match called off with only one or two COVID-19 positive players?

Other teams, including Villa, have had games postponed with multiple COVID-19 cases, that have led to training ground shutdowns.

In the Bundesliga, only COVID-19 cases count towards games being postponed, so why can the Premier League not just do the same?

It’s another example of the governance of the Premier League, not thinking ahead and being reactive rather than proactive.

Leaving gaping loopholes like this, just stinks of the attitude that leads to the Super League farce, PGMOL, VAR and other things that aren’t watertight. 

Hopefully, the end of the Pandemic is approaching, and they learn from this, but they haven’t in the past.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame

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