Gerrard’s Choices, The Pointless Flag and Knife Edge Fixtures

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Manchester City

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By Phil Shaw

I can’t believe it, there’s a good performance to write about. Let’s not waste any time on this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly.

The Good

The closer it came to kick off against Manchester City, the sense of impending doom began to be replaced with a bit of hope.

There was absolutely no reason for this, other than the fact it couldn’t go as badly as was predicted. The fear of a 10-0 record scoreline had crossed a few Villa fans’ minds.

No new signings in the first XI, Bednarek on the bench, Dendoncker ill, Erling Haaland starting, and a Villa team with neither Coutinho or Buendia. It’s safe to say a sense of doom prevailed.

Despite this, it felt like a ‘big match’ and the atmosphere at Villa Park was the best this season. As well as being a great performance, it was a genuinely entertaining contest as well.

A couple of obligatory, early City chances for Kyle Walker and De Bruyne weren’t taken, so Villa were in a game. An injury to Matty Cash led to Ashley Young coming on, someone who has experience of beating Man City wearing claret and blue.

Rather than be weaker with the veteran, he showed the kids how it is done.

Young’s lack of respect for the opposition was infectious and a crunching tackle on De Bruyne got the crowd and team competing. Soon after he ran him down, robbed the ball off him and set up an attack that led to Douglas Luiz threading Watkins through for a near miss.

But this isn’t a match report, it’s the Good, Bad and Ugly, and this was a very good game for Villa.

Even after conceding the inevitable goal to Haaland, the team broke from recent tradition and found a backbone to earn the draw.

So what changed?

Steven Gerrard managed to get a lot right. He trusted Ashley Young to come on for the injured Cash rather than moving Konsa out and bringing on Chambers.

He also recognised how badly his Captain John McGinn was performing and withdrew him early. Withdrawing your chosen Captain is as close to Gerrard admitting he’s wrong as Villa fans are likely to get.

Coutinho was also a choice that few would have expected. At the time, Villa were behind, but maybe a Ramsey or Bailey would have been the obvious choice. Thankfully they weren’t subbed off.

Coutinho managed to show he has midfield DNA and put himself about effectively.

For Gerrard’s sake, he needs to keep making good decisions.

Villan of the Week – Ollie Watkins

Despite my fanboying over Ashley Young’s stellar performance, I feel he’s got enough praise this week. Ollie Watkins put in the tireless performance we expected after his first season.

Running, selfless work, passing to Jacob Ramsey, when he could have used him as a decoy and shot himself.

It was a complete selfless performance from Watkins.

The Bad

The decision by the linesman to flag Coutinho offside, when A, he wasn’t, and B, the ball went backwards; it was as bad a decision as you will see.

It’s not VAR or the referee’s fault. They blow the whistle when the flag goes up and we already know the PGMOL referees aren’t capable of independent thought.

It was a blemish on an otherwise excellent contest, because it left you thinking about what could have been.

The City players stopped, but the whistle going stopped the possibility of anything happening, a deflection, a rebound, a goal.

In a league where the flag goes up 30 seconds after a clear offside, a flag going up three seconds after a non-existent one is terribly bad.

Just add it to the Premier League’s long list of officiating ineptitude.

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The Ugly

Despite this result, the league table is still Ugly for Aston Villa. In my opinion, they are six points worse off than they should be.

They should have beaten Bournemouth and a very poor West Ham side. That would have put Villa on 10 points and top six in the early table.

Instead, they go into this week’s game against bottom-of-the-table Leicester City, knowing a loss will see Leicester level on points.

It’s a knife-edge fixture when it shouldn’t have been. Villa should have taken care of business in the earlier games and been approaching this match with some swagger and a settled team.

Instead, it could be any result, it could be any team, and it could be any formation.

If it’s a defeat, all the good work, and the whole first half of this article will have been for nothing.

Villa have to win if they have any aspirations of getting their season back on track and keeping the balance of this column on the good side rather than the ugly.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame

Phil appears in the latest episode of the MOMS Podcast