Good, Bad and Ugly of Leeds and Newcastle
By Phil Shaw
Well, the two week winter mini ‘pre-season’ break seems to have gone well…
There’s a bit to catch up on in this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly.
There’s not a lot, but what’s there is, is superb.
Villa’s attack was on fire against Leeds in a twenty-minute blitz that should have yielded four goals before half-time.
Against Newcastle, Villa’s defence went largely untroubled for the majority of the game.
It’s a pity that you can’t get a full match out of either of them at the moment.
The goals against Leeds, were some of the best crafted moves seen since Villa, cut Liverpool and Arsenal to shreds last season, and for a moment, you thought Leeds were on a hiding to nothing.
Coutinho, Ramsey and Buendia, seem to have a natural understanding and chemistry going forward that the opposition can only stop by fouling and breaking the momentum.
Against Newcastle, the defence should have been expecting a tough day. With Chris Wood up front to bully them, Saint-Maximin marauding, and the home crowd behind.
Instead, one mix-up with Mings and Martinez and a deflected Free-Kick were the only real areas of concern.
Now the buzzword for the rest of the season has to be consistency.
Villan of the Week – Jacob Ramsey
Fifty, first team appearances and two clinical finishes against Leeds, make Ramsey an easy choice this week.
Considering the performances of others over the two games, this is much more like what Villa fans want to see.
If Ramsey, at 20-years-old, is going to keep big money signings out of the team, he’ll need to keep up the good work seen in that Leeds first half.
I think a whole novel could be dedicated to the bad things that happened this week, but it’s important to get to the basic points.
It’s too easy to say Aston Villa are a one-half team or this is work in progress.
Work in progress, is a striking partnership, not finding each other with passes.
Work in progress, is not players looking genuinely baffled when faced with a dead ball situation.
Too many times this season, Villa have tried something ridiculous and the ball has gone out for a goal kick to the opposition. It’s something that I’m amazed hasn’t been addressed, since Steven Gerrard came in.
Attacking free kicks are a simple thing, so simple I’ve done up an equation:
Close enough to shoot? = Shoot
Not close enough to shoot? = Cross
This should be stuck on a piece of paper and pinned to either the changing room door or Austin MacPhee’s forehead, depending on how angry Gerrard gets.
Marginal gains from set pieces are vital in games like Newcastle and Leeds, where a goal from one can change the whole direction of the game.
The issue, with Villa, is clear for all to see. They are still overcomplicating the simple equation above.
We then have to look at the other side of set pieces, defending.
I’d ask the Villa players and staff what the point of a defensive wall is?
It’s to stop the ball going in the net.
You line up, with your goalkeeper, and put the wall where it blocks the most likely place the opposition can score from.
For Trippier’s winning free kick, Villa seemed obsessed with blocking the top corner to the right of Emi Martinez, despite the free kick being so close, that this would have been almost impossible. When a free kick is as close as this, you need to block the power option, not the curler, and you must have players rushing out from when the ball is touched, to make it more difficult.
This is something you learn as a kid, let alone something that, is meant to have been nailed down, after two weeks of mini-preseason.
It’s not just bad, its ineptitude.
The whole Newcastle game should go under the ugly. But what’s worse is people thinking a display like that is OK.
It was the worst performance from a competence view I can remember since the relegation season.
So, when people start their ‘Hot Takes’ online with, “I didn’t see the game, but…”
Just dismiss what they say.
A stat floating around said Aston Villa lost possession over 130 times in 90 minutes. Maybe read the room before trying to sugar-coat that performance?
I’m not surprised Gerrard slumped in his seat in the dugout, he just did what the rest of us who had to sit through that match did.
The buck stops with Gerrard, of course, but the fundamental ability to pass ten yards, take a throw in, keep the tempo up, and cross a ball into an area that gives your players a chance is nothing to do with a coach.
It’s what’s assumed if you can put on a pair of football boots and walk onto a Premier League pitch.
So forgive most fans for being a bit dismayed at the performance against Newcastle. It simply wasn’t acceptable on any level.
This isn’t negativity or toxic, this is calling out something which isn’t at the required standard.
Gerrard, can’t afford any performances as bad as that one again, and his post match demeanour and words confirmed it.
The players, aren’t suddenly bad players. All of them when called upon have produced for Aston Villa at least in glimpses, and I’m confident will do so again.
But there is absolutely no need to claim people unhappy with the game are overreacting, it was truly that bad and will be the bad performance marker that future ones are measured against.
The question is, how did it happen?
I can only guess, but it looked like a game where a few players were given one more chance to play themselves into some form, and it backfired spectacularly.
We will see if Gerrard is a man of his word in the coming weeks, and if so, we won’t need to think about this ugliest of performances.
Follow Phil on Twitter at @prsgame