Time for ‘The Cleaner’ Mindset – What’s Been Eating Aston Villa in 2021

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

One week the Good column will take up the whole piece. Unfortunately, after more midweek malaise, it isn’t this week. It’s time for the Good bad and ugly.

The Good

The win against Leeds United was a massive step forward for Villa in terms of maturity. 

Most Villa fans would’ve been approaching the game with a sense of trepidation, after Leeds beat us at our best, early in the season. That night, Villa gave in to their egos and got into a posturing match on the pitch.

It was a naive approach, and I wondered would the team fall victim to the same tricks.

Intentionally, Villa rose above the chaos-press of Leeds and saw out the game with minimum fuss. There was no playing out from the back, no squaring up to Bamford and his crew, and most of all, when the chances came they were dispatched with a minimum amount of fuss.

Anwar El Ghazi, took sweet revenge after his last trip to Elland Road ended in a red card, by dispatching a difficult cross/shot from a slipping Ollie Watkins. After that, the team simply didn’t lower themselves to playing Leeds at their game. 

Marcello Bielsa, who rightly or wrongly has been lauded by the media, had no answer to a team, that didn’t get involved in Leeds style of play. For Leeds to be a great watch, it takes two to tango. Villa were simply quickstepping ahead.

Villan of the Week — Ezri Konsa

Ezri Konsa, is now getting the mainstream media attention that some Villa fans have been clamouring for. Against Leeds and Sheffield United, he was peerless at the back. 

Even if the second result didn’t go as planned, none of the blame can be at Konsa’s door. With Tyrone mings doing the organising, Konsa is everywhere and nowhere at the same time to opposing forwards, getting blocks in by anticipation and marking them out of the game in the air. 

If he continues to develop at this pace, Mings and him may be competing for the same spot at the Euros.

The Bad 

“It’s one of those nights

Look at their xG, they parked the bus

The referee is inept

We always struggle in midweek

It’s a one off

Grealish is missing

Cash is missing

Look at where we were last season


I’ve heard all the above used when Villa put in a performance like they did against Sheffield United. If it happens once or twice during a season, they are blips. If it happens five or six times, then it’s an inherent weakness.

Last season Villa were known for letting leads slip late on. During lockdown Dean Smith and his team set about correcting this, and we are now reaping the rewards. The same level of coaching, now needs to go into sorting out the midweek issues Villa are having.

There was nothing wrong with rocking up against Sheffield United, with the same line-up that had followed a brilliant game-plan against Leeds. It should have been their reward and a chance to show what they could do in a less rigid setting.

Unfortunately, like an amateur league team who have to squeeze these games in before the end of the season, they just turned up to go through the motions. It’s happened too often to be put down to midweek or any other excuse. 

Home and away games against West Ham, Burnley, Brighton and Sheffield United are the main offenders here. 

There’s no common style of play, no common thread about the opponents and no excuse as to why Villa have failed so miserably in these games and only taken 5 points. They took more points against Arsenal alone this season.

The only thing in common, was a sense of expectation. Villa know they are capable of beating these teams and that’s becoming the elephant in the room in the minds of the players and coaching staff. 

When Villa aren’t expected to win, the performance level is higher, players know their jobs and everything looks like a tactical masterpiece. When the onus is on Villa to fulfil their potential, a mental block hits everyone. 

Sheffield United away was the culmination of a weakness in mentality that Villa are struggling to shake. 

Nothing shows this more than the countless floated crosses by McGinn and Targett in the second half. When this season have Aston Villa been a crossing team?

The balls being put in required a striker who is more than proficient in the air. Ollie Watkins for all his strengths isn’t Andy Carroll, yet Villa persisted with aimless and pointless crosses, that played right into the Blades’ hands.

The thing about a cross like that into the box is, it’s the easy option.

Someone needs to take responsibility and force the rest of the team to step up to their level. It’s too easy to spoon the ball into the box and pass the risk onto someone else. Are they afraid something bad will happen?

Aston Villa Training Sale

The Ugly

The good thing is all these ugly excuses for losing aren’t coming from the players, they’re coming from fans and the media.

Over the first lockdown most sports fans watched ’The Last Dance’ documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Tyrone Mings, certainly did, and he went a step further and read the book “Relentless” by Michael Jordan’s personal trainer Tim S. Grover. 

With nothing else to do, I went down the same rabbit hole to see if there was anything I could pick up from Mings’ attitude. 

The book splits all people into three classes: Cleaner, Cooler and Closer.

The Cooler, is basically the squad filler who keeps their head down and is happy with where they are. 

The Closer, is the person who can come up with magic, if they are put into the position to do it. They revel in the glory of their moment.

The Cleaner is the mindset of Michael Jordan. The person who just does their job and when they achieve something, immediately look to the next game, the next win and the next title.

Which Villa players fall into these categories?

This mentality, is what’s missing from Villa at the moment. The Leeds game was a great victory, but too many of the players, fans and media didn’t immediately turn to the next game. 

When we get that mindset back, there will be less ugly midweek nights.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @PRSGAME

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


  1. Calling Villa Blunt is very apt , but losing to a 10 man opposition is also not unknown and not just this season ! Are Villa missing Jack as the leader in attack ? Maybe ! I’ve seen more than a few comments about poor passing but was that the problem ? My view was that it was down to lack of anticipation of getting a pass and space hunting as players moved into attacking positions just as the ball was passed to them . And that is down to poor coaching and is not a new problem & one that needs sorting as the man on the ball needs support and those around him need to anticipate a pass & not hope that by getting closer to goal they might get an opportunity to shoot if the ball comes to them

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