Will Philippe Coutinho Become the Teacher’s Pet? And Villa’s Need for Better Foundations

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Aston Villa

By Phil Shaw

Hello, to save me copying and pasting Aston Villa’s repeated issues, I thought it was time to wait until now to see if they’ve learned anything over the last four games.

The Good

Expected wins against Norwich and Burnley, and competent, yet frustrating displays against Liverpool and Crystal Palace aren’t the end of the world.

Aston Villa are smack bang in mid-table. A win against Palace, would have given hope for a Gerrard Houllier-type (Gary McAllister) rise into ninth, but that looks to be unreachable.

I’d rather foundational issues with the team were resolved, and not papered over like they were back then. 

The signing of Philippe Coutinho, is a positive move for the club as a whole, considering the price, wage drop and commercial attractiveness of having a marquee name in the side. I’ll discuss him again later.

In all, a Villa win against Burnley and a performance against Manchester City on the last day, will be enough of a momentum boost to carry into next season, even if the final placing is underwhelming.

Embed from Getty Images

Villan of the Week – Lucas Digne

Having had a metal plate inserted into his collarbone after fracturing it against Spurs, other players may have concentrated in being fit for next season.

Refreshingly, Digne, has come back and showed what he can do. Assists against Burnley, Liverpool, and Palace from his accurate crossing, shows he is an upgrade on the loaned Matt Targett, despite what social media thinks.

For context, Targett had two assists the entire last season despite many excellent performances.

The Bad

Losing against Liverpool, has left Aston Villa with one final chance to beat a top team this season. Unfortunately, it’s a far cry from last season where, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs were put to the sword.

There’s no real reason for it, either. Maybe Villa caught those teams unprepared last season, or played them at good times. None of it matters because football is a results business.

If I had to throw a guess at it, I would say, Dean Smith’s Aston Villa, were perfectly set up to hurt teams, who played like they should be beating Aston Villa and perhaps underestimated them.

Steven Gerrard’s Villa, looks to be failing against the Super League Six because they are trying to emulate them, instead of setting up to punish their weaknesses.

It’s a difference in philosophy. Do you counter the big guns, or act like a big gun? Ideally, you want to be somewhere in the middle, but Gerrard’s philosophy could be what Villa need moving forward.

If you intend to be one of these clubs, you have to start acting like them across the board. 

There will be bad results, but get the foundations right and instil the necessary belief, and Villa may be better off. 

£15 Villa Away Shirts – European Cup Win 40th Anniversary

The Ugly

It’s back to Mr Coutinho for the ugly.

Unlike Dean Smith, Steven Gerrard is not universally liked by the Villa fanbase. There’s a much lower tolerance for insipid displays.

Enter ’teacher’s pet’ Philippe Coutinho.

I’ve already described why the signing is positive, yet some fans are already weaponising the signing against Gerrard online.

He’s the manager’s man, so naturally there is a bias there. Unfortunately, it may begin to blind people to the good work elsewhere in the team.

Every time a starting 11 goes up, the cries for Buendia online are deafening.

Emi Buendia, should be in the starting line-up. I think most fans agree with that. Coutinho, should also be there somewhere. 

But how do you fit them in?

Danny Ings, has more goal involvements in the last few games than any other Villa player, so he should be in there.

Ollie Watkins, finally looks like the player from last season, so he can’t be dropped either.

The Buendia or Coutinho decision, is an ugly no-win situation and, like everything else, it comes down to the Villa midfield.

If it was stronger and more solid, Buendia and Coutinho would both be starting. But the reality is, it’s not.

This has led to the binary, ‘either or’ scenario and of course, the bias is with the Brazilian at the moment. If people think Gerrard is the first manager to do this, then they’re in the wrong game.

Liverpool are a good example, if they hadn’t been chasing glory on all four fronts, then who would have been the fall guys out of Salah, Mane, Firmino, Diaz and Jota?

This is the kind of debate that has been alien to Villa fans for a decade. There is genuine quality at the business end of the pitch and tough choices need to be made.

Think back to the early days of the season, Buendia was struggling to fit in and no doubt some of the same fans that now sing his name were on his back. That’s football.

It was the same with Ings and Watkins earlier in the season. Now we can see that they can work together. 

The modern trend is for footballers to get suddenly better when they aren’t getting any game time, and performances are poor.

Look at the Jack Grealish situation before the European Championships last summer.

A bit part player with England, Grealish suddenly had a few of months out injured at Villa and suddenly he was deemed an essential member of the England team.

If people keep obsessing over the Buendia situation, it could be similar. Too much will be expected of the Argentine when he comes on.

He’s a quality player, one Villa are lucky to have on the books, and he will get plenty of time. Let’s not say his omission is the reason for all of Villa’s shortcomings since Coutinho arrived.


Phil appears on the latest MOMS Podcast