Can anyone keep Aston Villa from dropping out of the Premier League?
A new manager, new hope, but unfortunately the same old story for Aston Villa.
Tim Sherwood’s departure and Remi Garde’s arrival was, if anything, a huge relief for Villa fans, and restored hope that he could be the man to steer the side clear of the relegation places.
However, going into a hectic Christmas period that’s known for making or breaking seasons, Aston Villa are sitting six points behind Sunderland at the foot of the Premier League and a further two points adrift from safety.
Add to this the fact that they only have a solitary win from 16 league games so far this season (on the opening day at newly-promoted Bournemouth) and haven’t won in fifteen outings since, their survival prospects start to look bleaker and bleaker.
So just where do the problems lie in a side that, seven years ago, was challenging for the top six and reaching the latter rounds of the UEFA Cup?
The truth is, there are problems all over the field.
Villa have scored the equal least goals so far this season, averaging well under a goal a game, and they’ve also conceded the joint most at almost three goals a game.
Throw in the mix that they’re also a team completely shot of confidence, and it becomes hard to see where a sudden turnaround will come from; and it’s a sudden turnaround they need, because if their form continues in this vein then come January their fate could be sealed.
The obvious place to point fingers is at the lack of potency up front, with strikers Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew only finding the net six times between them in the league.
Having said that, Ayew is starting to find his feet in the Premier League, with his three goals coming in the last seven games after a poor start to the campaign. The Ghanaian striker seems to have the right style of play for the English league, but he needs to start utilising his pace to run in behind defences; something that Villa have been lacking of late.
If Ayew can start to cause defences a problem, then it frees Gestede to take a step further forward and use his height and strength to hold the ball up, giving Ayew time to find gaps in the back line. The chalk and cheese nature of the Villa front two hasn’t worked out so far, but if they both play to their individual strengths and begin to strike up a partnership, then they might give the side a fighting chance of staying up.
The problem with Aston Villa at the moment is that their play comes across as very one dimensional – if Rudy Gestede is on the pitch, it’s the typical mentality of hitting the ball to the big man up top.
Clearly this isn’t working, and Remi Garde needs to get the team attacking more fluidly if they’re going to break down Premier League defences.
It’s not like there isn’t attacking potential; Scott Sinclair, a forgotten man at Manchester City, has been revitalised this season and arguably been Villa’s stand out man, and Carlos Gil, although not making much of an impression this season, showed last year that he does have the ability to pick a midfield apart and act as a playmaker.
The worry is that the team look so weak at the back, all too clear in November when Tottenham, Watford and Everton dismantled them. Despite Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott adding experience to the side, the defence looks far too disjointed.
Richards needs to step up and take responsibility, like he has been as captain lately, and create a sense of unity in the Villa defence. Both him and Lescott have been in and around the England international team in the past, and they need to take the younger players of Joe Bennett, Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark under their wing and, essentially, ensure that they’re doing the basics. This is something that Villa haven’t done lately, and explains their woeful start to the season.
Albeit brief there have been glimpses that the defence can be resolute, as they kept Manchester City at bay in Garde’s first game in charge and looked fairly comfortable throughout.
Aston Villa face Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland over the course of the next month, and you can’t help but feel that these are classic examples of six-pointers; lose these games, and the teams will stretch even further ahead of Villa, but win them and they’ll be hot on their heels.
Villa have got to be looking for at least seven points from those three matches against their relegation rivals, and anything less could prove catastrophic for Remi Garde’s side.
If they make it through these, and can get to the transfer window within touching distance of safety, it gives Garde a chance to put his own stamp on the team and allows him to bring in players that he wants; not be left with players that Tim Sherwood wanted.
Garde and Villa are running out of time in their fight for survival, and the coming few weeks are vital to see if he can re-write a new story for the club that ends in Premier League football next season.
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