The Season So Far
To describe Aston Villa’s 2015-16 season as a disaster would be an injustice. Sure, they’ve been as good as relegated from the second round of games onwards, and at no point have they looked like a side that would escape the drop. Sure, they went winless in the league from August until the middle of January, avoiding defeat only five times in a run of nineteen games, and even then only drawing those five. Sure, to achieve this they spent rather a lot of money in the summer and will see next to no return on any of their signings. And sure, they spent the most crucial period of their season under Tim Sherwood, arguably the most offensively moronic manager in the history of the Premier League, if not of all football.
However, to describe this as just one season of disaster is to overlook a full decade of absolutely horrific mismanagement. Aston Villa’s relegation is not just a result of hiring Sherwood and spending loads of cash on players Tactics Tim didn’t really want. No, it’s a result of Randy Lerner hiring Martin O’Neill and trusting the vastly overrated Northern Irishman with £100m+ to spend on shockingly average players (and eventually allowing O’Neill to increase the wage bill to £71m p/a, at that point 85% of Villa’s turnover).
It’s a result of Villa missing out on the Champions League when Manchester City’s oil money arrived and sent the top four into another stratosphere. It’s a result of Lerner cutting the budget so drastically, having noticed that his club’s ship had sailed, and then hiring a succession of average managers and asking them to perform miracles. It’s a result of the acceleration of the rest of the Premier League’s also-rans and relegation battlers in recent years.
Above all, it’s a result of dreaming big and failing. Along with Leeds and Portsmouth, Aston Villa have lived the dream and now they must face reality. Along with Leeds and Portsmouth, it might be a while before they’re in the Premier League again.
The Season Ahead
There is arguably nothing more painful in football than having to play/watch when you want to do literally anything else instead; than having had the sport you love made completely unenjoyable by circumstances beyond your control. This is what Villa’s manager, Remi Garde, his players and the club’s fans have to contend with. Their relegation is a formality and few of the players will remain at the club beyond the summer. If all of them could, they’d throw the towel in now, go to the beach and try to forget this ever happened. As it is, they’ve got two more months of joyless, humiliating football ahead of them.
EDIT: Oops, sorry. My phone was in my pocket and it posted that by accident. Ahem.
Since coming in, Garde has experimented with various systems in a bid to find some kind of magic formula that turns his team into one that can win the occasional game and somehow escape, or at least delay, relegation.
Of late they’ve played 5-3-1-1/3-5-1-1, with the thought seemingly being that playing two central defenders hasn’t been enough to make them sturdy, so they need a third – as well as a three-man midfield – to make them less vulnerable to every attack their opponents mount. The idea has obviously been to at least try and keep things tight and deny their opponents space through the middle, while attempting to create problems for them by countering down the flanks and using the pace of Jordan Ayew and Gabby Agbonlahor in behind. Notably talentless beanpole Rudy Gestede has been their Andy Carroll, scoring two or three headers off the bench all season and consequently being regarded if not revered as a Real Threat by co-commentators throughout the land.
Unfortunately, most tactics require work to match talent to succeed and Villa haven’t worked hard for a very long time. Everyone knows what’s coming and no-one really cares enough to try and stop it. If Spurs score the first goal, Villa will roll over.
The lowest number of Expected Goals of any team in the division. The lowest number of Actual Goals of any team in the division. The second lowest number of shots on target in the division. The lowest overall conversion rate in the division.
The second highest number of shots on target conceded in the division. The fourth lowest save percentage in the division. The third highest number of penalties conceded in the division.
The third highest number of fouls committed of any team in the division. The highest number of yellow cards in the division.
To finish with... everything. Absolutely everything.
Garde is expected to preserve the back three of Micah ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Captain Either’ Richards, Ciaran ‘Own Goal’ Clark and Joleon ‘Pocket Tweeter Of The Year 2016’ Lescott. Alan Hutton will be an obvious target for Spurs’ attacks and may well get sent off for trying to rearrange Dele Alli’s skeleton, while the equally hapless but less psychotic Aly Cissokho screams ‘Run At Me!’ on the other side. Spurs should be aware of Jordan Veretout, Ashley Westwood and Idrissa Gueye in the middle, all of whom are pretty tidy. Two of Villa’s three goalshy lumps will stand around up front not doing very much.
Everyone knows Spurs will win, it’s just a question of by how many goals. It could be pretty tortuous if Villa dig in and Harry Kane’s luck is out, but really it should be as comfortable for Spurs as Dortmund’s victory was on Wednesday.