Well, where to start! Gerard Houllier gifted Manchester City with a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup yesterday, simple as that really. The Villa boss made no less than 8 changes to the side that thumped Blackburn 4-1 in the league at the weekend, fielding 5 players of the age 21 and below in the process. Only Brad Friedel, Richard Dunne and Ciaran Clark remained from the Rovers match and one would suggest that the two centre-backs only kept their place because Houllier had no other alternatives with Cuellar, Collins, Young and Baker all absent.
In my opinion they manager could only do one thing wrong yesterday, and he did it. The side travelled to City severely depleted defensively anyway, so a defeat was, in fairness, expected against a side which don’t really have a reserve squad to put out! I feel that Houllier should have attacked the game and if you lose, you lose. There would have been no qualms with that. Instead, despite insisting otherwise, he sent out a severely under-strength and out of first team match practice bunch of fringe stars and youngsters, who not only had experience against them, but were expected to play out of position, particularly in a defensive sense, against arguably the best attacking force in the league.
I believe, with that in mind we were really destined to lose and Houllier, knew, and knows that. Two central midfielders played at full-back in Delph and Herd, with the latter making his first start for the club, while a midfield completely out of match practice, were expected to deal with the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure and dare I say it, Gareth Barry. Barry Bannan was the most industrious of the three with Petrov and Bradley, also making his first start, unimpressive in support.
Since the match Houllier has said that the side has played well, but no individual played above anything but an average level in my opinion. The decision to make so many changes to the side, after admitting that the 4-0 defeat at Eastlands earlier in the season was his lowest point as Villa manager, was frankly baffling. What it does is put tremendous and, might I add, unneeded pressure on the side, and more importantly, the manager to get a result away to Bolton this weekend. No mean feat. Bradley looked out of his depth in my opinion but it was his first start so give him time. Petrov strolled around like a captain who knows that he is no longer needed and the more experienced players knew that the game was lost when Houllier announced the squad and therefore didn’t show the resilience of the youngsters which is not excusable, but is understandable to be honest.
The timing was also bizarre. You have just put in what was possibly the best performance of the season, picking up spirits and faith in the manager no end, only to throw it all away. I couldn’t say that any of the players were an injustice to the club under the circumstances, but the fact that Man City were pretty poor themselves and won so comfortably makes it even worse.
In a desperate attempt to save face the manager brought on Young and Downing but at 3-0 down, what was the point. He clearly wanted to rest them so why even bother. Another not is that the manner in which they were picked will not have pleased the starting XI in my opinion. Not only was it a clear statement that this was a second string team so to speak, it has done none of them any favours in order to prove to the manager that they deserve a place, in a game that in truth, they were destined to lose from the off.
I haven’t even started with the fact that it was again, our only hope for silverware this season down the pan but I’m rambling so I’ll leave that. I would like to finish with the fact that the travelling Villa contingent were superb as ever. Could have quite easily turned against the team but rightly realised that the players were pretty powerless in all honesty. Houllier’s reactions angered me the most really. Yes we had some full internationals out there but none of them had played in almost a month. He needed to come out and apologise to the fans, especially those who made the trip and perhaps offered a refund to what was almost a reserve game.
I don’t like being gloomy about the club and honestly I’m not! Just this game. I think the manager has made positive steps in the signings he has made and in turning the fans and the players around to his way of thinking, but this helps no-one, especially not himself. For his sake I hope we don’t lose to Bolton! For want of a better word … silly! Thoughts???
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