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The Honeymoon Period

Aston Villa Blog’s Ollie Scrimgeour writes (pre-QPR) of how Villa must improve their performances if they are to continue to pick up ‘decent’ results with a difficult schedule ahead of the club after Alex McLeish’s honeymoon period comes to end.

The honeymoon period for Alex McLeish at Aston Villa has not been a particularly outstanding one, but now he must be careful not to allow the team’s performances to decline.

Every team goes through it. As a result of the fundamentally wrong, yet inevitably changing nature of the football manager’s job today, teams go through phases – peaks and troughs if you will – of fluctuating form throughout the tenure of one manager. The honeymoon period is pretty self-explanatory as it is the period of time just after the appointment of the new boss when the team usually plays better due to the injection of a new direction and motivation.

The players try to show their true worth and while McLeish’s arrival at Villa Park was an unpopular one, it appeared to be followed by a stage of this variety as he attempted to instil his own ways and to a large extent, his appointment transpired in stability in the dressing room.

Aston Villa have not made the most impressive of starts to a campaign under McLeish in terms of performances, but sitting in sixth place and still unbeaten in the Premier League is a good situation to be in after five games.

Nevertheless, having been knocked out of the Carling Cup by Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night, it would appear that the honeymoon period is well and truly on its way to a conclusion for McLeish and the Villans.

As I highlighted in a previous piece, the significance of cup football for Villa is considerable this season, as it is a means of achieving some measurable success after years without much. I will hate to say I told you so if Villa have an uninspiring mid-table finish and fail to qualify for Europe that way.

So what now for McLeish and Villa? Well, the bottom line is this – the manager and players must now work hard and concentrate on each and every Premier League fixture in order to prevent any potential deterioration that may occur after a relatively decent beginning to the season.

Unfortunately, I haven’t coined a brilliant name for the period that follows the honeymoon period, but it is often one that results in the waning of the team’s form.

Some people may question my suggestion that Villa are now in danger of dropping form now and would point again to the fact that we are in a strong position and hold the aforementioned unbeaten record in the league.

However, I do have a number of reasons to be preoccupied by the imminent phase of the campaign.

First and foremost, there are a number of injuries that could result in a loss of quality throughout the team. Darren Bent is seemingly unable to rid of an issue with his groin, and while he hasn’t found anywhere near top gear this season so far, this will reduce firepower up front.

Captain Stiliyan Petrov is also struggling with an ankle injury. If you’ve read my stuff before, you will know that I am not the Bulgarian’s biggest fan but even I must admit that he has been one of Villa’s best and most influential players this season. Losing him, even for a couple of games, in midfield could leave the likes of Delph and Bannan without leadership in that area.

While you may query how much of a difference minor injuries will make, consider that poor form and results in just a couple of games without these players could lead to a run of poor form in the post-honeymoon period.

Another point is that quite simply, Villa are playing some mediocre football at present. There appears to be a lack of notable quality in the line up and by and large, this is due to the fact that the players are not playing well together. Charles N’Zogbia, for example, expressed his frustration in an interview last weekend that he was just not playing his best football. This could certainly be said for most of those in claret and blue.

The final point to suggest that Villa could soon enter the undesirable stage of post honeymoon is that McLeish seems incapable of appreciating how best to employ the players he has. I’ve said since the start of the season that McLeish’s decisions in terms of players that he fields and the formation he utilises are not ones I am convinced by.

Unless he makes a change or two and essentially plays the correct players, in their correct positions, and in the correct formation, Villa could find themselves dwindling as the performances will not improve.

So many times have I uttered – or typed – these words: Albrighton must play right wing, and Agbonlahor up front. Enough said.

Well, no actually. There is far more to be said. Villa also lack creativity in the centre of midfield. Stephen Ireland was renowned for his ability to unlock defences with sly passes and deft touches so why not play him? Additionally, Jermaine Jenas, though recovering from a thigh injury, could be another answer to the energy and inventiveness required in that area of the pitch.

N’Zogbia offers great levels of creativity and directness so if he ups his game, as he also vowed to do in the interview last weekend, that issue could be remedied in that respect too.

All in all, Aston Villa are entering a dangerous period of the season and it is important that the team works together in the right manner to ensure the results remain decent and the performances improve. McLeish naturally has a big part to play as well.

Follow Ollie on Twitter @olliescrim

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