After a decent start to the season with regards to results Alex McLeish will have been happy to have picked up a difficult away point at Fulham before comfortably beating Blackburn. A late show in the League Cup from Villa’s young guns followed and the side were into round 3.
Almost a month on and the tables have turned to leave the fans with a gloomy outlook upon life under McLeish following 3 successive draws in the league. First up, off the back of the 2-0 win over Hereford, was a home derby against Wolves. A dull affair could not be settle with a lack of creativity from central areas of either side proving and issue as the deadlock remained unbroken.
A point was ruefully accepted by the club and much of the fanbase ahead of a tricky trip away to Everton. A dismal first half showing saw Villa bossed by a somewhat weakened side from the hosts but after falling behind twice, Villa showed battle to fight back for an undeserved 2-2 draw through goals from Petrov and the thus far impressive Gabby Agbonlahor.
A decent point at Goodison was fairly well-received, if not the abject performance in the most part, and we soldiered on preparing to face Newcastle. Another no-show at home angered some of the fans after Villa took the lead, again through Agbonlahor, and should have killed off the game. Instead we let Newcastle back in it and in truth they controlled much of the proceedings and could have easily won it were it not for an in form Shay Given.
A look at the stats from the first two league games showed Villa kept 49% of the possession on average against Fulham and Blackburn. Since then the side have kept a meagre 44% of possession in their three league fixtures since, despite two of them being at home. The win over Blackburn was the only time Villa have edged possession all season with 52%.
However, the most disappointing stat in this regard saw Newcastle, who had averaged just 44% of possession in their previous matches, control the game at Villa Park with 59% possession, with Cabaye and Tiote pulling the strings.
The team’s passing has also diminished. In their first two games McLeish’s side achieved an average success rate of 76.5%, which would place them around mid-table in the league in this regard. In the three games since the Blackburn match Villa have completed just under 71% of their passes which would place them in 19th in the league, only ahead of Stoke.
With the fixture list having been kind to the new manager thus far, another home game came up shortly after, albeit a tough 3rd round cup tie hosting Bolton. The display was arguably the worst of the lot this season as Villa created little to no clear cut chances despite the industry of Agbonlahor upfront. A lack of ideas saw Bolton carve out the best chances and open the scoring through Chris Eagles before a Gael Kakuta strike ensured the Trotters a place in round 4.
The defence has improved this season. Of that there is no doubt, and McLeish deserves credit for such efforts. However, his work on the backline has seemingly come at the cost of offensive side of the game, particularly from midfielders. The likes of Fabian Delph and Charles N’Zogbia have been somewhat starved of creative freedom in recent matches, providing the strikers with very little to feed off of.
While Agbnolahor has impressed Darren Bent has seen barely any of the ball in recent matches and looks short of confidence and perhaps fitness. Playing two holding midfielders is all well and good away from home when a point is a good result at most grounds in the Premier League nowadays but McLeish’s line-ups and tactics have lacked imagination in my opinion.
The problem is that the Scot has inherited a squad which is far less creative than it has been in recent years. Ireland was given a chance to impress against Bolton and didn’t while Delph has been effectively turned into an anchor man which is beyond me. Ask any Leeds fan if they could see Delph as a defensive midfielder and they’d laugh. His work rate is very good but he is a flair player at heart and hasn’t been afforded the chance to prove as such.
Jermaine Jenas is likely to feature against QPR and may bring some much needed height to midfield, while Gary Gardner waits in the wings with real ability to attack and score goals. With QPR in good form it is hard to see Villa getting any more than a point, which for many Villans just won’t do. A lack of result means a win against Wigan will be paramount if the numerous McLeish out banners are to stay in their cupboards much longer!
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