After the first breathless week of the season, the emerging consensus among fans is that Villa need a lock-picker behind Benteke. Of course, we’ve always needed a lock-picking, string-pulling central midfielder who scores. Everyone does in the modern game.
Defenses have gotten better, chances are at a premium.
And the conventional wisdom has it that you attack at home, counter on the road.
So, Villa struggle to break sides down at Villa Park. But the reality is that in the modern game, most sides struggle to break down a well-organized, disciplined defense. Liverpool attacked to start, and had one goal to show for 35-40 minutes’ dominance. I’ve seen Spain and Barca pass it all day and have little to show. Mainly teams get mesmerized, switch off for a second, make a mistake, and that’s the difference.
There are basically six ways to break a side down: wide balls into the danger zone; intricate passing in a tight central area that seizes forward momentum to pick out a run against defenders on the back foot; stretching the defense along the edge of the box to open up a longer range shot or allow penetration with the ball; set pieces that result from defenders trying to stop all that annoying activity or getting pressed to the back line denying a corner. The fifth is the central corollary to a cross, the longer ball in from narrower positions, usually lofted or swung in. The long-range punt is a sixth.
It’s the AM that makes it happen centrally from close-in, playing the one-twos, spotting the runs, threatening from outside. He gives forwards someone to play off, lends depth to the attack.
When he’s truly dangerous, he’s a striker-like threat in his own right, pulling defenders out of position, then spotting the pass subsequently revealed or going for goal.
Anyway. Most of that lovely stuff is dependent on some combination of agility, quick feet, quick thinking, good vision, and real quality on the ball. Villa have a fair degree of that, but not all in one player.
Villa currently have Fabian Delph, who is looking like a player reborn. He’s carrying the ball, taking men on, trying to push the play, make something happen. That final incisive pass hasn’t really happened, and neither have the goals. But he is showing some of the attributes, rather than none, and he’s working hard all over the pitch.
Karim el Ahmadi is the other candidate. He’s quick and high-energy. He’s shown he is capable of launching a good shot or a penetrating pass. He doesn’t do as much elsewhere as Delph, but he’s not deadweight. They’re most effective playing together, but it’s two players doing what one can accomplish.
The problem is that neither player is, as yet, the complete package. Delph, by all indications, is the more valuable presence at the moment. If Delph were complementing someone who is more the complete package, we’d have something going.
For now, it looks like we need Delph to keep raising his game. Longer term, maybe it’s Tonev or Bacuna, but right now, we’re hoping Delph continues his upward climb. My worry is that he won’t hold up given his injury history.
If we don’t get another AM in, what will be crucial is better delivery on corners, free kicks, and crosses. Good corners (and poor defending) got Cardiff their win.
Quick thoughts on Liverpool
Liverpool were on Villa quickly and relentlessly. They knew they had the fresher legs, and they used them. Villa were a half-step behind, heavy in the touch, mis-weighting passes and not moving enough off the ball, leading to lots of poor hopeful passes and one-twos or one-touch passes that didn’t come off, giving it right back. We naively tried to move it quickly, instead of holding on to it. The players were pressing. That’s tired legs.
Liverpool were sharper and quicker, and they dominated possession. Villa were chasing shadows.
None of it came to much, though. One good pass, a clever dummy, and then a lot of good work for Sturridge to make the goal himself.
And that was it for Liverpool.
Villa clawed their way back in, and created what could’ve been enough quality chances for a point. Liverpool looked ragged and harried in the second half, leaving Rodgers squirming on the touchline. I thought Benteke had equalized. Instead, Mignolet was their MOTM.
Yes, the players are pros. But it’s simple physiology that for effort expended, recovery is necessary. The greater the frequency of effort exerted in a given time span, the more you have successively lower-quality recovery because there’s a compressed time frame. If everyone had the same schedule, it would even out (ignoring relative squad depth and rotation). First week of full-tilt 90-minute games against top opposition? Big ask.
If this isn’t true, why do we always look at CL sides and hope we’ll either get them rotating and saving players for a big midweek game, or knackered after a big game? You can fault Villa for lack of depth, but only the top teams can pay and retain enough quality players to give you that kind of depth.
Based on what I saw last week, I think Lambert’s project is progressing and carrying on from last year. Others see another relegation dogfight.
But if we can face three CL-quality teams in a week (and leave ourselves with a good chance over two legs to progress in each game), then I think Lambert’s getting it right. The last two games could’ve been routs. Instead, they both finished with Villa on the front foot chasing an equalizer that was agonizingly just out of reach.
Bring on Rotherham. Over to you.