Midweek, or close enough, and Villa find themselves safely locked in the promotion lottery following back-to-back 1-0 victories over Cardiff and Leeds. Accomplished with three games to go, it might have been a bit dicier than we would’ve liked. At the same time, it always seemed fairly certain despite the string of results following the Wolves match.

So now we’re into momentum-building. Boro have climbed up into fifth, Derby have fallen to seventh, and Millwall sit persistently in sixth based on goal differential. With upcoming games against Derby and Millwall, two possible playoff opponents, we have a chance to establish a psychological edge by beating them. We also could realize no such advantage. It’s often the case that it’s harder to get the better of a given team twice in a short period.

In other words, whoever wins the regular-season fixture might succumb to overconfidence and underestimate the resolve of the loser in that encounter to put things right.

This is what makes playoffs so precarious. You just don’t know—unless you’re a demonstrably better team, one that is performing well and simply provides a too-difficult match-up for said unnamed opponent. Not sure if Villa are that team relative to anyone else at the moment.

The other unknown heading down the stretch—one that bedevils managers and coaches in almost any sport—is whether you should rest players in unnecessary games to avoid key injuries. Some believe keeping the team and momentum going is crucial. Others take the more cautious approach.

Me, I’ve never been a fan of resting players because you just don’t know what happens to the chemistry, rhythm, and overall sharpness after an extended break. I’ve seen teams come out flying from such a break. I’ve also seen nailed-on favorites stumble. The manager really has to know his players, in other words. Even then, they can get it wrong. Not all players respond the same way.

Yet it’s true that we’ve seen certain players look tired, either mentally or physically after the grueling five-game string in 13 days. And an injury to Grealish might well spell doom. Or it could mean Davis or someone else comes in, we throw a surprise at teams, and win through.

My hope would be that getting a normal week in, probably a very light week, with lots of recovery work, is adequate to keeping a full-strength squad available for Ipswich.

And I would also hope that we’ve got a plan of sorts in place, i.e., as others have suggested, first off you put out your best team against Ipswich, get the three points, and hope Fulham and Cardiff stumble. Four points over three games (four in Cardiff’s case)…Not the biggest hill to climb.

Building on that, one would hope we have some idea now how we’d like to rotate the team in following fixtures to keep the side ticking over with players you would most likely turn to. Whether that means Lansbury, for example, I don’t know. Or Davis. Does Birkir do better playing consistently? He’s not had much work over the course of the entire season, so he should be round about mid-season fitness. Hourihane and Snoddy could be a bit tired and jaded. Up front, we are a bit spoiled for choice, though, so I’m not two worried about that.

At the back, well you know it’s Chester and Terry/Jedinak. On the fullbacks, I’d like to see a slightly tougher combination made available…long as it doesn’t introduce disjointedness along the line and up the flanks.

But too much changing…I don’t know. we’ve seen Bruce make changes with decidedly mixed results. This is why managers don’t sleep well at night: You can make yourself nuts going back and forth. And if we lose to Ipswich, then questions start getting asked, confidence drops and…we could still come roaring back.

In the end, my gut tells me we should keep the basic side together because we’ve not been as fluid or formidable as we could be. Bruce is closer to the players, so he’ll know their states better than us. But I’d really like the players to feel some certainty that they’ll be playing a role and wrapping their heads round it, getting the mentality straight for the final push.

Course, that’s what we’d all like to see—the team taking the bit, starting to play more cohesively and scoring more prolifically, and really get to feeling good about themselves—that win-streak feeling where you just knew there was a crucial goal in the side.

Anyway, there’s a whole page of equivocations for you. And maybe one sort of solid takeaway to debate.

Over to you.

Comments 40

  1. Hi JC, I remember Bruces hull getting stuffed by Derby twice in the league and then beating them in their first play off leg 3-0 only to be hanging on next leg to lose 2-0 then snuck through 1-0 against sheff wed. I think one things for sure all bets are off, we have been consistently inconsistent to the point I don’t think it matters what we do for the next three matches ( can’t see the miracle happening) we will be what we will be on the day, as we have all season.

    A comment by Bruce recently that he should of rested some players after the Wolves game but was afraid of a back lash says a lot for me, he also said you “live and learn” or not in in some cases it seems.

  2. May well be right, Mark. These things can go so many ways. On the plus side, Bruce has been there and done it…One hopes there’s some belief in the squad as a result.

    Like you, not expecting any miracles, but sure wouldn’t mind a little excitement. Sure would be memorable if the unlikely came to pass.

  3. JC
    Which unlikely is that?
    Is it getting through the playoffs successfully, or going auto?
    As Mark said, whatever team turns up on the dat is sll we can expect.

  4. Oh…the unlikey being an auto spot.

    I wouldn’t call getting through the playoffs unlikely. We’ve toughed out our share of 1-0s. I think the big thing for Villa is as simple as scoring first. Not a good comeback team, by and large. Seem to play much better with a lead—can be pretty tough to break down and Johnstone makes his share of big saves.

    Hardly a brilliant insight, but that seems to be the trick for me.

  5. As Ian said, I look forward to the loans not being necessary, & maybe using some of our young players with some quality additions.
    12 mill for snodgrass is as demented as the porn king norm usually is, anyway we can do better.
    Not saying that I haven’t enjoyed him being with us, as he is an old fashioned 110% er & dribbles like my gran, but a little too old for a premiership winger with no real pace.

  6. JC
    Ooer… I’ll be happy if we win all our remaining matches [incl the playoffs], but the word evokes greater things to me, like getting a top grade manager.

  7. IanG- Me too, we go up and surely we will get a manager to suit? worst case scenario if we get up is we keep Bruce, we get £100m, play the kids in, buy frugally and go down, if we survive great but if not use the Parachute money wisely this time and build a side worth keeping for more than a year.

    The three teams that went up last season are making a go of it and may survive, we don’t look as competent as any of them in my opinion.

    We could as easily win or lose the play offs unless as JC says he waves his magic belief wand over the players.

  8. Had my laugh for the day. Following on from Snoddy’s 12 mill demand comes reports that Leicester may offer 20 mill for Jack. I’ve laughed so much that my sides are hurting.

    MK – the 3 promoted teams are making a fist of it in the Prem this season aren’t they. It’s because they’re young and hungry, run all day. The teams suffering are the ones who’ve spent millions on journeymen from overseas. Once on the salaries offered, these millionaires can’t be arsed to break sweat. Too busy blowing fortunes on gambling sites or nicking taxis in Barcelona.

    We blew our chance of auto promotion. After battering small heath we were clear in P2 with 15 games left and had the best goal difference after Wolves. Fast forward 10 games from that point and we managed a meagre 14 points from them. For me that’s where we lost it. Plus the miserable 7 points from our first 7 games whilst Spud struggled with selections not to mention any playing system. So now it’s a 4 to 1 shot.

  9. plug
    you left out month of december

    read this on another site ,bruces fans will say if we finish 4th its better than last season so we are improving, but forgetting 2 years ago we finished 20th in higher league so thats stability for you

  10. We’ll soon see who wants it the most. That’ll be the team that wins the playoffs. Villa probably has better individual players. Whether they can pull it off is another matter.

  11. IanG

    Ha…well, I’d settle for an auto spot, but a top-class manager and top-to-bottom change in the players wouldn’t be unwelcome, either.

    Whelan, Terry, Elmo, Hutton, Taylor, Jedinak…probably all surplus to requirements. Snoddy, okay, but at £2-3m, max, one-year deal. He’s just too old to be signing on at £12m. That’s absurd. Onomah, gone. Tuanzebe, gone, but if we could get him on a year-long loan, can’t say I’d argue with that. Good player in there. Grabban? I dunno. If we’re going to keep crossing, then, yes, he might be useful, but I’m sure there’s better out there. Hourihane? He’s a tricky one. Could we do better? Yes. But he Jack and Birkir seem to work well together.

    If we can upgrade at CB and FBs, find a right winger, I’d think we might be okay. Grealish will do fine, but won’t find it as easy. Adomah? Dunno. Depends on how Green progresses. Kodjia? I’m guessing he could still score goals, but an upgrade on Hogan would likely be necessary as another day-in day-out option. Sell him on at a loss. Be nice if we could tie up Johnstone. Not the finished article yet, but a good shot-stopper, young, only going to get better.

    Seems to me our goal would simply be about remaining competitive enough to stay out of the drop zone. But we’d probably need a really capable striker to do so, and count on winning 1-0, 2-1.

  12. Iana,

    Agreed, it really comes down to desire and belief.

    My fear is whether a number of these players actually feel like they’re PL material. That might cause them to shrink. On the other hand, they might rise to the occasion for a chance to “win” something…in this case promotion, and at least a shot at the PL.

  13. Reports today suggest Benteke will be offloaded by Crystal Palace this summer. He’s on 120k/week. This season he’s managed 2 goals and his club feel he’s a financial liability with that kind of return. This is on top of the millions they paid for him.

    Stoke also paid millions for Berahino. He’s on 70k/week, living the life of Riley whilst the mumbler has moved him to the bomb squad.

    Compare that with the much maligned Joe Bennett. Villa paid 2.75 million for him and gave him away to Cardiff for free a few years later. He’s on 15k/week and runs his nuts off for Warnock every game. And he’s managed a goal this season.

    Football has gone crackers.

  14. Plug…

    It is nuts. That’s why I’ve never minded the moneyball perspective. Identify key metrics for success, find undervalued players who meet them. Football is difficult to break down in many ways, but I think a more considered approach could yield insights.

    For example, as we’ve debated Hogan vs. Grabban, folks have reviewed the goals, how they’re scored (set piece, open play, header, shot), were they nailed on, were they half-chances, scrambles, etc. Now, of course there are stats you can find for almost anything, but that sort of breakdown ought to tell you which pool of striker candidates you’d want to be picking from.

    Add in speed, ball control, distribution, amount of pressing and defending from the front, conversion ratio (but one that takes into account the difficulty of chances), and price. We could look at Gabby’s conversion ratio, goals per match, etc. But, you should also be looking at how many times possession was lost when the ball was played to him and how, the possible assists passed up, how many clear chances were missed, etc. He might not have many tackles, but how many times per game does he close down and force a bad pass?

    A lot of backroom work, an absolute ton of film study.

  15. Seems to me we have found quite few decent players and ditched them over recent years, some have played against us this season and last, some are in the Prem now. I have to question the managers, I would of liked to see what Garde could of done given the time. Vertout scored a hat trick recently by the way.

  16. Very true Mark. Garde was hung out to dry by Lerner. I think the new regime should have done everything to get him reinstated instead of hiring RDM. Under Garde, I did notice that in the short time available to him he had the players attempting to play through tight defences. It’s hypothetical, but I’d put money on us being in a better position right now had he been kept.

    All very sensible what you say JC. Staff employees including the Board need to meet key performance indicators set by the owner. The KPI’s need to be reasonable and achievable based on a solid plan. Offloading players for free, only to see them flourish elsewhere is not only annoying, it’s foolish. In our case, things may be clearer in a month or so, or they may not.

  17. Plug
    Absolutely, or as McCarthy said, ” If my Auntie had a you know what she’d be my Uncle”.
    But like many of us, I’d loved to have seen Gard have a chance, as I rated him.

  18. Plug- considering what he inherited from Timbo Garde did get them playing and made Ayew a half decent striker until he went mental at West ham. I think he inherited far worse than Bruce did as did RDM.

  19. Well Fulham put a damper on Milwall’s future as the 3 teams below them all have a game in hand; Derby 1 point behind them have 2.
    Interesting to see Bruce and assistant at the Den last night – wonder what he learnt and what he will do about it! Fulham were great in the second half after squandering a lot of chances in the first, although Milwall were dangerous on crosses. It is looking like Fulham or Cardiff for automatic promotion now and play-offs Villa and any other 2 from Millwall, Derby, Preston, Boro & Sheffield Utd. This league is so inconsistent that my view could change overnight!!
    Next season maybe Bruce for Arsenal ha ha

  20. bruces bingo balls will be getting warmed up,now automatic is gone time to be clever[be a first for bruce]anyone with a niggle leave him out last 3 games mean nothing our season starts then play offs our only hope

  21. If Bruces presser is anything to go by he is still hoping for a miracle so expecting a strong line up. Jimmy Danger is looking iffy though and JT.

  22. clive
    every time this season when we were winning bruce changed sometimes formations other players,when we had our best run it came because taylor and whelan where sick jedi injured but bruce dropped birr for blues and he hasnt looked the same since,hogan was going nicely with grealish and albert he was dropped and also never regained form why?
    thank god for le tisser on sky sports blasting merson nicholas point that new arsenal manager needs time ,saying leicster nearly relegated one season champions next,bit like villa fans saying bruce needs more time to rebuild

  23. Ian G – happy medium is a commonly used phrase of English idiom that means striking a balance between two extremes; hence my use of it to refer to the option of resting players with ‘niggles’ ready for the play-offs or seeking to maintain a winning momentum.
    Sorry if I confused you

  24. Good to see you, Clive. Hope all’s well.

    Will be very curious about the approach. For me, with a week between games (if I remember correctly) now, I’d go with the same side, the one you think is going to win.

    If they fall apart, then make changes. But as you say….It’s momentum we want now.

    Johnstone, Elmohamady, Chester, Jedinak, Taylor, Onomah, Hourihane, Whelan, Bjarnason, Grealish, Grabban.

    Subs: Bunn, Samba, Bree, Lansbury, Snodgrass, Adomah, Hogan.

    About what I expected from Bruce

  26. why pick taylor ooamh ,surely bree is better bet at left back god any previous left back is better option, as for ooamh last week all i read he had good game ,but no mention of all the bad ones ,its not like he ooamh is going to turn a match round for us ,definetly would be better giving our youth a chace in these 3 matches

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