Club Focus – Aston Villa – O’Neill possesses the means to succeed

Aston Villa faced a further disruption to their fixture list after the match against Wigan Athletic was postponed after it was declared that the pitch was unplayable. However, Martin O’Neill’s men do not have to wait much longer with the eagerly anticipated Carling Cup semi-final set to take place this Thursday.

With Villa embarking on what could be one of their most successful Premier League campaigns to date, it is time to take a look at the players who tend to go unnoticed, who have helped the Birmingham side thus far. Brad Friedel, Richard Dunne, James Milner, Ashley Young, Stiliyan Petrov, Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew and Emile Heskey have all received the plaudits in recent months, but it is time to see how the other players from the Villa squad help to make way for a successful team. Beginning with the goalkeepers, there has only been one who has managed to fill the shoes of Friedel with some impressive performances for Villa this season. The American, Brad Guzan, who has been dubbed the next Brad Friedel, has been a reliable choice for keeper in cup games. Not only has he proved himself to be an excellent shot-stopper, Guzan has also kept the Villans in the two cup competitions with a series of penalty saves. Guzan has been Villa’s cup keeper this season and has yet to feature in a Premier League game. However, as Friedel is not getting any younger, Guzan is sure to be his replacement in the years to come.

In defence, whilst Richard Dunne’s influence and experience has been evident, his fellow defenders have helped to make Villa’s defensive record one of the best in the Premier League. Carlos Cuellar, who initially started at right-back this season, has proved himself to be the first-choice centre-back alongside Dunne in the Villa penalty area, keeping recent signing James Collins out of the team. Cuellar’s partnership with Dunne has blossomed over the months and his performances have been consistent. The centre-back has also found himself on the score-sheet this season with two goals to his tally. Perhaps Villa’s most efficient defender this season has been left-back Stephen Warnock, whose impressive performances have earned him an England call-up. Ex-Villa legend Charlie Aitken highlighted just why Warnock has been so good this season: “He can block, he can tackle, he can win the ball, he can get rid of it simply or he can bring it forward if there’s a chance to do so.” Warnock has barely put a foot wrong this season, and his style of play ensures that he does not overcomplicate things.

Moving to the midfield, Stewart Downing has only recently returned from injury, but his impact on the squad has been considerably beneficial. Downing now provides O’Neill with a natural left-footed player on the left-hand side of midfield, but not only that, Downing possesses the ability to run at defenders as well as to pick out key passes. Playing like an orthodox winger suits the Villa strikers as they are constantly delivered top quality balls to run on to or to head in the back of the net. Next up is one of Villa’s most controversial players this season, Nigel Reo-Coker. At the beginning of the season Reo-Coker was a first choice alongside Petrov in midfield. However, since his slight disagreement with O’Neill, Reo-Coker’s playing time has been limited. Despite this, many Villa fans will be asking what it is that the Englishman has to do in order to be a part of the first-team squad. In every game Reo-Coker has started, he has been exceptional. Sitting just in front of the defenders, he is almost a fifth defender helping to secure the Villa back line. Not only this, when his team are attacking, Reo-Coker drives the attacking force looking for key passes to release his teammates ahead of him. If Reo-Coker’s first team appearances continue to be limited, he will prove himself to be a valuable asset when O’Neill has to look to the depth of his squad.

Not only have Villa got depth in their squad, the players that rarely receive the plaudits play a vital role in Villa’s success. It is evident that O’Neill has effectively built a competent squad and time will tell if it can reach its ultimate aim of breaking into the top four.

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