Knee-jerk reactions are often a football fan’s favourite but Aston Villa’s 6-0 defeat to Newcastle should not be thought of too importantly – it will in all probability not be indicative of the season ahead and needs to be put into perspective. Villa are a club in transition and with a caretaker manager that prefers life as a coach, things were unlikely to run as smoothly as many thought after the 3-0 win over West Ham on the first weekend of the season. The ire shown towards Villa players in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s defeat is misplaced – defensively they were poor but one game should not be given too much reverence, nor should the performances of Marc Albrighton and Stephen Ireland. After the hyperbole that Albrighton garnered after his excellent effort against West Ham, it seemed inevitable that his next Premier League performance would not live up to expectations – the sight of Ashley Young berating the young winger was particularly galling, however. Albrighton is seen by many to be the future of Villa and would have been looking for encouragement from senior players, and Young’s temerity was unfortunate.
In a similar fashion to Albrighton, not much can be read into Ireland’s performance. With James Milner leaving, Villa lost the battling aspect of their midfield and it looked very much like Ireland had been tasked with emulating that job on Sunday – that is simply not his game. Far too often, Ireland was deeper than the defensively-minded Petrov and that affected his influence on the game. On the fleeting occasions Ireland did get forward, there were promising signs that creativity may be a more prominent aspect of Villa’s game this season. However, MacDonald or whoever else may be in charge will have to tamper with the formation – Ireland cannot do the job of Milner, and Ireland and Petrov cannot protect the defence anywhere near as well as the two prior central midfield partnerships, Petrov/Milner and Petrov/Barry.
Therefore, the inclusion of a further defensive midfielder may be necessary – with Fabian Delph injured and Steve Sidwell almost as far down in the pecking order as he was at former club Chelsea, Nigel Reo-Coker seems like the most obvious choice. All of this is pure speculation but it would be hard to envisage a midfield of Stewart Downing, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Ireland and Ashley Young conceding six goals. This formation would also appease the Villa fans – former manager Martin O’Neill was often lambasted for his reticence to play 4-5-1 (especially as the ineffective Emile Heskey was often included) as statistics back up the fans’ view that said formation is best.
Whilst Villa have had a tumultuous start to their season, they can take solace in the evidence that Sunday revealed. In an attacking sense, for the first 30 minutes at least, Villa’s fluency in attack threatened a Newcastle defence that was playing a high line – Villa have often been accused for their inability to play through a team but early on against Newcastle (and against West Ham) such a commodity was in abundance. So dramatic a collapse will be an unlikely occurrence but with the intention of taking the positives from a negative game, in retrospect Villa’s attack showed signs of promise. The balancing act still has to be perfected between going forward and leaving the defence exposed but should a manager with tactical nous arrive, Villa should be able to shake off such a damning defeat. Recent history suggests that this result will not dampen Villa too drastically – after the 7-1 defeat to Chelsea last season, Villa went onto win four of their next five league games and the upcoming fixture list does not rule out such a possibility occurring again – Everton are up next and they have started in typically slow fashion.
Stiliyan Petrov issued a statement of intent after the defeat against Newcastle: “We will be a changed side in the next game,” he said. ”We have the quality.” If Villa can successfully overcome one of their close rivals, Stoke, Bolton and Wolverhampton Wanderers would present themselves as winnable games. However, a defeat against Everton, coupled with an abject defensive performance, could lead to the final death knells of Kevin MacDonald’s short reign. As early as it is in the season, everyone associated with the club will recognise the importance of a victory against Everton – lose and play poorly and it could set an unwelcome trend, but win and the paucity of quality shown against Newcastle may be cast off as an anomaly.