Throughout last season, fans and even players of Aston Villa were criticising former manager Alex McLeish for his constant focus on defending, for installing the belief in the players’ minds that if you do not concede goals, you will not lose football matches. Against Newcastle on Tuesday night at Villa Park, and on several other occasions during this season, those beliefs appear to have long been forgotten.
Villa’s first home game of the season was against Everton, a match where they conceded three goals in the first 45 minutes and were lucky not to concede many more. Over five months later and the lessons have still not been learned from that first home fixture, and fans are beginning to resign themselves to the fact that the club is only heading in one direction – downwards.
Villa’s woeful defending has been a major factor to their poor form all season, and even with captain Ron Vlaar back in the side the team look no stronger in the heart of defence. Every single goal that was conceded in the fixtures that led to Villa being knocked out of both cup competitions last week were down to simple crosses into the box and poor marking, and it was poor marking again which led to the opener against Newcastle on Tuesday.
A lack of a natural defensive midfielder has also been a problem throughout, and it was that lack of physical presence in midfield that led to Yohan Cabaye shooting with very little pressure around him to give Newcastle their second goal. Villa did improve in the second-half, with Christian Benteke scoring once more in an impressive debut season, but it was too little to late for the Midlands club as they once more lost a must win game.
So where do Aston Villa go from here? It is clear for anyone to see where they need to strengthen the team, but with a lack of funds to do so Paul Lambert seems to have no choice put to stick to his faltering youngsters at the back. Chairman Randy Lerner gave him the dreaded vote of confidence in a statement that was released earlier in the week, struggling to convince fans that he was sure Lambert was still the right man for the job. Many fans may disagree with his words, but they may well be the same fans that were urging Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish to get the sack before him.
The problem stems from the amount of money spent under Martin O’Neill, and the cost it has taken to repair the damage done by failing to qualify for the Champions League during that time. Lerner spent over £100m regenerating the team under former manager O’Neill in high transfer fees and inflated wages, and has since gone on to spend another £50m in the last two years. For the fans that declare he has not spent enough, those figures would have to suggest otherwise.
Lerner is a businessman at heart, and in his lifetime has been a very successful one at that, with an estimated worth of over £1bn recently published in the
Villa as a business are looking much more financially stable, but as a Premier League football club they are failing miserably.
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