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Houllier lays down the law

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Phil McNulty | 17:05 UK time, Sunday, 31 October 2010

Villa Park

Aston Villa and Birmingham City escaped Villa Park with local pride and honour intact - but a colourless midlands derby did claim one high-profile victim.

And with his brutally honest assessment of Stephen Ireland, left on the bench throughout a goalless draw that cried out for the sort of creativity he has been known to provide, Gerard Houllier put down an early marker for the requirements under his regime.

Ireland is, without doubt, a talent but Houllier's dissection of the reasons behind his absence was an echo of the doubts expressed during the latter days of his Manchester City career.

So, even among the drab events of an encounter which ended with the spoils justifiably shared, conclusions can be drawn about what life will be like under Houllier at Villa Park.

When Houllier overlooked Ireland and introduced youngster Barry Bannan in the 57th minute, eyebrows were raised that a relative novice was preferred to an expensive acquisition.

Houllier offered a graphic illustration of why when asked afterwards, saying: "He (Ireland) needs to work harder. He played against Chelsea and did well, then played against Sunderland and was not good enough for me.

"The skill is one thing but you need to compete. It is a difficult period for him but we will support him and back him. He's come to a new club with a different manager in between.

"We know he is a good player but I don't want to have players who say 'he's a good player but...' If you say: 'he's a good player but he doesn't defend, but he doesn't run back, but he loses too many balls in crucial areas' that's difficult. He needs to get rid of these 'buts' and be a good player."

A wake-up call for Ireland, who arrived in the limbo period between Martin O'Neill's departure and Houllier's arrival as part of James Milner's sale to Manchester City, but it could almost be a coded message for the rest of the squad.

This, in microcosm, is the Houllier philosophy.

Houllier has inherited some good players from O'Neill, but not nearly enough and too many have that "but" against their name. Yes, Ireland was the subject of his remarks after this game, but the rest of Villa's squad will do well to take note.

It is early days to make definitive assessments of how Houllier will tackle the job, but evidence suggests he has taken on a squad limited in number and quality and he will need time and patience to shape it to his own satisfaction.

When I watched Villa last season under O'Neill, they were too often one-dimensional and ran short of ideas against opponents who did not buckle swiftly under the trademark qualities of width, pace and power. The crucial element of craft was too often missing.

And so it was again against this durable, mature Birmingham City side expertly marshalled at the back by the outstanding Roger Johnson.

Once Villa's early sting, such as it was, was drawn, they fell back on the old template of too many long balls aimed in the direction of Emile Heskey. Gabriel Agbonlahor's pace and goalscoring ability was sorely missed, as was emerging youngster Marc Albrighton.

This is something Houllier must, and will, address and you suspect it may need owner Randy Lerner to rip a few cheques from his book to help his new manager achieve it.

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Of course, the whole equilibrium of Villa's season was turned upside down not just by O'Neill's departure but the timing of his resignation, just five days before the start of the new campaign. It was a major disruption and a recovery period is needed.

Houllier cannot start making any crucial adjustements until January, and even then the serious work may have to wait until next summer.

Villa, with Stilyan Petrov also a long-term absentee, need more ringcraft and this is why suggestions that Houllier may cast his net towards Manchester United and Michael Owen make perfect sense, if only the man who helped him haul in silverware at Liverpool could get himself fit.

I asked Houllier whether he was facing a major rebuilding or the odd tweak to consolidate his Villa squad and he said: "It is about players and staff. We do have a job on our hands. We know we can play better football, but whether it is possible in derbies I don't know."

Houllier's assessment was correct. This was not the sort of setting, tense and attritional, to gauge the progress of Villa under his guidance so far. The statistics do not make pretty reading, with 344 minutes without a league goal the starkest of them all.

If Ireland takes Houllier's message on board, he will flourish under a manager who renewed careers before - just ask Danny Murphy. If he does not he has wasted a golden opportunity.

Houllier is no fool. He knew this was not good enough and will quickly be assessing the scale of the rebuilding he will undertake. He was left to grasp at the small consolation of a point - and you suspect opposite number Alex McLeish will have gleaned more satisfaction from the result.

Birmingham were well-organised and, as McLeish pointed out, disciplined both tactically and personally, especially in the face of Villa captain Nigel Reo-Coker, who was like a bear with a sore head from first whistle until even after the last, when he marched on to the pitch to pointlessly seek confrontation.

McLeish was surprisingly sanguine about a handling offence from Reo-Coker in the first half, which referee Howard Webb turned a blind eye to despite standing only yards away.

If one man summed up Birmingham, and the approach demanded by McLeish, it was defender Johnson, a tower of strength throughout and determined to play on even after Birmingham's physio declared his afternoon over following a challenge by Reo-Coker.

Johnson is a good, old-fashioned defender, with a refreshing "they shall not pass approach" and a perfect advert for talent that can be found in the Championship if managers are prepared to take the chance.

Reo-Coker was in feisty mood all day and was at odds with Craig Gardner throughout, a smiling McLeish declaring: "I don't think they get on. I deduced that quite quickly - I did my Sherlock Holmes on that one."

McLeish has done an admirable job in assembling a Birmingham City team that is now established in the Premier League, saying: "The guys in that squad and in that dressing room are men after my own heart."

Houllier is at the start of his work across the city at Aston Villa - and his words directed at Ireland make it clear he is not prepared to have unnecessary obstacles placed in his path.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Well, one thing I know for sure is that Ireland will come good. He's too good a talent not to.

  • Comment number 2.

    GH's words about Ireland are absolutely spot on. He cruises through games and hopefully will strive to prove the manager wrong.

    As for his tenure so far, Villa have tried to play better football and certainly created more chances than we used to in games last season. But we haven't taken many of them. Admittedly, we have missed Milner's drive and Gabby's incisiveness and raw pace. Once Gabby is fit again hopefully we'll see a better conversion rate on the chances we are creating.

    But the signs are pretty good. We have tightened up defensively (conceding 1 in 3 games) and we are only 3 points off 5th. I like what GH is trying to install, I think it will do us well in the long term. The style of football is much better to watch.

  • Comment number 3.

    O'Neill knew the Villa squad needed an injection of new blood this season but was not allowed to spend. However it isn't true to say that the squad lacks quality -- it, admittedly shorn of James Milner, was good enough to finish sixth last season and collect the best haul of points the club has had in over ten years.

    Houllier is underachieving, talks about Liverpool too much and is not ambitious enough in his tactics. Playing a five man midfield against Birmingham at home is very poor indeed.

    He needs time to build his own squad and get them playing the way they want but this Villa fan is not impressed with what he's seen thus far.

  • Comment number 4.

    Houllier needs to book his ideas up. Playing Heskey up front what?
    Carew on the bench with Delfouneso not even making the sub bench. Houllier to make this work he has got to play a attacking midfielder not to holding Reo Cocker and Sidwell or Reo Cocker and Petrov we need to see ireland or ashley young there. We need a striker so bad is what everyone is saying that is not true we need Heskey to be benched or get put on the long term injury list. Give Delfouneso a run out and play Carew week in week out and watch the goals fly in as his confidence rises. What is with playing Clark as a defensive mid with Reo Cocker there there is no need. Houllier book your ideas up or retire from football and get us Martin Oneil back. At least he had started to play someone in the correct position for every position.

  • Comment number 5.

    Houllier for me is an average manager who will not take Villa beyound what MON has done. He would probably bring them backwards.

    The man's philosophy of football is wack and he's not good in the tranfer market either.

    As per Ireland I still believe he is one of the better players in the squad, and I think a run in the team would make him come out good. But I guess the manager might probably not have the luxury of giving him that run.

    All in all I think Villa are moving backwards instead of forward this season. Will wait and see as events unfolds

  • Comment number 6.


  • Comment number 7.

    Talk of Owen joining is an awful sign of possible things to come

  • Comment number 8.

    MON dropped us right in ''IT''...Everyone slating houllier is doin us no good. Give the man a break. You all expecting too much in the first 5 mins. I believe he'll do the job given time an a few quid.

  • Comment number 9.

    I am slightly more skeptical. I fully appreciate that Houllier has had success at other clubs, and has won silverware and certainly has experience. However, when i'm watching villa at the moment it is just so lackluster its untrue. I don't like this new style were playing and its beginning to show. Stats don't lie, we are incredibly goal shy and I for one can't see where they're going to start coming from.

  • Comment number 10.

    The idea of Michael Owen is way wide of the mark. If Villa can't afford the price of top quality (they need a top midfield general and a goal scorer) then they at least have to aim for players no older than 26 and hope to improve them to the required standard.

    AV received £36m for Milner and Barry, two England regulars, and neither has been adequately replaced. Add to that the reliance on an aging Heskey, who whatever he says about nothing to prove has much to prove and should seek to every time he goes on the pitch, such as scoring regularly, and the likelihood that Carew will move on, then a proven goal scorer is also needed (one that will play and be there in five years time).

  • Comment number 11.

    villa havn't had a 20 goal a season striker since the ron atkinson days when flair was converted into points. when you look at the current strikers in the squad they will be lucky to get 20 goals between them all. the team has been crying out for a goal poacher for more than 10 years now and a creative midfielder hasn't been seen at villa since the days of merse and ginola. big job finding these types of players as world football don't possess this kind of player anymore that villa could attract.

  • Comment number 12.

    Houllier blog by McNulty, whatever next?

    Shame you weren't in the north east today Phil. So the issue is Ireland, it is of no surprise for now. With Young, Agbolanhor and the young ones there are some lively attacking options at Villa Park.

    Stephen will come in handy over the season as part of an exciting project for Gerard. He is a quality coach, but then so is Martin O'Neill, who may well have had a sound reason for jumping early - we just don't know exactly what it was...

  • Comment number 13.

    Well done to Brum in the game today. Deserved more. Is Webb always this lenient?

    #7 Absolutely.

    Villa lack a bit of their old fire under MON and even though they have absentees Ireland should be doing more, he's too good a player.

    Early days for GH but he needs a couple of signings: santa cruz in and carew out may be a good move.

  • Comment number 14.

    Surely very premature to make these critical judgements on Houllier. Villa and owner Randy Lerner were left with a huge problem by the timing of O'Neill's resignation just before the start of the season.

    I was never hugely impressed by Villa's style under O'Neill and Houllier cannot change that instantly. As I said last season, Villa were one dimensional and lacking guile in midfield under O'Neill, and it will take a lot of work to alter it.

    I think the squad lacks depth also. Am I being harsh on O'Neill? And what are Villa's realistic targets this season?

    Let me know your thoughts, and Birmingham fans, you must have been happy with your team's display today. Tell us what you think.

  • Comment number 15.

    Houllier is bringing his own style to Villa Park. Hardly any goals being scored but hardly any being conceded. It'll be good enough to finish between 8th and 12th this season and any other seasons Villa stick by him. I pity anybody unfortunate enough to hold a season ticket at Villa Park while Houllier is in charge. No wonder Ashley Young is refusing to negotiate a new contract right now.

  • Comment number 16.

    One dimensional under O'Neil? Well that's one more than we'll be under Houllier.
    I said at the time he will take us backward fast - a defensive approach against a team who are (more justifiably) defensively minded.
    Absolute minimum 8th place based on the competition this season and we look nowhere near that at the moment.
    Watching Villa will be like it was under Gregory - though at least he was good for the odd quip.
    That said he is managing Ireland well as he needs to grow up though not Delfounso who has more to his game than Heskey. And as for the allegation that Owen may be on the wish list - an absolute joke as I am sorry we have 1 under achieving ex-Liverpool forward who Houllier rates to go with 2 brilliant ex-Liverpool players who Houllier didn't rate much a decade ago.

  • Comment number 17.

    As a chelsea fan who went to uni in birmingham I have always held a soft spot for villa - and it is a shame that GH is in charge now. He is not upto it, and had proved it over the years.

    Villa are actually not that many players off challenging spurs for that 4-6th position along with Liverpool (in a normal season without Hodgeson), but may end up selling and buying to rebuild, which would be a shame.

    I just hope they pull a few results out of the bag and are up there at xmas because it will be interesting for me to follow them in the second half of the season - especially as Chelsea will have the league won by March :)

  • Comment number 18.

    Phil, I think you might have been a bit too harsh on O' Neill as he did a fantastic job turning Villa back into a side who are qualifying for European football quite regularly. He did however overrely on pretty direct football - counter attacks, wing play and if that didn't work, "lump it" football to Carew/Heskey (which a certain Monsieur Wenger got a hard time in the media for pointing out last year until those same people performed a perfect u-turn and started criticising O' Neill forat the end of the season and his transfer record was very patchy.
    I don't think you gave enough credit to the current Villa squad either as there is a good level of quality there as they've been in the fight for Champion's League positions the last couple of seasons until March where they've fallen off through fatigue. The squad lacks depth which has been helped a bit by the emergence of Clark, Albrighton and Delfouneso but 2 or 3 players more are needed. I think Houllier has had a reasonable start and think his profile may help secure the type of player needed in January.
    One last point though. I'm shocked by Houllier's claims that Ireland is not working hard enough recently as he is well known for putting in the graft and hired a personal trainer at City to keep him in shape during the summer. You probably hit the nail on the head though as Houllier may be holding him up as an example to the squad to show that everyone must meet the standards that the manager requires. Either way, I'm sure it will be a well-timed kick up the backside to all at the club.

  • Comment number 19.

    Villa miss agbonglahor big time, his absence so far this season has clearly shone, when he is back in the team i feel we will see a better and different villa side!

  • Comment number 20.

    Phil - maybe those terrible drab games v your team Everton 2008 & 2009. 2-2 at Goodison, 2-3 at Goodison or 3-3 at Villa Park put you off O'Neill and make it seem Vila were one dimensional.
    Or maybe because O'Neill turned down both Liverpool clubs in late 90's/early 00's you have a mild grudge as well as dumping Houllier's Liverpool out of the UEFA Cup on their own patch in 2003.
    I agree O'Neill left us at an inopportune moment and this not to be forgotten by Villa fans who's memories (as any Blues fans will tell you) stretch back over a century :-)
    However if Houiller's Villa finishes lower than 8th then that is a failure, no excuses - in fact no buts!!

  • Comment number 21.

    Phil, under O'Neill we were a counter-attacking team no doubt. O'Neill built a very good squad out of the ashes of the relegation threatened squad he took over from O'Leary, yet it has always been short of numbers for one reason or another.

    I guess only time will show if Houllier is up to the job and if he can improve on O'Neill's work, so far he is not impressing.

  • Comment number 22.

    This is going to be a long tough Season for Villa Staff and Fans. It will be a time of rebuilding and changing so finishing in the top half of the table this time will be an achievement after the mess that was made Pre-Season at the end of the O'Neill era (note not pointing direct fingers at anyone as we still don't know the whole story yet and can only guess). Results such as today and against Sunderland will have to be taken on the chin as Mr Houllier needs time and patience to prescribe a medication for Villa Park. Good Cup runs are what is needed meanwhile and i am sure Mr Houllier will do his best to give the Fans something to smile about. The Transfer Window opens in January and then we will all see where Aston Villa are heading in the future. This is too early in the Season to start a Witch hunt and far too early in Mr Houllier's tenure to be throwing rotten cabbages at him already.

  • Comment number 23.

    A lot of criticism for the man who has been at Villa for 5 minutes, and a lot of support for the man who left us high and dry by walking out on us 5 minutes before the season started!

    Get some perspective people. Apart from 1 season (directly after a heart attack i might add) he has an unbelievable CV filled with success, yet a number of Villa fans are writing him off after what, 5 games?? You are adding credence to those that call Villa afns fickle!

    He has been barely got his feet under the desk and has had to deal with a number of injuries. At least give him a few months to let him implement his methods on the squad. Good grief, the impatience of Villa fans...

  • Comment number 24.

    @23 Well said, my sentiments precisely... On the Injuries front i can't help but feel Petrov, Agbonlahor etc. have hobbled into the Medical Room as a result of Mr O'Neill's stuborn "same starting XI" policy during the previous 2 campaigns. I seem to recall several players were struggling with Achilles problems from March to the end of last Term yet Mr O'Neill continued playing them and as a result Villa were so slow getting going in the opening half hour they were often a goal or 2 down by half time? (think of the Reading game in the FA Cup as 1 example). This is a hangover that is now effecting Mr Houllier and Fans must take this into account and be patient with him. He can't buy anyone in yet and Fans should be happy the Youngsters are doing so well (mainly thanks to the good work of Mr McDonald). Get a grip Villa fans... at least you haven't spent £500 million est. on Players and are 8 points off the League Leaders, while out the Carling Cup already.

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm in complete agreement with the above's no wonder us Villa fans are labelled as fickle! I think GH's track record is not being given nearly enough respect - he's a succesful manager with the silverware to back that up and his methods are good. O'Neill did a great job for us after the O'Leary debacle, no doubt about it, but his tenure wasn't perfect either - he paid out some stupidly high wages for players that often didn't merit it and unfortunately this is likely to impact on Houllier's spending power in January. Let's hope not. Given time (a rare commodity in the modern game sadly) I'm convinced Houllier will do the job for us, but I think we need to be more realistic with our aims for this season. Those people on here saying we're just 1 or 2 players off Liverpool or Tottenham's squad are off the mark in my opinion. I agree we need a goalscorer desperately though, and given his constant fitness issues Owen would not be a step in the right direction. Delfouneso needs to be given a chance - I think in time he's going to be a class act. It'll be interesting to see what January brings - in the meantime we need to get behind Houllier.

  • Comment number 26.

    Congratulations Phil, your first decent article in almost 2 years.

    Keep it up!

  • Comment number 27.

    14. At 9:09pm on 31 Oct 2010, philmcnultybbcsport wrote:

    Am I being harsh on O'Neill?


    Yes I think you are Phil. Do you remember what Villa were like before he came along? Under O'Leary they were awful and flirting with relegation every season. O'Neill made them into a solid Premiership team that were competing for the European slots every season. He did the best with what he had and put the feel good factor back into Villa.

  • Comment number 28.

    totally disagree with earlier comments made by scouser4life. average manager? let's not forget he brought more silverware to liverpool than a certain spaniard, and far more than hodgson is ever likely to. as for him not being good in transfer windows, hyypia, haaman and litmanen beg to differ. also, lets not forget that, flop though he was, when he signed kewell he did it right from under the nose of sir alex. kewell's signing was just like joe cole's, everyone wanted kewell just like cole and both seem to be all round disappointments. same goes for djibril cisse, being as raved about as he was who could have forseen his injusy problems? thats not houllier's fault.

    fact of the matter is it will take time for houllier's tactics to settle and we need to add depth. its worth mentioning that in every one of o'neills seasons in charge we had periods of at least 5 league games without a win, one period of 9 uninterupted failures to win in his second season in fact, and we still finished 6th. o'neill was no transfer window hero either. the likes of carew for baros (inspired), ashley young, downing and milner, admittedly a few others stand out as great bits of business, but you still have the signings of beye, davies, zat knight, salifou, harewood, heskey, dider agathe, sidwell and routledge as evidence o'neill wasn't strictly speaking always on the ball with transfers. heskey might do alright this season, and sidwell may have it in him but im far from convinced.

    this doom and gloom attitude is nonsensical 10 games into the season as we're only 5 points below the team in 5th and in the carling cup quarter finals again. everton have had bad starts in recent years and gone on to finish 5th with injury lists longer than the remaining members of the squad. i certainly like that players like albrighton, bannan, clark and lichaj are being given a fair chance this season which wouldnt have happened under o'neill (who would have insisted on the same 11 every game as always), and i think we'll pick up, have a good run in the league at some point during the season and im confident that we have the ability to make europe. it needs a bit of a re-shuffle, but villa are a great club with a great history and i see no reason why we cant be aiming for a 4th place finish in the next couple of seasons and im not writing us out of it this season either. end of the day, theres 84 points still to play for this season, anything can happen, but as a villa fan this early in his tenure i think houllier needs our support not critiscism.

  • Comment number 29.

    and as for comment 23 i couldn't agree more. houllier needs time and o'neill didn't afford us that luxury as a club by dumping on us when he did. there needs to be some reality checking in football these days, a manager can't come in and make everything perfect overnight. as fans of the club we should understand that and get behind the new boss.

    at least, despite spending well over £100 million this summer alone, man city are more points adrift of the top spot than we are of them.

  • Comment number 30.

    If Michael Owen stayed fit, then he would score 15-25 goals a season for Villa with the chances we create. But yes, it is a huge 'if' and probably not worth the gamble, because he won't stay fit. If GH can sign a driving midfield general and a poaching striker in January then that's excellent to begin with, it will lay great foundations for him to work on in the summer. Roque Santa Cruz is leaving City, we should slip in a bid for him, worst case scenario we don't get him. There's other strikers out there and GH will find us one. Take this season with a pinch of salt, fellow Villains, this is a stopgap after MON left is high and dry and GH can only stop the rot this year. Then, next year, let the rebuilding commence! Champo League by 2013!!

  • Comment number 31.

    You could tell this would be a terrible game after seeing Villa's teamsheet. 4-5-1 with Heskey as lone striker ...

  • Comment number 32.

    re: the negativity
    I guess that it is one thing to say, "this is going to be a transitional season" and another to have to watch it happen. In reality, Villa are only one or two players away from being a really good team. A bit of time...and an exciting striker to replace John Carew maybe (to me, he now just looks big and lumbering rather than strong and powerful) all that's needed.

  • Comment number 33.

    we must give Houllier time.what mon has done to us(villa fans) and the team was a kick in the face and we are both still labouring from it.
    in my opinion gh hasnt done anything wrong so far.true, some strange tactics.but if you look at the players at his disposal,especially now as many are out injured or banned,he didnt have much choice.sidwell and irland arent just not good enough in central midfield.ireland would even be a liability because he cant defend and gets lost in midfield.and at the moment he just isnt in form.
    and in attack heskey as it baffles me is our best striker by miles.i never was a fan of carew and as it shows he just isnt good enough any more for our standards. and for delfouneso . i saw him in u21 ec and i didnt think he is any good at all.he wasted several chances and didnt create anything.he didnt even score a goal.perhaps he needs more time.if we could get owen and he wants to come to us it would be a dream come true.the only thing we must then do is to pray that he doesent get injured.hell bang 20s in for us.the next thing we would need is a central midfielder who is creativ and score goals.but for that one we have been looking for the last 10? years.
    with liverpool and lyon gh has won a lot of trophies.lets get excited and support him as the players do.he even seems to be a nice thing is for sure.he cant disappoint us so much as mon has done.

  • Comment number 34.

    To TascheyDelBosque...don't get me wrong. O'Neill did a very good job at Aston Villa, but the squad he left behind certainly needs strengthening both in quality and numbers.

    The most damaging aspect for Villa was the timing of his departure. It left no time for a new manager, whoever that was going to be, to put his stamp on things and means a holding operation until January at the earliest.

    As for the critics of Houllier, he has only been in the job a matter of weeks, so he deserves time to make his mark.

    On Stephen Ireland, clearly Houllier believes he has to improve, but he has shown he can rejuvenate careers before. I mentioned Danny Murphy, but Jamie Carragher is another who is never slow to say he is indebted to his former manager. If Ireland takes the message on board, then he can thrive at Villa Park.

    Villa fans, where do you think the team needs strengthening? And Birmingham fans, where do you think your team can finish this season?

    One final point for now...I was so impressed with Birmingham's Roger Johnson. Proves players can make the leap from the Championship to the Premier League with ease. A top defender.

  • Comment number 35.

    That was one of Houlliers better interviews which may get more from Ireland than he has been producing, the only point i would not agree with is "Heskey works hard for the team" surely if he does not work hard just like any player he should not be playing. Villa have struggled for goals which definetely has a lot to do with Agbonlahor being injured but leaving Carew who gets goals in the premier league on the bench will not help Villa break this mould. I dont think Villa need to rebuild having finished top six regular under O'neil more just needing to add two or three top quality players to go alongside some of the youngsters who are starting to make a impact under Houllier. What has impressed me with Houllier has been the way he is giving youth its chance and not being afraid to use young players who have come threw the Villa youth system. If Houllier can bring in a couple of quality players to go with what they already have top six again is within reach, Champions League places like for so many may just prove to be out of reach this season and over the next couple of years but this is not to say they wont be challenging for the places. If Houllier decides to make lots of changes quickly Villa may fall outside the chasing pack.

  • Comment number 36.

    With Houllier replacing O Neill the only way is down. But expect a lot of "corners being turned" while they make the descent :-)

  • Comment number 37.

    I'm not too sure Villa need to make major changes. It's tactical work that Mr Houllier needs time to work on as there are plenty of capable Senior Players and there are some good Youth Players pushing in. For one thing Mr Houllier needs to work on defending of Set Pieces in the last 18 yards. Under Mr O'Neill Villa have become so defensive that there is no outlet to escape when the opposition attack from here, as a result they dig in for the last 20 minutes allowing the other team to onslaught. Instead of having 8 players in the 6 yard box they need a couple of players hovering on the edge of the 18 yard box. I counted 6 times Villa win the initial header against Wolves and give the ball straight back to them. You might as well not bother winning the header if your going to give the ball back like this. Chelsea took full advantage of this tactical flaw in the Semi-Final of the FA Cup i seem to recall. I would sign another Striker and a Midfielder maybe, but thats about it.

  • Comment number 38.

    Just a few points

    For a couple of deluded Villa fans who think Michael Owen will get 20 league goals a season for you. He has NEVER EVER in his whole career managed to score 20 league goals in a season. What makes you think that now that his legs have gone and that he is even more of a injury liability, that he will suddenly manage this?

    Stick with Houllier. Villa wont win the league unless they find a Sugar Daddy, and Houllier has a fantastic record in the Cups, I'm sure he will bring some success to Villa.

  • Comment number 39.

    If there are a handful of players who feel their careers were rejuvenated (I wasnt aware Carragher and Murphy felt under any debt for their careers) there are certainly a lot more careers that a detrimental effect playing under Houllier. Sander Westerveld and Ginola I doubt any kind words to say.

    Houllier has always been a self promoting person and got top jobs as a result. However, he has done poorly as a manager and always laid the blame with his players eg Ginola for France failing to make the 1994 world cup from an almost impossibly position to not qualify from.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think we're capable of of 8th, I really do. Whether we will achieve that or not is a different matter, and I for one would be perfectly happy with a 10th-14th placed finish.

    Batting a question back to you Phil, where do you think we'll have to finish to keep hold of Roger Johnson from the likes of Manchester City and the defensively frail Tottenham?

  • Comment number 41.

    I agree with thee lack of Villa's numbers but don't think the comment about their work rate under O'Neill was fair. It was true but I don't think the players on the pitch can be blamed. It was basically the same 11 week in week out. Their seasons always started well and then tailed off, probably due to the players being exhausted from sheer number of games.

    I think O'Neill made too much of how he thought he wasn't given financial backing. It's amazes me to look at the lack of depth in Villa's team last season compared to Spurs, when Spurs had easily the lower wage costs.

  • Comment number 42.

    villain-in-newport You mention some fine players who Houllier bought i can also remember the Pongolle's, Letallec, Salif Diao, El Hadj Douff who he massively overpaid for after having Anelka on loan and Cjisse injuries or not very average striker. His best signing for Liverpool or one of his best sits alongside him on the bench at Villa Mcallister and that was probably five years to late. These past signings mean nothing now he is in charge at Villa and only time will tell but i would not expect success based on his achievments at Liverpool i mean Souness won the F.A Cup and he is regarded as one of the worst managers Liverpool have ever had. He deserves time to see if he can improve upon O'neil now he is in charge and imo its unfair to expect the man to deliver silverware every season given how football is today. I feel Birmingham would be the happier team after yesterdays result first as the away team and second as Villa had won six straight against them. Villa were not at there best yeaterday which is difficult in a tense Derby but imo still looked the more likely team to grab a winner. The goals and pace of Agbonlahor have been missed but Houllier takes praise for not messing around to much with a solid defence and keeping Villa a well organised hard to break down team. Lots of new managers come into clubs change the way a team plays try to get there own ideas across to quickly and end up failing miserably. Houllier will change things but will do things slowly imo whilst keeping results respectable and i imagine most Villa fans would be happy with the start he has made? Its still very early days but i have been suprised how comfortable he looks in the role.

  • Comment number 43.

    Slightly of topic for you Phil McNulty (a non Man Utd or Liverpool related blog).....

    Ireland is a fantastic player, in the 07-08 / 08-09 seasons he was one of the best & most consistent players in the league. However, you can make the excuse that he has come to a new club under a new manager so needs to time to adjust, Milner has had no such problems. Think this issue is Ireland, didn’t want to come to Villa, has not looked happy since he has arrived and has played nowhere near the standard he is capable off. Hopefully, as Villa fan he recaptures his love of the game & form or Ireland could end up like another Collymore….

  • Comment number 44.

    re: comment 39 - I don't think you could argue at all that Houllier 'has done poorly as a manager' - a cup treble, top 3 finishes in the Premiership and back-to-back French Ligue 1 titles with Lyon would indicate otherwise. His knowledge of coaching and the technical side of the game is also second to none.

  • Comment number 45.

    I agree with Phil - Villa last season were 1 dimensional. Martin had based his team on a counter attacking side using the pace of his players to attack quick and fast. But this requires a team to attack you, and a manager worth his salt will set his team up to sit back, which many did last season, and allow Villa to give you the ball becuase they did not have another plan. I'm not slagging off MON as he did a fab job of turning round Villa which had died under the later months of O'Leary's management. However I don't think Houllier will do any better, as I beileve that Randy Lerner won't release the purse strings, which is what hampered MON from taking Villa further on.
    I know Heskey is not the greatest goal scorer, but from seeing Delfonso in U21 action you could see he is probably not good enough to lead the Villa line, while Carew looks like a player who wants out. Villa have been crying out for a decent striker for the last few years so the Villa fans crying in their porridge about Houllier really need to look at themselves and wait for January and see what he does in the market. His past exploits at Liverpool show he had about a 50% success rate with signings but I don't think he will have a budget near what that was. He needs to find a rough diamond like Fulham have with Demebele.

  • Comment number 46.

    There's nothing wrong with our squad's quality, its pretty much the same as the squad that finished 6th, 3 seasons in a row.

    Villa fans had a lot of complaints against MON, his style of play, lack of signings, especially fancy foreigners who can do a cruyff turn, not making subs and style of play.

    Another whinge from our fans was that he didn't play certain players - i.e. Luke Young and Reo Coker - now there both in the team and we're worse than last year!!

    Its obvious we need a goalscorer, if we can get that we'll be fine, might even finishh 6th again, it's going to be a long hard run until January though as honestly i can't see were the next goal will come from.

    0 goals in our last 3 league games and Fulham away next.

    We have a good squad, lots of promising youngsters, but until we start scoring goals regularly, we will struggle, at least we seem to have tightened up at the back again.

  • Comment number 47.

    Stunning on many levels. What Houlier said about Ireland, is what any manager would say about any player. If you are not putting the work in , you can have all the talent in the world, you won't get your game. There is nothing unusual about it. There are perhaps exceptions, like Ronaldo at United who actually prove the rule.
    Ireland is not a grafter. He has shown signs of thinking he is bigger and better, by refusing an International career, and perhaps he is a young man in turmoil and his football is suffering, but Stephan Ireland, is not too good to dissappear completely from scene either.
    I am equally surprised to hear practically in the same breath so to speak that villas problems will be solved by a couple of cheques. Man City's clearly haven't been, why would Villa's? Who would they sign? They have knocking on the top four door at the end of the last couple of season only to fail badly at the closing stages. That could be the fault of O Neill not of the squad. Then there is the fantastic Micheal Owen who scored how many goals for United last season? You know the perennial patient, the guy who doesn't know how to look after his own body. Who can't step on the field without being injured and who is never match fit. Sign him from United? Any chance you still believe in Santa?

  • Comment number 48.

    Reo-Coker is good player that Villa can't afford him to be sent off, but he was a like a mad man yesterday.

  • Comment number 49.

    Houliier will bring you a Cup or two, but it won't be pretty. His teams line up like a bunch of crabs, the volume of sideways passing is high, the game becomes dull to watch and he will strangle the life out of teams, especially those he percieves to be better than Villa.

    On the way to the most wierd UEFA final with all those goals, Houllier stiffled the life out of both Barcelona & Roma. When Liverpool do it, or any big club for that matter, its classed as tactical genius. When smaller teams do it, its a different matter.

    Villa will get loads of possession under Houllier and little threat, it only worked at Liverpool because they had two players exceptionally well in Owen and Gerrard

    Do Villa have those players?.........

  • Comment number 50.

    AV definitely need strengthening up front and more depth required to the squad as a whole but would you trust GH to do this bearing in mind his far from convincing track record at LFC?! The idea of re-uniting Heskey and Michael Owen up front is a complete non-starter-surely AV's future will be more secure playing the likes of Bannan and Albrighton.

  • Comment number 51.

    Mercanaries must love the shirt, complacency has no place in the Premiership, they will be found out ?

  • Comment number 52.

    Good blog Phil. I think Houllier will prove to be a good appointment for Villa.

    On a sidenote, whenever you blog about United/Liverpool (etc) you get lambasted for writing about the same old teams, so today you write an interesting blog about Villa and the comments are cut down dramatically. Something tells me that you'd have 500+ if you had written about the United v Spurs game for example (and the controvesial decision near the end).

    I think it's great - a blog with just sensible debate/opinion about football, not the usual childish bickering.

  • Comment number 53.

    Villa are missing Gabby and Milner (the latter more than most of us care to admit) and Ireland has done very little to justify a place in the team.

    Fair play to GH for playing Bannan, he looked quite the live-wire when he came on (and pretty funny when he tried to win a header vs Zigic!)

    Yesterday was a poor game between two defensive teams but I assume GH picked those who he thought deserved to start. He needs time to work with the players.

    Hopefully Gabby back soon, Ashley to sign a new contract, Villa to ship out the spent-force that is Carew and get in a centre-forward (not Owen). A central midfielder would be nice, but do we have the money?

  • Comment number 54.

    O'Neill had his critics but overall I think he was well thought of by us Villa fans and he left a team in far better shape than what he inherited. Leaves Houllier in an awkward spot, if he says anything against the squad, changes the style of play etc. he's changing what worked to a large extent over the past 3 years. There are advantages to taking over a struggling side who've let their manager go as the new man comes in changes a few things and if it doesn't work its only as bad as before and he can always play the 'I inherited an awful squad' excuse.

    O'Neill took over at Villa when us fans were at a low ebb, relegation had been threatening but then there was the euphoria of a new owner and manager and funds to improve the squad but that was really needed. Houllier is taking over a squad that performed well to get 6th a few years running, is it unfair to expect him to improve on that? Yes we've lost Milner but gaining Ireland and the improvement in Albrighton to first team level makes decent replacements I reckon. Add in Clark, Bannon to play the odd game and the squad could be even better. So I think its fair to say the big test is can Houllier match or improve on O'Neill's results. I think if he can't then it means he's not as good a manager.

  • Comment number 55.

    27. At 01:36am on 01 Nov 2010, supershunsuke wrote:

    Do you remember what Villa were like before he came along? Under O'Leary they were awful and flirting with relegation every season.


    what utter rubbish are u talking about?? o'leary took us to 6th in his first season and 10th the next. Villa were only flirting with relegation in his last season.

    also had juan pablo angel the first player since yorke to score 20+ goals in a season for villa and solano the last player with any flair villa have had for a while...

  • Comment number 56.

    Bring in a centre forward ( Roque Santa Cruz?) and a creative, driving midfielder (Darren Pratley?) on the cheap in January, and Villa should do well this season.

  • Comment number 57.

    Roger Johnson has been a great signing for us, and I agree that he's a top defender and puts 100% into every game for us, but personally I think Scott Dann is the better defender. Sometimes Johnson can be a bit reckless in the tackle, can commit himself too soon, and let himself (Rodalega against Wigan for example) get wound up by the opposition.

    I think losing James Mcfadden to a long term injury has affected us a lot more than some Bluenoses would like to admit. I felt he was our best player for the first few games of the season, and the following games against West Brom, Wigan and Everton we really struggled without his creativity. It's a shame really because I think Faddy and Hleb would of been great together, and with them both we would of easily finished in the top half.

    We've got a few tough games coming up, but we've yet to see the best from Hleb and Zigic so i reckon we should finish about 10-13th.

    Phil, do you think the likes of Johnson and Dann(and to a lesser extent Ridgewell and Gardner) have much chance of an England call up?

  • Comment number 58.

    Seems to be a Liverpool love in with Houllier. He has played 4-6-0 and then goes into a derby with three centre halves and an isolated striker. He is Mr Negative and will take Villa into mid table mediocrity for ever more

  • Comment number 59.

    Oh please
    I always thought that Villa fans had a large dose of common sense so lets have a reality check.
    On the whole phils article is spot on but I dont think he gives GH the credit he deserves.
    The derby match could not of come at a worse time , with the Villa adapting to the new regime but on the whole I thought they did very well.
    To be honest I think we now have a manager who is prepared to let the likes of Bannan and Albrighton as well as Clark come through and that can only be good for the future
    Sure we need a midfield general but Ive a feeling that Bannan under Sids guidance can fill that role , failing that buy Charlie Adam

  • Comment number 60.

    Hey Phil, this article seems to have done its distance and i'm only comment #60 after nearly 3 days. The Mancini article has over a hundred posts already and your Manchester United articles average from 300 to 600 on a good day. I've been wondering about this and have done a bit of my own investigating and found on Facebook that Real Madrid have over 5 million followers... 5 million.

    Any chance you could do an article on how Premiership Clubs fair in a Global following? This obviously plays a part in the number of posts and interest you generate depending on your articles. I suspect that Manchester United have the largest global following in the Premiership, but it would be nice to see some statistics and possible reasons for this, as i wonder now how Chelsea and Manchester City could possibly alter this as they challenge for honours with their massive investments from Billionare Owners?

    If a club like Aston Villa is to mount a serious Title challenge in the future i would imagine the more global fans they have, the more shirts etc. will be sold and the more money will be profited to invest under the new UEFA guidelines?

  • Comment number 61.

    Phil- in terms of where Villa need strengthening the priority is definitely some attacking creativity (unless Ireland can quickly-discover his old form) followed by a dynamic midfielder, to replace Milner, as Sidwell clearly isn't up to the job.

    I'm also still undecided about Reo-Coker. For all of his tenacity and great-work in closing opponents down, he still sorely lacks technical ability, awareness and decisiveness when on the ball that the top-clubs' defensive midfielders all possess.


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