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Can Young and Downing help Villa pull clear?

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 11:40 UK time, Friday, 1 April 2011

Fresh from encouraging displays for England against Wales and Ghana during the past week, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing must now focus on the small task of keeping Aston Villa in the Premier League.

The wingers have perhaps been the chief beneficiaries of England boss Fabio Capello's change in tactics, which has seen him opt for a 4-3-3 system, giving more fluidity to a side often criticised for being too rigid.

Striker Darren Bent also enhanced his reputation by scoring against Wales last Saturday and with these three Villa players seemingly in form, plus others in the England Under-21s, it begs the question why manager Gerard Houllier's side are only a point above the relegation zone in 14th place in the Premier League.

Stories of unrest in the Villa camp have been batted away by the Frenchman and keeper Brad Friedel, but following a recent spat involving centre-backs James Collins and Richard Dunne it appears that not all has been well at times this season.

Under former boss Martin O'Neill, Villa were renowned as a counter-attacking team and last season they achieved relative success by reaching the Carling Cup final and finishing sixth in the Premier League.

Statistics show that Aston Villa have been more patient in their build-up this season

But there was a nagging doubt that while the team showed glimpses of its true potential, they failed to dominate opponents and were one or two players short of breaking into the division's top four.

A lack of funds was believed to be the chief reason why O'Neill walked away, and although Houllier has added the likes of Bent and Robert Pires to his ranks, he has also tried to apply his own methods in what is turning into a transitional season at best.

O'Neill's team evolved into one which was built on a solid defence, where the likes of Young, Downing and Gabriel Agbonlahor could use their pace to burst forward.

This season that stability has disappeared. Villa have scored just 1.23 goals per game in the Premier League this season compared with 1.7 last term.

But whereas they had the fourth meanest defence under O'Neill last season with only 39 goals conceded from 38 games, this time they have let in 51 goals in 30 matches.

More alarming has been the manner in which Villa have conceded goals. Only West Bromwich Albion have allowed in more goals at set-plays.

Bizarrely, after the 3-2 defeat by Bolton earlier this month, Houllier seemed to blame the previous regime for this. "We were naive from set-pieces and it's not the first time we have conceded from them," he said.

"The players have had certain habits for four years and I'm not going to change them in the middle of the season."

Houllier was appointed in September, but even though the 63-year-old favours a more possession-based approach, he has perhaps ignored the bedrock of Villa's recent progress.

Aston Villa's supply for goals often comes from their flanks

That being the case, more may be needed of Young and Downing, who have 12 Premier League goals and 12 assists between them.

Evidence shows that Villa still score a hefty proportion of their goals from crosses, with only Wolves registering more in this way, and Downing is the league's most prolific crosser of the ball this season.

His success rate of 22% is way behind Tottenham's Aaron Lennon, however, who finds team-mates with 30% of his deliveries, and if Young is preferred in more central areas as he has been in recent games, then that supply may be further reduced.

Houllier now has eight games to save Villa's season but the longer it takes for his methods to take root, the more his side seem in danger.

But before they face Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, he is confident they have the strongest squad among the relegation candidates and will therefore be able to pull clear.

"From goalkeeper to centre-forward, we have everything it takes to do well," he said.

After an international break in which the likes of Young, Downing and Bent only enhanced their reputations, Villa fans will hope they can continue their form in the crucial games that follow.

But it may be the centre of Houllier's defence which holds the key to their survival.

You can also discuss more tactical issues and suggest future ideas on Twitter


  • Comment number 1.

    How is Downing "the league's most prolific crosser of the ball this season" if "his success rate of 22% is way behind Tottenham's Aaron Lennon"?

  • Comment number 2.

    he has made more crosses than Downing.

  • Comment number 3.

    what consitutes "a cross" in these stats given? Because it suprises me that Arsenal have got so many.

    Yet I can see goals where they have passed into the area, sometimes in a sideways or diagonal direction for it to be converted. Is this a cross? Or does the ball have to travel over a specified distance before reaching the targeted player?

    Are corners included?

    With Wolves and my team Everton high up, as well a struggling Villa, do these stats show that a team that bases it's goalscoring around the supply of crosses are likely to struggle to win games?

  • Comment number 4.

    Lets face it teams who 'cross' the ball are infact playing a low percentage game, depaite the fact the are great goals to score. The teams which get to the goal line and pull the ball back or play balls down the side on ther floor, or a ball to feet are infact more likely to score, because its more precise and the options are greater

    It might look good but but not so effective.......

  • Comment number 5.

    Hmmm, I usually quite like these tactics blog but this one is poor, especially the second half! Your use of statistics here is pretty bad.

    Calling Downing the most prolific crosser is slightly misleading - it's a false positive. If he has put in the most crosses, btu 78% have gone to the opposition, then just think of how many crosses are bad ones! Prolific suggests good.

    As someone who works as an analyst, I'm also not so sure about your Total Goals From Crosses % league table. It actually doesn't show much! So Wolves and Villa top it, but they've both not scored that many goals! If a team had scored only 5 goals, 3 from crosses, they'd be top of this, again suggesting something positive, when it shoudn't be.

    You'd be much better off showing a table of cross success rate, or simply ordering the teams by Number of Goals from Crosses, rather than % goals from crosses.

    You can always use stats to pretty much show anything you want!

  • Comment number 6.

    Did enjoy the quote from Houllier though, blaming the previous regime for something that's started happening this season! He should get rid of the spice boys. Or something.

  • Comment number 7.

    Surprised Houllier is trying to turn Young into a central player when his qualities are those of a winger. It's not as if he's a prolific finisher or neat passer. He's about pace, skill and delivery. An ideal wide player.

  • Comment number 8.

    A well balanced blog as I think most of these tactics blogs are, but something glaringly obvious to me and many of my friends watching England on Tuesday, far from being England's man of the match, Downing was in fact one of the least effective players on the pitch. His positional sense, attackingwise was good, but his ability to deal with possession in a positive, effective way was poor. In other words, he used his pace and awareness to get into positions, but then failed to deliver from his boot. Evidently this is backed up by the fact that his cross success rate is less than Aarron Lennon's, who is often maligned for his lack of final ball. Downing not only wasted possession when he got around the back, but coming inside he ran himself into cul-de-sacs and gave the ball away so drastically it could and should have resulted in a Ghana goal. I was in constant text conversation with another friend making jokes about his performance. I fell off my chair when he was given man of the match!
    Mutch more worthy of the accolade n the other hand, Ashley Young looks a truly world class player, creating chances when he cut inside, let down only by a couple of wayward balls.
    Adam Johnson is a player I'd really like to see more of, but I don't even know if City play him that much. We have a wealth of wingers and wide men at the moment - Lennon, Walcott and Johnson in addition to Young and Downing.
    To the other point of your blog, yes, a defence it is that secures a team. If Arsenal had a steady back four and keeper, they'd be running away with the league. Man United have been well documented to be under-performing, but game after game the plaudits are being handed to Vidic and Ferdinand, not to mention Van der Saar. Indeed, Vidic has at times been a one man wall.
    Spurs are an example of how defending lets you down. Look at the shots on target v shots against at Blackpool. If you didn't know the score you'd have assumed the result was the other way round. It's true that if your strikers don't perform you don't necessarily win matches, but if your defence does perform then you won't lose either.
    Villa are an enigma; last year and the year before I, as a Tottenham fan feared them as a team capable of achieving/ aiming for the kind of thing we were and are; they certainly have a great youth system with a production line of high quality players like Agbonglahor, Albrighton et al, but these are exciting attacking players. An investment at the back would see a great change in thier fortunes (although having loads of quality centre backs doesn't equal a great defence - see my team, not to mention they might all be injured!)
    Perhaps the major problem is the change in tactics. If you are a counter attacking team and then change to try to play possession football you will be less effective. To compare it to my team again (I don't mean to go on!) but the nature of Bale and Lennon means we score great goals on the counter attack (see the games of Christmas v Villa and Newcastle), usually against the better sides (the Milans), but struggle when we have a lot of the ball in high areas. The West Ham game was one of the most frustrating 90 minutes of football I've ever witnessed, so too United at home.
    However, there should be no reason why teams cannot play with both passing and counter attack tactis such as United and Arsenal. A team shouldn't rely on soaking up pressure and scoring with the sucker punch. Both players and systems should be addaptable enough to content with any range of match situations; defence, attack, passsing, counter attack, defending set pieces, stopping identified threats, causing identified threats. There should be a solution to stop every problem indentifiable and a solution to cause them.
    If Villa pull clear, and I believe they will, it will probably down to scoring more goals than they conceded (obviously, but any football fan should understand what I mean by that...leak lots, but score more), but this approach isn't sustainable - though it's always exciting!
    I do love a good tactics blog. I still feel that a lot of football fans out there (not to mention players) don't understand how tactics and positional awareness goes to making the game easier to play. Bring back total football!

  • Comment number 9.


    I felt Downing's biggest problem was being on the right. He's not a Nani type player who comfortable crossing and shooting on either foot therefore if you want him to deliver he needs to be playing from the left. On the flip side Young is adept on both flanks so it was puzzing that he didn't start on the right as he did against Wales.

    I sometimes think managers try to be too clever. It's the same with Adam Johnson. Everyone is obsessed with this idea of playing him wide right when he's a natural left footer. Wide players are there primarily to create and they are most likely to do so on their stronger side. You have to be a top player to play well on either side or indeed on your weaker side. There's no shame just being consistent on your best side - just look at what Giggs & Beckham acheived in their careers.

  • Comment number 10.

    There is one problem about using the "percentage of goals from corsses" statistic. The average league position of top 10 on the "goals from crosses" list is 12.2 where as the average league position of the second half is 8.8.

    Therefore statistically speak, not relying on crosses for your goals is woth nearly 4 league positions. Does this show the decline of the old fashioned tactic, of pacey wingers who just put endless balls into the box, on the hope someone will get on the end of one of them?

    All i know is that if someone offered Gerrard Houllier the chance to be 4 positions up the league come the end of the season then he is right now; he would bite your hand off.

  • Comment number 11.

    Bellion, I couldn't agree more! Spurs have been doing it a lot recently - it just condenses the game and creates congestion in the middle. Unless you have bombing full backs, it just doesn't work. It only really works if you play someone like Joe Cole wide. Not a lot of pace, but a hell of a lot of skill. Cutting inside works for him. It doesn't work if your main attribute is pace. The best you can hope to achieve from cutting inside is to shoot or create that over lap space, but if no-one makes the right runs or you can't get a good shot/ pass away you look daft! For years England cried out for a left sided midfielder - we get two and play them both on the right!

  • Comment number 12.

    In my opinion the reason Downings completed crossing % is so low is because Villa have generally played with 1 striker and the men who get up to support are all about 5 foot 6 at best! Downings delivery has been great in the games I have watched and if he had Crouch / Pav & AN other to aim for like Lennon does I am sure he would gain more.

    As a Villa fan it is all too obvious what the problems are, we concede so many from set plays as we concede so many silly fouls around the box, the law of averages is that 1 will go in especially when our CB's have all been out injured / suspended off and on all season. We have had no regular pairing

    Our team has all of a sudden become very small which also does not help.

    Our movement in the opposition half is just awful compared to the ability of the players. Young in this free role has only worked in about 3 or 4 of our 30 games this season. I firmly believe that Villa have accomodated him this season to try and keep hold of him and this has led to them not playing as a team as it will annoy other professionals and we are missing out on having one of the best wingers in the league!

    I have loved Houlliers approach and what he wants to do in trying to get us playing like Arsenal or Barcelona. However he needs the summer to turn the players over, you cant take a MON team and turn them in to that. I just hope we can stay up and he gets that chance to make us a real force in the future, we have so much potential in the squad we have it could be great

  • Comment number 13.


    As another Spurs fan, it's our strikers that are letting us down. Against Blackpool in the game you mention, how many shots did we have - 25ish - same against West Ham - yet how many goals did we actually score??

    Not those are isolated incidents either, regularly we manage to make opposition goalkeepers look absolutely outstanding e.g. Green, Hennessey, Myhill, but this is largely due to the strikers just hitting so many shots straight down the middle. Its so infuriating.

    But the one thing from this blog is about how Villa are more of a counter attacking side - yet they've got Robert Pires who is about 36. How on earth does he fit into that?? What exactly is his role supposed to be??

  • Comment number 14.

    mtrenner @13
    I was trying to put the whole tactical thing into perspective - it doesn't matter how much you attack, if you can't defend, you're knackared! I'm our strikers' biggest critic - we've dropped in excess of about 15-20 points from games we quite easily would've won if we had someone who could stick it in the old onion bag! It's a scary thought. If you compare it to games we've nicked points from then we should still be about ten points better off, probably more. That's a worry.
    My greatest worry actually is that towards the end of games when we haven't scored, some of our players often shirk their responsibilities. In the last 20 mins at home to United, Modric aside, there weren't a lot of players offering themselves for the ball and this is against a side down to ten men. Against West Ham, no-one seemd to want to be the one to make the incisive pass/ shot/ run. (although poor old spoon boots Pav had a go!) That's the most frustrating thing about Tottenham. I've spent my whole life watching mediocrity and embarrasment (largely, though it has never stoppped my love!) and now we have a decent side and don't perform to our abilities. I was at Ewood Park to see us get dominated by the kick and rush of Blackpool, with no team shape and no killer instinct (obv we won with a Big Pete header...but that aside). I've watched us outplay great sides and show fighting spirit and other days watched us go absolutely missing in disaray!
    What would you think if I were to mention that, forever Van Der Vaart seems to work his magic, his lack of pace and fitness far outweight what he offers the team. He couldn't get to a lot of balls against West Ham and seemed to disrupt the team-shape. The man's a genius, but in some matches, I'd rather have a fully fit, less talented player holding his position. Is this just the Spurs pesimist in me? What are your thoughts? I live in Newcastle and don't have many Spurs fans to converse with!
    And also...Pires? I'd love to play against him...and yes, I'd quite gladly take a three match ban for my actions!

    P.S sorry to everyone else and to Alister for disrupting the blog for my own Tottenham purposes!

  • Comment number 15.

    alright chiefs

    Are Villa fans nervous? By the state of your squad you should never be anywhere near the relegation zone but strange things seem to have been afoot this year.

    #3tomefccam good question about crosses, corners do count but I will confirm this and get back to you. I was always taught that a cross and a cutback were different but this may not be the case with our provider

    #5 monkeyphoenix by prolific I mean he does it a lot. That is not to suggest this is a positive, more that he and Villa choose this method often as a way of attacking. The fact that he is not as successful as others suggest that it might not be a good tactic overall. I have presented the numbers so you can make your own decision.

    #8 thescarlettwarrior - some top points in there. I have to admit I wasn't sure about the man of the match award either but Downing did play well. You are right about teams needing to play in different styles and it is the best ones that can adapt. Arsenal play in a particular way, so do Villa, but can they change according to the opposition? You might think not. The funny thing about Villa is that last season O'Neill made them far more solid based on previous seasons where they conceded a lot and I got the impresssion talking to a former Villa manager that once the Northern Irishman had shored up the defence he would turn his attention to attack, but we will never know now. I really like Villa's players like Agbonlahor, Young and Albrighton but I think they might need a world class centre-midfielder to pick out their runs. It would make Villa a very good side.

  • Comment number 16.

    I think the key is getting adaptability from the wide men. The game is won and lost by adequate movement off the ball (one of the myriad reasons England flopped at the WC), so that players always have an outball and can retain possession, or drag defenders out of position, making more space and so forth.

    The wide men for top teams can frequently be seen switching flanks or coming inside; the benefits are obvious and manifold - they're harder to track, defenders will be less certain (by virtue of not knowing which foot they'll use and hence which way they'll go) and if they haven't got the beating of the full-back, they can try their luck on the other one. It would be wonderful if we could bring through English players to be equally comfortable (or at least more comfortable) on either foot like their foreign counterparts, so that more varied wingplay could be achieved.

    As for crosses, they can be effective (the presence of United so high up the list shows this). However, they should form part of a diverse range of attacking styles that teams can employ (alongside balls behind the defender and more delicate interplay along the ground). It is about maximising the range of methods you can use to hurt teams; some defensive partnerships may be very good at reading the game but less physically dominant and vice versa.

  • Comment number 17.

    #15 thanks for responding Alistair, and I see your point.

    To start with I read "Evidence shows that Villa still score a hefty proportion of their goals from crosses, with only Wolves registering more in this way, and Downing is the league's most prolific crosser of the ball this season" adn thought it doesn't quite make sense, but I suppose you are just stating the facts! Although to be picky, you should say "with only Wolves registering a higher proportion in this way", not "more"!

    And totally agree with your response to #8.

    And you've gained kudos for "alright chiefs", love it!

    As I've said before here and previously, like these tactics blogs, much more interesting than blogs based on opinion - and much better responses and discussion too usually.

  • Comment number 18.

    To answer your lead question 'can Young and Downing pull Villa clear of danger?" all Villa fans hope "Yes" but it is absolutely no thanks to the Manager Gerard Houlier. With difficult games against Everton and Newcastle coming up and the last 2 games against Arsenal and Liverpool respectively, I can only hope Villa can gather enough points to make it against the drop. The dooms day scenario is that on the last day of the season Villa need 3 points to avoid relegation and Liverpool need 3 points to get into Europe; I can tell you for a fact that I and pretty well every Villa fan will be dreading how the manager will set up his team.

    The facts of the matter are that less than 12 months ago Aston Villa were a shoe- in for top 6, strong competitors for top 4, two Wembley appearances and on the way up. Much as I really admire Martin O'Neil (and sincerely wish he was still there) his resignation was timed to cause maximum harm to the club. That the Chairman didn't appoint Kevin Macdonald as caretaker manager for the rest of the season was poor but to appoint Gerard Houlier was disastrous. We have gone right back to the days of David O'Leary and Jozef Venglos. Had O'Neil been there (or Macdonald) we would have got over the loss of James Milner (just as we did with Gareth Barry) and maybe got a good 90 minutes out of Stephen Ireland.

    Truth is, Gerard Houlier failed to recognise why Villa had three consecutive 6th places and build on that. He alienated key players (brining in grievances from previous clubs he was at), failed to recognise the clubs recent record (why did he say at his opening conference "let's face it, Villa are a mid-table team…. Let's face it, Villa are not as good as Liverpool (failing to notice that Liverpool had finished one place below Aston Villa)). Everything he touched at Villa Park he destroyed, right up to events where he sent out a weak team against Manchester City to effectively give them the tie. He lost what little momentum we had and then had the gall to blame the Bolton defeat on the reasons why we lost against Wolverhampton. The truth is Mr Houlier it was your fault and totally your fault because of your actions against Manchester City.

    So now we are in the last 8 games of the season and we have got to hope that survival does not depend on the Liverpool game. If I were to advise Gerard Houlier he should do the right thing and resign immediately and let Gordon Cowans or Kevin Macdonald take over till the end of the season. If he doesn't, all Villa fans are calling on Randy Lerner and do the right thing and sack Gerard Houlier because if we don't and we have to rely on a win against Liverpool in the last game of the season, we know exactly what kind of team will be sent out bythe Manager and what the result will be.

  • Comment number 19.

    Alistair M - I have been worries as a Villa fan since MON quit 4 days before the season started. Since then its gone from bad to worse. I stand by that Houllier has the right ideas for Villa but I am not sure he can get the players motivated and playing for him. Also I have no idea whats happened to our defending except like I said above that we give away so many silly free kicks near our box and the injuries have been constant. A stat I would like to see is how often Villa have played the same back 4 2 games in a row, I dont think its many!

    I hope we will stay up and have always thought we would until we lost to Wolves. If we dont pull away given our 5 games after the Everton one we dont deserve to stay up!

  • Comment number 20.


    You're pretty pessimistic and given the situation this season, maybe you're right to be.

    However, and I'm not trying to breed arrogance in you, but I just think that a team like Villa will be fine because when push comes to shove, they have a bit of quality and can put the ball in the back of the net. There must be three teams less well off than you that will go down.

    You're not safe until you're safe, and I can see why you're looking over your shoulder but I think in a couple of weeks, things will pan out and thin out a bit and what is a very congested 7 teams right now, will become less congested.

  • Comment number 21.

    It's funny how people criticise clubs for sacking managers too quickly, but apparently aren't willing to give new managers any time at all. I thought the treatment of Hodgson at Liverpool was poor stuff, and I feel that judgement of Houllier is a tad premature. Perhaps we could give him a summer to do something crazy like buy the players he needs to fit his system, and then maybe allow a year for these players to adapt to their new club (and quite possibly country) before demanding his resignation.

  • Comment number 22.

    In response to post #13, Pires is an excellent if ageing pro whose main objective this season is to instill the experience of his winnning ways into some of our younger, less experienced Lions. He's well liked among the squad which would suggest that some of his influence has already rubbed off.

    A positive response to the question this blog poses is a bit more difficult though. We know the Villa squad consists of a lot of class players that will be cringing at the reality of the situation they find themselves in. It is those same players including Ashley Young and Stewart Downing who ought to be looking to rectify all the missed opportunities that have been presented to them in front of goal this season. Although our defence has been uncharacteristically shakey on occasion, it's our lack of goals in comparison to the previous three seasons that's behind our current predicament. Perhaps you people who insist on showing us stats to prove a point would care to furnish us with more useful stats such as shots on goal to goals scored both in play and at set pieces. I've seen penalty misses this season which would've wrapped up at least 9 points for Villa had they been scored.

    Houllier has quite rightly voiced his frustratration after recent matches by the fact we dominated but were extremely unlucky not to win. Being an optimist you hope the goals will come in the next game and tend to agree that maybe the last defeat or draw was down to pure bad luck. Now is the time for our talented team to knuckle down, shine through and prove to the Villa faithful that the bad to good luck ratio has been corrected. Prove to us, the paying public, that Aston Villa are still a force to be reckoned with and we might remain optimistic that next season will bear the fruits we've all been waiting for.

  • Comment number 23.

    #20 I know, on 606 I was known for my optimism and all season have been thinking 'we will pull away now'. However what you need right now is not quality its commitment, fighting for each other and real team spirit. The players Villa have that are like that i.e. Dunne, Collins & Reo Coker have all had problems at the club.

    The quality players we have, Young, Downing, Agbonlahor, Bent, Albrighton all work ectremely hard but the one quality none of them have is being leaders. If you were stood on the front line of the trenches and had these guys next to you I dont think you would be too optimistic.

    It will be a great run in to a great season regardless of what happens. I just hope we can survive and the overhaul that Houllier needs can take place.

  • Comment number 24.

    #21. The time my friend for Gerard Houlier has come and gone:

    (1) Look at his attitude to the Club
    (2) Look at his attitude to the supporters
    (3) Look at his attitude to the players
    (4) Look at his attitude to the FA Cup

    Sorry, but normally I would agree with you in giving managers at least 2 seasons but if we carry on with Gerard Houlier we will struggle to stay up and lose a lot of important players in teh summer and replace them with French misfits.

  • Comment number 25.

    #24 PreetiBoyC

    That sort of thing though is all perception as it's so intangible.

    The bottom line is that the players should be giving their all in the job they supposedly love doing.

    Granted the FA Cup could have been different but it's all spin isn't it, i.e. the players that were played had the chance to shine, a chance they would moan they were not given in other circumstances I would guess.

  • Comment number 26.

    Oi! Whoever's called 'you' stop confusing me! I don't remember saying any of those things! The blog only makes sense again when I log out!

  • Comment number 27.

    #25 Mr BlueBurns

    You are correct, these elements in many ways are perception and one must try and be as objective as possible. That said, it is very difficult if you are close to the problem!

    However, the managers record in the league since he arrived is poor, in fact very poor. We all knew we would be vulnerable in central defence so why sell Curtis Davis? (Granted, not as crass as the decision when O'Neil sold Gary Cahill but nvertheless, poor). Why has Steven Warnock gone from the England squad to play in the world cup to training with the under 10's in less than 12 months?

    I'm sorry, but I must stick to my opinion that the manager has to go and certainly before we have to play Liverpool in the last game of the season. We cannot go into that game with both teams needing 3 points for very different reasons.

  • Comment number 28.

    @26 - a cheap laugh but I'm hoping to get more mileage from it yet!

    @24 - I think with the appointments cited neither were particularly 'welcomed' by the fans, which puts the manager in an impossible situation from the start. I get the impression that with Hodgson the complaints were 1) he's too small time, a couple of good seasons with Fulham was not worthy of managing Liverpool and 2) he wasn't King Kenny. With Houllier, I think people were a little dismissive of him, suggesting his achievements with Lyon were a bit like winning the world cup with Brazil.

  • Comment number 29.

    a blog of the importance of ashley young... oh dear. hype over quality strikes again

    young is overrated and inconsistent and at 25 isn't exactly young and up-coming. he should be hitting his best around this age. the depth isn't there for them, they have the set-up to score goals, that's for sure, but haven't been doing it - and the defence has been nowhere near what it was in previous years. they are in trouble that's for sure

  • Comment number 30.

    I believe Young and Downing will provide the ammunition for Bent to improve Villa, adapting to the new way of play Hullier is introducing there.

    But I strongly believe today's decision of Capello to name Young as captain in the England team is way out of order, given all the noise of the reappointment of Terry as captain !!!

  • Comment number 31.

    I am going to see villa tommorow, so hopefully both players perform. They are both exciting wingers, but i just think that young is the better player and has more to his game. He in my opinion could be one of those players that wins the player of the league, but i hope that he doesn't go to liverpool as that would ruin him as a player. Downing, is a good crosser of the ball with both feet and can go past players, but i think that he should be playing in the middle for villa, his driving runs would become really effective in the middle, but i dont think that he has outstanding pace and although he is a good player on his day, there is just something lacking from his game which sets both him and young apart. But both have performed well for england and so i think they should stay in the team, in that 4-3-3 formation. I also think that it should be either huddlestone or parker in the middle alongside wilshere and lampard, i think that lampard is better at passing the ball in tight spaces so i think he should play in there alongside wilshere.

  • Comment number 32.

    It's crazy to see how Houllier has divided so many Villa fans; it's worse than when Hodgson had his moment at Anfield! When he came to Liverpool, we were also torn about him being the right man, and I actually do feel a bit sorry for Roy that he was all but hounded out of the club. Look what he's done at the Baggies, they've forgotten how to lose - which doesn't bode well for us this weekend! I would have liked him to stay for the season at least, and it was bad luck on his behalf that the only man who could oust him was KK - someone the majority wanted in the job after Benitez anyway.

    However, using Hodgson as an example, I think there is a league of managers, based on experience, ability and success, which are divided into three groups in the top flight - the successful, the solid and the strugglers. Hodgson was vastly experienced and very successful outside England - ironically just like MON, if you think that, outside a League cup win for Leicester, his only successes were due to inheriting a club made for domestic glory like Celtic.

    However, these guys, whilst solid in the PL, have limited ability when moving a club into the next stage of European competition and league success. Sure, both Hodgson and MON had gotten Villa and Fulham into the Europa League, but, realistically, that is the pinnacle of their successes. They're good managers, but as MON proved, his summit was 6th, for 3 years! Never a place or two higher, which all progressive teams achieve with the right man (Spurs anyone?).

    It was unlikely he was going top 4, unless he blew more money, and whilst it was fantastic to see a largely English squad perform well in the Prem, they didn't have that technical ability to move them that one step up. Houllier, in my opinion, is able to do that.

    Which takes me into the idea of a league of managers. Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson, Mark Hughes, Martin O' Neill are all good managers who bother the top four but never have that extra technical ability to make it into the Champions League. Managers like Houllier, Benitez, Hiddink have that ability to build a squad that can compete at the highest level whilst being technically sound in European competition. Even Sven has that ability, despite him not really being tried and tested in the PL as he only had City for a season; although he'd initially turned them from lower league to top league team. He was sacked before he had a chance to reap the rewards of the efforts he'd made, and City haven't really moved on since he left - something to keep in mind about Houllier perhaps?

    Currently, like Liverpool, Villa are a team in transition from a generally successful period under one man, to have a new guy come in and try it with their philosophy. We were lucky to have Dalglish come in after Roy (we made the decision at a good time as well), but do Villa have such luxury of a former great manager coming back to steady the ship? Not really. Yes, your position isn't great, but Houllier, like another poster mentioned, was devoid of a pre-season, inherited a squad loyal to the past manager and faced an incredibly competitive PL this season. If he was sacked now, who would come in? Besides, having change now, so late in the season as well, I think will only confuse matters more - remember Shearer at Newcastle a few years ago? The grass isn't always greener.

    Why mess with things, when Houllier is clearly trying to do things his way? In my opinion, giving him 12 more months couldn't hurt, and I think you have too much quality to go down this season (although I won't be naive enough to say it won't happen). If you stay up, I reckon this summer will see a lot of players coming and going.

    My friendly advice, without trying to sound patronising or wind up any one is to say to the fans who are anti-Houllier - try to keep your opinions to yourself on the terraces and get behind your team. It's well known that players have fragile confidence and having a crowd against them isn't going to inspire them to fight for the results. Get safe first then start lobbying for Houllier to go, doing it now will see you relegated. You know, the way some Villa fans have kicked up a fuss because they don't like what they've got is a bit reminiscent of a child not getting a bike in their favourite colour! I'd personally rather see Villa in the PL, so try to unite for the cause rather than condemn your team to relegation whilst causing such a public civil war.

  • Comment number 33.

    when you pay to watch your team you should support them, not boo and make it worse.
    you obviously have a right to boo but as a supporter you have to excercise this at a more appropriate time.
    get the real supporters back into stadiums the ones who would happily pay a small fortune supporting rather than booing there team

  • Comment number 34.

    Houllier inherited the best sqaud any Villa manager has in the last 30 years. He has alienated senior players, tried to be far too clever, doesn't realise the game has moved on here and has no idea how to manage day to day.
    He alienated huge swathes of fans - and Villa fans love a good whinge - with his contemptous treatment of them - at his beloved Liverpool and Man City (twice).
    I expected dire turgid mid-table drivell this season whilst he concentrated on hyping his former favourites (Heskey) and antagonising his former non favourites (Carew, Brad F and Warnock). That is his history all over. Fair play to Friedel as he is the only person who has maintained his professionalism throughout this season at Villa and is one of football's good guys.
    Houillier's excuses are a long line of nonsense - unlucky, other team were great, don't mind losing to Liverpool, injuries blah blah blah. In his dying throes of his Anfield tenureship I remember the Pitch was his last reference.
    Yes after our (worst) defeat in many a year to local rivals apparently team spirit is at an all time high - well we will see.

  • Comment number 35.

    Typical armchair fan '...... Hodgson was vastly experienced and very successful outside England - ironically just like MON, if you think that, outside a League cup win for Leicester, his only successes were due to inheriting a club made for domestic glory like Celtic...'

    Firstly Hodgson has done a lot more positives in the Top Flight in the last 5 years than Houllier. Ask any Fulham or Albion fan.
    Secondly I don't see Houllier managing in Italy anytime in his career unlike Woy who managed Inter Milan.
    Oh and finally Hodgson was manager of Switzerland who qualified for World Cup in 1994 - did Houllier when he was in charge of France?
    O'Neill won 2 League Cups at Leicester and his Celtic team battered Liverpool's team who were managed by oh that would be Gerrard Houllier in 2003 despite Houllier's huge spending spree. O'Neill also made sure Celtic were the team to beat in Scotland after Rangers dominance for a decade and a half.

    I would take the current Villa team managed by Hodgson or O'Neill to be superior to the current Liverpool team managed by Houllier. 6th place to Relegation fodder - did Woy turn you into relegation fodder?

  • Comment number 36.

    his only successes were due to inheriting a club made for domestic glory like Celtic

    But you still have to deliever and MON did that by giving them belief that they could take on and best a £90m Rangers side managed by Advocat.

    He did good jobs with Wycombe, Leicester and Villa as well..

    And he had King Henrik at Celtic..

    Houllier? Not for me.

  • Comment number 37.

    Why are Villa near the bottom of the table? They are full of England internationals. Young, Agbonlahor, Downing, Bent, Heskey, Walker (Squad member).

    Unless.... and this may shock you!

    English players arn't very good!

    Yes lots of them can get carried by their superior imported team mates but the proof of the pudding is when they pull on an England shirt, and we all know the shambles that produces!

  • Comment number 38.

    36. At 22:35pm on 1st Apr 2011, Rob04 wrote:

    He did good jobs with Wycombe, Leicester and Villa as well..

    And he had King Henrik at Celtic..

    Houllier? Not for me.


    Indeed Houllier was brought to Liverpool to win the league and accepting the first transitional season failed in 5 attempts.

    So all he has to do to prove he is better than O'Neill at Villa is to spend lthe same (and he has already spent 25% of what O'Neill did in 1 transfer window). Revitalise some existing players - Barry, Bouma, Laursen.
    Finish 5th or better on 3 successive seasons - ensure 80-85% fan occupancy at Villa Park in League games (and this is allowing for the recession). Oh and leave a squad much better equipped than the one he inherited. And get us to a Cup Final or two.

    Anyone think Gerrard can do this in the next 3.25 seaons?

  • Comment number 39.

    Houllier needs time. Lets watch and see...

    Motihur Saeed Rahman

  • Comment number 40.


    You make many fine points and many that I agree with you. However, in the case of Gerard Houllier I cannot. His record, attitude, tactics and strategic thinking is woeful. To coin a phrase 'the trajectory of results does the manager no favour.

    Clearly, if you are paid £50K/week and you finished 6th in the previous season you should be professional and motivated enough to pull away from relegation. But the manager is failing to realise the talents of his team to maximise their potential, on the contary, he is destroying confidence and undermining ability.

    We have 8 games left and team matters must pass onto Kevin Macdonald and Gordon Cowans (just as it should have done when O'Neil went). I would be happy to give these two a chance but probably the consensus would be to get a new manager in shortly after the season finishes.

    Houllier gives me no confidence that if Aston Villa needed 3 points in the final game of the season against Liverpool to stay up and Liverpool needed 3 points to get into Europe, that he would do what is right for Aston Villa football club. If anyone wants evidence for this, I give you the away matches this season at Anfield and the City of Manchester stadium.

  • Comment number 41.

    Prolific suggests good.


    Er... no it doesn't.

    The most prolific is simply the person who does X the most. Whether they do it well or badly.

    (And you call yourself an analyst!)

  • Comment number 42.

    Since Darren bent plays for both England and Villa and did well in the internations, wouldn't it be "the English trio"...?

  • Comment number 43.

    @ 32. markyhamps75,

    How far did you expect MON and Hodgson to take Villa and Fulham?
    Shouldn't there be some realism in expectations?
    When the next level clubs invest season in, season out, acquiring the best talent around, how can you go above them?

  • Comment number 44.

    @32 - I think that the three groups theory, though interesting, isn't particularly fair. How long would Harry Redknapp have been in the 'solid' category. It is easy to forget that some managers (like Hughes, don't tell me Mancini has dramatically improved that City side) are relatively new to the management game, or haven't been given the time or opportunities at clubs with greater prospects (6 months for Allardyce at Newcastle at a time of crisis...whilst not a huge admirer anyone can see that he had no chance to mould the club).

    I was a fan of MON. He tried to build a young team consisting largely of British players, and although he did receive good initial financial backing was undermined by Lerners selling policy (the loss of Barry and Milner were big blows to MON, incidentally I feel both have gone backward since joining City and this would make for an interesting debate. I truly hope Milner moves on before Mancini ruins his potential, but that's another story).

    MON is a moot point, the real issue is whether to give Houllier time or not. Houllier's clearly trying to introduce a different style of play to a team set up for counter-attacking football (which in some ways fans may prefer as explosive wingers flying down the flanks can be more interesting to some than watching possession-led football - this is simply a matter of taste). I'm sure some players are struggling, can't, or don't want to adapt. He's had one transfer window (and not the best one in which to sign players), and acquired Darren Bent (will be worth every penny given Agbonlahor's often wayward finishing) and Jean Makoun (a player United were long interested in). Not an awful start, he's recognised the need to rectify firepower and midfield dominance at the club, and will continue to work on this in Summer if he's given one I'm sure.

    What's his track record like? He's won trophies at former clubs. He's won Ligue 1 twice with Lyon and once with PSG, and cup competitions at Liverpool (including the UEFA Cup). He made some poor signings it's true, but look at some good ones that he has made and players that came through the youth systems under him ( Even Fergie has had his share of flops in the transfer market. France is producing some top youngsters at the moment and I'm sure Villa will benefit from this in time.

    My view. Hell I'm not a huge Houllier fan, but less than one season? How would you feel getting fired from work in that time period? Anyone can make mistakes, it would be nice to think that if I made any I'd be given the chance to right them and learn from them. I think for any manager two years in the job is a minimum, 1 season to buy the personnel and another to let them bed in.

  • Comment number 45.

    Some of you Villa fans are really blinkered, Being from Leicester I know exactly how good MON is as a manager, lets not forget he took Leicester up through the play offs and guided us to two carling cups and a ninth place finish in the prem and he did it on a shoestring budget (which disproves the theory he needs tons & tons of cash as you'd have us believe), Villa fans may not be to familiar with the foxes history but this is our brightest period, Villa are a bigger club with a richer history but at the time when he took the Villa job you were going nowhere at all and I couldn't believe he took on what was a massive challenge to get you back up to the right end of the table, MON could have had any job at that time, his stock was massive but he decided to try and reignite Villa who have done nothing for years and he did this in a short space of time, many lesser managers would have just waited for a better project to come along but for some reason your still saying he wasnt good enough or the football was poor blah blah, U are now learning about the aftermath of MON leaving and the impact it has, look at Leicester's fate after he left for Celtic, the man is a a very hard act to follow, what I dont understand is Randy Lerner not wanting to spend any more at the start of the year, then he gives Houlier 30/40 mill in the transfer market, had he given this money to MON to spend Villa would be fighting for a top four place not languishing at the foot and you deluded ones know it, I think you will go down and Randy Lerner is the man you should be questioning not O'Neil, Appointing Houlier shows he's out of touch with footballing reality

  • Comment number 46.

    You'd be much better off showing a table of cross success rate, or simply ordering the teams by Number of Goals from Crosses, rather than % goals from crosses.

    Hold on, why's that? This also fails to paint a true picture. In the case of wingers what if a winger plays ten minutes and makes 2 crosses, both of which connect, but neither lead to goals. He then has a 100% completion rate, but so what? If your game plan is to get crosses in, get them in: a lower completion rate is almost guaranteed.

    In the case of Downing, being a Villa fan I can tell you that when he plays on the left crossing is what he exists to do: the reason he has got the most crosses in in because he almost always has enough about him to deliver the ball into the danger area (as Young does too - he has been the league's 'most prolific crosser' in seasons past). He crosses every time he gets the ball, more or less, when he plays on the left. Thing is now Villa only play one up - Bent - he's not much to aim for and we don't win so many of the headers as we did with two up (eg two of Carew/Agbonlahor/Heskey) anyway.

    Anyway Downing is a greater threat from the right, cutting inside, and ditto Young but on the left. Opposite feet and that. Almost like old school inside forwards.

  • Comment number 47.

    ...So after today's results we are down to 16th in the league, will probably go down to 17 if Blackpool get a result and people (including the BBC Liverpool biased pundits) saying we need to give Houllier another season...

    I haven't heard the latest Gerard Houllier excuses today but are we now in a league of 7 games (or should I say realistically 3 games as we will get nothing out of Newcastle next week, nothing out of Arsenal on the pneultimate game and of course nothing out of the final game of the season against Gerard's "beloved" Liverpool - let's just hope he remembers to go the home dressing room)?

    With only 6 wins this season surely even Alan Hanson, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Shearer and of course Alan Green must agree that the 'trajectory of results does the manager no favour' and he has to go by Monday at the latest. Put Kevin Macdonald and Gordon Cowans in charge till the end of the season and see who we can get in in May. Why not even bury the hatchet with O'Neil? Despite him putting us in the cr*p last August, he was the best manager we have had since Ron Saunders; maybe a years reflection from all parties will be the best solution for the club. Whatever the case, I can see no positive reason at all why Gerard Houllier should remain as manager of Aston Villa Football Club.

  • Comment number 48.

    47. At 20:22pm on 2nd Apr 2011, PreetiBoyC wrote:

    The excuse was '...we could have won...' Well we could have won at Man City in the Cup too Gerard but you messed up big style as you have on countless occasions since September.

    Agree with you on most points not with the O'Neill point though. Graham Taylor Mark I was better than MON bearing in mind what he took over and I don't want him back. He is in the past. He done a good job for us for 4 years.

    As for Houllier, he is the worst manager at Villa since Billy McNeill and if we get relegated then he will be the worst manager in the whole history of Aston Villa. That is a fact based on the squad he has to hand which should be competing with his beloved Liverpool for 6th, not Blackpool et al for a place in the bottom 5.

    Regardless of what happens in the next 7 games he and McAllister have to leave - preferably tomorrow no later than the middle of May. An absolute disastrous appointment with terrible consequences thus far - which could touch on the catclysmic if we get relegated.

  • Comment number 49.

    Is it significant that with the exception of Man U the more successful sides are amongst the least reliant on crosses? Crosses are predictable and rely on a big man at Number 9 to be more succesful (hence Lennon's apparent success). Young and Downing need to become more unpredictable and come in. The other problem. in fact the major problem, with relying on crosses is that it moves players' thinking away from the centre of mid-field leaving great gaps down the middle and making defences weaker. Again with the exception of Man U, teams which do a lot of crossing have the worst defences. Coincidence?

  • Comment number 50.

    To be honest I read better on 606 from genuine fans who know about their clubs and their players...

    Sorry Mr Alistair Magowan but if the beeb would crop a few of you lot it would please more far more fans of football in England...

    Everyones gotta earn a crust, but the BBC is a public service is it not?

    I'd prefer more commentary from fans and less from these professional fans...

    ... and I'm sure i'm not the only one

  • Comment number 51.

    they should do and if villa do go down its hoilliers fault

  • Comment number 52.

    Just thought i'd let the doubters of Stewart Downing's ability know he has just been voted Aston Villa's Fans Player of the Year, Player's Player of the Year and Sponsor's player of the year. Fantastic season from the lad. So hopefully that will zip a few of you up and give the lad the credit he deserves.
    His performances this season have been excellent, fully worthy of his place in the England squad. Lennon has been poor and Walcott is a complete waste of time so hopefully he can make the Right or Left wingers England shirt his own in the coming months!

    Well done Stew!!!


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