Following three consecutive seasons finishing 6th in the Premier League, Martin O’Neill had established Aston Villa as a top half side and regular contender for European football.
The timing of O’Neill’s resignation couldn’t have been much worse; just 5 days before the start of the 2010/11 Premier League season. An opening day 3-0 victory over Aston Villa with Kevin MacDonald in charge and things looked fine. James Milner scored his only league goal to date in that date before his transfer to Manchester City. Then came a 6-0 thrashing at Newcastle in match day 2 and Villa were seeking for a more experienced manager.
Defence in Decline
Bring in Gerard Houllier. Successful as Liverpool manager earlier this millennium, he appears to have been away from the Premier League for too long. He’s recorded just 3 victories from 16 Premier League matches; those against Wolves, Blackpool and West Brom. Aston Villa have kept just 2 clean sheets during this run; the last on October 31st at home to rivals Birmingham. Only West Brom (39) have conceded more goals this season.
Motivation; A Lack Of
Gone are the days of Richard Dunne and James Collins being a rock at the back for Aston Villa. They were a great partnership, both making debut seasons in 2009/10 as they helped Villa to 15 clean sheets last season. Could this have anything to do with the manager? Coincidentally, it was Houllier in charge of Liverpool when Emile Heskey’s career took a sudden downhill turn. Reportedly, Gerard Houllier has had clashes with Dunne, as well as John Carew and Stephen Ireland. The laid-back atmosphere that O’Neill imposed has been thrown out by a much tougher regime by Houllier. Not the best way to win over the players.
Aston Villa players simply don’t look up for the fight. Their frustrations and lack of effort on the pitch must come from within. And I’m pointing the finger at Gerard Houllier’s motivation, or lack of motivation techniques.
No Goal Agbonlahor
Indeed, getting the best out of the players has not been Gerard Houllier’s speciality. Last seasons top goalscorer with 13 goals, Gabriel Agbonlahor has not found the net once so far this season. He is being wasted on the right wing. Ashley Young has 3 goals to his name, but has yet to score from open play. John Carew has scored double figures in each of his last 3 seasons, but injuries and a falling out with the manager has limited his game time. Emile Heskey leads the strikers with 3 goals; 1 more than Wayne Rooney, 2 more than Peter Crouch, while England’s other striker at the 2010 World Cup, Jermain Defoe has 0. A combined total of 6 goals; 1 less than Blackpool’s DJ Campbell.
Another link between the England World Cup squad and Aston Villa is their left back, Stephen Warnock. He has had a desperate first half of the season, racking up more yellow cards (8) than any other player in the Premier League so far this season. He has also conceded more goals than any other defender in the league too this season. He’s far from a recall to the England squad right now. At least we hope so from an English perspective.
Two players to shine for Aston Villa this season are Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton. They are the club’s top two goalscorers; with 5 and 4 goals respectively. Looking good amongst a poor Villa side may help Downing’s recall to the England side, while many of us have bright hopes for Albrighton’s future. Ciaran Clark deserves a mention too, but he is rapidly picking up yellow cards.
Staying for the Summer?
Chairman Randy Lerner seems content to keep Houllier in charge, at least until the summer having reportedly been given money to spend this month. Aston Villa have been strongly linked with a move for Blackburn’s Chris Samba, Lyon’s Jean Makoun and Toulouse player Moussa Sissoko. Perhaps not the Arsene Wenger French revolution but it’s a start, having signed 37 year old Robert Pires in November. Aston Villa have had a bid rejected for Blackpool’s Charlie Adam.
Unless new signings can spark life into Aston Villa in January, I expect Gerard Houllier will lose the dressing room and ultimately be booted out of the club. Surviving relegation is their main priority from here on out. They currently sit in the bottom 3 and are 9/2 to be relegated. Aston Villa travel to rivals Birmingham on Sunday, before hosting Manchester City and then up to Wigan.