Over the past few months, Jack Grealish would have been a frustrated man. It was clear he wanted to join Tottenham, they too were interested in his services but failed to agree a fair transfer fee with Championship side Aston Villa. Continue reading
The immediate futures of two highly-rated English prospects has been finalised, with Arsenal winger Reiss Nelson venturing abroad in search of regular first-team opportunities while Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham has dropped to the league which helped him flourish two years ago… Continue reading
Speculation has suggested a few Premier League clubs are interested in making a move to sign Middlesbrough winger Adama Traore this summer, which comes as no surprise given his ability and potential. With that in mind, is leaving the correct decision for the 22-year-old, particularly at such an important stage in his career?
Ahead of kick-off, this fixture was billed as a mismatch. In all honesty, it really was. In spite of Manchester City’s troubling inconsistency in the league this term, they’re still in with a shout of winning the Premier League crown come May. Saturday’s vistors, Aston Villa, have the unenvious task of trying to remain in the top flight. Nine points from safety, having only won three league games all season, things look bleak from Remi Garde’s perspective.
So they made the trip to the blue half of Manchester, not expecting much. At the half-time interval, they would’ve been quietly surprised that they were still in with a chance of getting an encouraging result out of the game.
Kelechi Iheanacho. Despite finding regular minutes hard to come by in an ever-improving Manchester City side, the talented young Nigerian forward has maintained his aspiration – to keep improving and establish himself in England’s top flight. An admirable attitude, self-belief and undeniable quality were all on-show as the 19-year-old scored a well-taken hat-trick to help seal the Citizens’ passage into this year’s FA Cup Fifth Round.
Remi Garde‘s Aston Villa side were out-of-sorts, and struggled to create much in the final third. But in fairness, the visitors had too much quality for them to deal with sufficiently, and ran out deserved winners at Villa Park.
It was just the one point for Southampton as they entertained Aston Villa in one of Saturday’s 3pm kick-off’s at St.Mary’s, but could – and probably should – have been all three.
The hosts, eager to respond positively after a Cup thrashing by Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side on Wednesday evening, were boosted by the returns of Jose Fonté as well as James Ward-Prowse and previously suspended Graziano Pellé going into the fixture itself.
Maarten Stekelenburg continued in goal, with Jordy Clasie and Shane Long just two of the viable options for Ronald Koeman to choose from the substitutes’ bench.
Southampton could have found themselves infront with a two-goal cushion, but somehow, the scoreline remained goalless for the majority of the first-half.
Dusan Tadić fired over the crossbar from close-range, after good work down the flank by Sadio Mané to create the opportunity for the Serbian. Then, Tadić created a good chance of his own. His inch-perfect ball curled into the path of Pellé on the run towards goal, but his first-time effort flashed over the woodwork.
Victor Wanyama headed wide at the far post, Mané missed a volley, Fonte saw a goalbound effort cleared off the line by opposition striker Rudy Gestede – Southampton were all over their visitors, the opening goal was inevitable.
It came in due course, but against the run of play as Villa snatched the lead – on the stroke of halftime no less. Jordan Veretout‘s corner delivery bounced up awkwardly towards the far post, and former Manchester City centre-back Joleon Lescott beat Fonte to the ball, tapping home with ease to break the deadlock in surprising fashion.
Going into the interval, So’ton were down and understandably frustrated. They created so many chances, and somehow, they were losing. Virgil van Dijk came close with a headed effort, Wanyama trudged off with a knock whilst substitute Juanmi was lively in the final third, coming ever so close to levelling the scoring.
It was only a matter of time, and the goal did eventually come from an unlikely source. Ward-Prowse’ corner-kick delivery floated past the defenders near the goalline, but substitute Oriol Romeu, who’d only been on the pitch for ten minutes, reacted quickly to slot home from close-range and give Southampton a deserved equaliser.
The hosts pressed for a late winner, but the tempo of the game itself was overshadowed by plenty of timewasting tactics by the visitors – souring the mood and flow of the game in the dying stages.
Shane Long came on, added another attacking outlet but neither him nor any of his teammates could steal a late winner, despite being the better side on the afternoon.
Moussa Dembele barged down the left wing before cutting inside to net with just 140 seconds played, before wonderkid Dele Alli doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time.
With Spurs cruising, Villa getting back into the game came as a shock, but they did. Jordan Ayew scored thanks to a deflection on 79 minutes, but it wasn’t enough, and Harry Kane sealed the win in added time.
Despite Garde having been unveiled as manager hours before kick-off, interim boss Kevin MacDonald was on the touchline and picked the team.
Surprising a few by dropping Jordan Amavi in place of Kieran Richardson once more, there was a very experienced look to Villa’s starting XI, with the likes of Carles Gil only making the bench.
At the other end, Mauricio Pochettino had the easy decision of staying with the same 11 who dismantled Bournemouth by five goals to one a week prior.
It was indeed Tottenham who started brightly, and were consequently rewarded for their fast start. Just two minutes in, Mousa Dembele shrugged off the advances of Ciaran Clark in-and-around the penalty area, before neatly flicking the ball past Guzan at his near post. Villa had started slowly and were punished to devastating effect, their limp attempts to defend were exposed quite clearly, and they looked out-of-sorts in the early exchanges.
However, it was not all doom and gloom. Despite an unfortunate facial injury to Ashley Westwood in the dying embers of the first 45, Garde would have taken positives from his new side’s display. Ultimately, they should have created more in-front of goal, and been more fierce with their pressing out of possession, because they’d given their hosts too much space to roam through midfield and virtually pass the ball around them.
This meant for uncomfortable viewing and although they had a few half-chances of their own, the Villans surrendered too much of the ball to warrant a good team performance. Gabriel Agbonlahor should have been more patient when, on a counter attack, Grealish looked to slip him through past Toby Alderweireld. Instead, he was too eager to get in-behind the Spurs backline and ended up being penalized for a needless challenge on the Belgian.
Dele Alli doubled Tottenham’s lead with a well-struck effort which nestled into the far corner, and it was deserved – both for the player, who was energetic throughout – and his teammates. But even still, the game was far from over.
As the second-half began, Spurs continued with the same pressing intensity that they’d finished the first with. Villa initially had rare spells of possession, but a loose ball or lapse in concentration saw a turnover in play, where the hosts were able to attack with both speed and purpose too.
Guzan watched on thankfully as Rose’ effort flashed over the crossbar, after a teasing ball towards the back post by Erik Lamela, getting the better of Richardson on the edge of the area.
Carles Gil was introduced with twenty-five minutes to play, in place of Jack Grealish – who was uncharacteristically quiet at times, apart from his well-struck effort which swerved narrowly wide of Lloris’ near post in the first 45. Richardson saw his name in the referee’s book for a late, cynical challenge on Lamela, who’d already skipped past him with audacious ease down the flank – and the chances started to dry up with the clock ticking down on the evening’s affair.
Christian Eriksen had two free-kick efforts: the first, cannoned back off the wall, the second, swerved wide of the crossbar – but an improved strike from the Dane’s first. Even though they were two-nil up, they were also far from plain sailing. Rudy Gestede, on at the break for an ineffective Agbonlahor, should have taken his opportunity at goal with more composure. Instead he watched on with frustration as his effort sailed over the bar and towards the supporters behind the crowd, as it seemed it was probably not going to be Villa’s night.
But, football can change in a blink of an eye. It did so with just ten minutes to go, after Leandro Bacuna‘s stinging effort from range hit the post and ricocheted off the back of Lloris, Spurs failed to clear the ball convincingly enough, with Ayew profiting from a fortunate deflection to halve the deficit in dramatic style.
At two-one, the momentum was firmly in Villa’s favour and Tottenham could have easily seen their lead disintegrate. Instead, they were cautious and intelligent enough to slow the tempo of the game down, making the visitors chase the ball as time was ticking away.
The icing was sealed on the cake though, as a quick exchange of passes in the final third firmly put Villa to the sword, as they pushed men forward in search of a late equaliser. Eriksen evaded the challenge of Joleon Lescott on the counter before squaring the ball to his right to accomodate Lamela’s run, and Harry Kane’s sweetly-struck effort flew into the top corner to ensure they took all three points in an intriguing fixture.
Southampton entertain Aston Villa in the Last 16 of this year’s Capital One Cup on Wednesday night, with both teams set to make alterations to their respective starting elevens. This match is an important one for both because Southampton will be undoubtedly targeting a trip to Wembley this term – having struggled to cope with the demands of the Europa League, being knocked out in the play-off rounds.
On the other hand for Villa, they need to win a game somewhere, somehow – be it late drama, extra time or even penalties. This will help to collectively boost the team’s morale, after a rather forgettable start to the 2015/16 campaign already. Both sides know how to counter-attack at speed, but the Saints‘ defensively offer more stability, something that the visitors may struggle to contend with at times.
Aston Villa will be boosted by the returns of defensive duo Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore from injury, whilst caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald may also recall Libor Kozak and Charles N’Zogbia into the matchday squad. Gary Gardner (ankle) is sidelined, but other than that, the Claret and Blues are at relatively full strength and you’d expect them to name a strong team – considering the competition is a welcome distraction from their poor Premier League form.
As for Southampton, they’ve only got two first-team players currently injured. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, and defender Florin Gardos, both of which have sustained long-term injuries in the past, and will not be fully recovered until the new year in 2016.
Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez both have ankle knocks, but could feature nonetheless, whilst winger Sadio Mané is suspended – having picked up two bookings in quick succession during their 1-1 draw with Liverpool on Sunday. However, his ban may seem like a blessing in disguise to many of the fringe players hovering around the squad, with the likes of Juanmi, Gaston Ramiréz and Ryan Seager all eager to get minutes under their belt in the search for regular, competitive football, to be able to impress Ronald Koeman.
The beauty of the cup includes the fact that form means nothing, and Villa will certainly be motivated for the fixture itself. Whether they can actually prevail though, is a different story – against a Southampton side hoping to prove they’re amongst the big clubs in England’s top flight.
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Stekelenberg; Martina, Caulker, Fonte, Targett; Romeu, Clasie; Ramiréz, Juanmi, Ward-Prowse and Pellé.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Richards, Lescott, Hutton, Bacuna; Sanchez, Gueye; Sinclair, Agbonlahor, Grealish and Gestede.
That’s not to say that the team overall, isn’t good enough. The likes of Scott Sinclair, Adama Traore, Carles Gil, Jack Grealish, Rudy Gestede and Gabriel Agbonlahor are all viable attacking options in their own right, and the Villans have also strengthened defensively.
Jordan Amavi‘s already taken a shine to the rigours of top flight football in England since his summer switch from Nice for £9million, whilst Micah Richards and Jores Okore have struck up a solid partnership within the backline.
They started off well, with a narrow 1-0 victory at the expense of the League’s newboys, Bournemouth. But since then, they’ve yet to record another victory in the seven games afterwards – and should have at least grabbed one or two more than they have.
A 1-0 home defeat against Louis van Gaal‘s Manchester United side was expected, but the way in which they lost, gave Sherwood plenty of positives to take from the result itself. An away loss against Crystal Palace, as well as a disappointing draw against lowly Sunderland followed next – and they could have easily taken more than a point out of a possible six in that respect.
Then, two more forgettable results. First, the ultimate art of capitulation away at the King Power, where Leicester City came back from two goals down to win 3-2 with a spirited second-half display. Admittedly, it was the tale of two halves in the afternoon kick-off, but Sherwood’s men still should have managed to hold onto the lead they had, especially away from home – against a side with nothing to lose.
Jack Grealish‘s first senior goal, as well as a stunning effort from Carles Gil, were overshadowed by the team’s breakdown in the second-half, as they were often pinned back in their own half and struggled to fashion any chances of note – whilst Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were the creative duo helping to push the Foxes back into the match as a contest.
The west Midlands’ derby, was next. Saido Berahino (who else?) scored the one, and only goal of the match in an otherwise frustrating defeat, once again. Defensively, they were all over the place, and could have easily lost by two or three more, if West Brom were more clinical with their opportunities on-goal.
A slender, unfortunate defeat against a fragile Liverpool side in their final game of September was sure to sour Sherwood’s mood, especially after they’d shown flashes of the potential the assembled team should be displaying on a regular basis. Rudy Gestede scored a well-taken brace, but it meant nothing in comparison to Daniel Sturridge‘s two-goal haul, especially after James Milner opened the scoring within two minutes of the referee’s whistle.
1-0 at home against Stoke, the less said about that, the better. From this, we’ve concluded that the team defensively, aren’t as good as they should be. How will they cope, with a tough run of fixtures to come?
As previously stated, Sherwood’s managerial status is under an increasing amount of scrutiny. Thirteen goals conceded, eight goals scored, and things are looking bleak upon Villa Park. They’ll naturally be hoping for a positive international break in terms of (a lack of..) injuries, but their next five PL matches, are as follows:
José Mourinho‘s side have, just like Villa, underperformed thus far this season. For their extremely high standards, the league champions have seemed like none other than a mid-table club at times, and plenty of questions are being asked to say the least.
No-one could have foreseen the Blues’ slow start to the 2015/16 campaign, just a few months after lifting the Premier League title back in May at Stamford Bridge – even with their lack of acquisitions in the summer.
No match is easy for Villa, especially in their current form. Neither side will want another defeat, and this is probably the perfect time to face the defending champions. Tenative, unconvincing and under scrutiny, it could fire them to prevail even more though..
The Swans will make the trip from south Wales, and you’d be naïve to suggest Garry Monk wouldn’t set his side out to go for anything less than a win. They’ve proved their worth in the past, they’re not scared of anyone – whether it’s Manchester United or Aston Villa in this case, they’ll always give the opposition a good challenge.
Villa will take pride from the fact that Swansea are yet to win on the road this term, but with that being said, produced some excellent football at times despite being held to a 2-2 draw against Tottenham in their previous fixture.
Two fabulous pieces of skill by Eriksen, with two sweetly-struck free-kicks, saved Spurs’ blushes, coming away with a point in the end. To stop Swansea from travelling back home with anything, what do Villa need to do though?
Firstly, they need to nullify the effect of Swansea’s star players. That’s easier said than done, admittedly, considering they’ve got quite a few of them too. Bafetimbi Gomis does a lot more than just score, I’ll have you believe. When he’s not getting enough service, he’ll drop deep into the pockets of space in midfield to try and win the ball, or add another option going forward for the team – like a AM would do.
He usually links up with André Ayew on the flank, and because their build-up play is almost inch-perfect every time, it’s often hard to stop. So, apply a lot of effective pressure, in order to force them back. The same should be applied with Jefferson Montero – another player who loves to gallop forward, but one that doesn’t shy away from his defensive duties either.
Also, they need to avoid conceding silly free-kicks. Cynical fouls in-and-around the centre circle, could be good for them in terms of slowing down the tempo of the game – especially as Swansea love to counter quickly, and have the quality to do so. Otherwise, Monk’s men will run away with the game itself.
Spurs, ah Spurs. One of the more unpredictable sides in the league – which can be a worry for both their opponents, as well as themselves too. Mauricio Pochettino’s team on paper, is impressive. The likes of Erik Lamela, Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane are a fearsome foursome, but there are also some under-rated names within their first-team too.
The midfield workhorses; Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, rarely get recognition for the amount of work they put in, on a regular basis throughout the ninety minutes on a matchday. Collectively, they make the forwards’ jobs easier, with their plethora of interceptions, important tackles and tactical awareness key to breaking up play in the centre of the park and snuffing out counter-attacks in their tracks.
They’ve got one of the world’s best goalkeepers in Hugo Lloris, whilst their backline is not too shabby either. The centre-back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld is a notable one; not only because they’re compatriots and know each other’s respective strengths, but together help to fill a cohesive back-four – especially when they need to defend with a slender lead to protect as an example.
Yet, they lack consistency. This has been the main issue for them over the past few seasons especially, which is why they’ve struggled to sustain a proper challenge for a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot, in the top four of the division. Sometimes, they’re wasteful and limp in-front of goal, and defensively, their shape splits into two and allows teams to attack them with speed and purpose.
So, this is exactly what Villa need to do. White Hart Lane is a tricky place to go, but if the tactics are spot-on, and the players know the gameplan from the beginning, i.e. frustrating the Spurs defenders, or trying to shut out the attackers going forward, they’ll get a good result in north London.
Manuel Pellegrini‘s men sit at the top of the pile, at least they will have done going into this international break. With the absence of Sergio Agüero hurting the quality in attack, Villa would be hoping to at least get a half-decent result. But, stranger things have happened. The blistering pace of Raheem Sterling and the probing passes from Kevin de Bruyne as well as David Silva alone, are enough to give defences plenty to worry about.
The Citizens’ main weakness is predominantly in defence, and despite the signing of Nicolas Otámendi in August, it’ll still take a few months’ of settling in before the sky Blues have a solid backline – not least with the inconsistent alterations made within on a regular basis.
Start fast, ensure man-marking is not half-hearted, and City will have a game on their hands.
Last but certainly not least, a trip to Goodison Park awaits. One of the most-dreaded stadiums to travel to, not because of the area or quality of pitch, either. Everton, regardless of their position in table, or form, are one of the best teams in the league.
The centre-back pairing of Phil Jagielka and John Stones, the midfield duo of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, the marauding runs forward from Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas, the sheer power of Romelu Lukaku… goals. Aplenty.
In the last ten meetings between the two clubs (in all comps), Villa have only won two. A traditionally high-scoring fixture, it’s no surprise. The Toffees love a quick transition from defence into attack within seconds – this was reiterated during their 3-1 victory over Chelsea back in September.
They soak up pressure well, force their opponents back (regardless of whether they have possession or not), and hit them on the counter when they’d least expect it. So dangerous, yet so effective, it’s a tactic that hurts sides because they simply cannot defend against it.
For Villa’s sake, you’d hope they can try and thwart it. But if not, try and outscore them? After all, the towering figures of Okore and Richards should be able to give Lukaku – for all of his might and agility – a good battle in the final third. Shutting off the service from either flank, as well as through midfield, will be a tricky task in itself.
But, it’s not an impossible task. Just, very difficult. Like every other game in the league would be, right?
To conclude, Villa’s next five fixtures are all going to be tough. Probably the toughest point of their campaign, for the time-being. Get the tactics right, play well and show over a consistent time-span that their opening eight games was a blip, Sherwood will keep his job, players’ morale will increase – as will the supporters. If not, he’ll be nervously biting his fingers wondering if he still has a future with the west Midlands’ side.