With Agbonlahor and Bent out with suspension and injury respectively, it was exposed that Villa do not have any other credible attacking options.
Writers are often berated for posting downbeat articles, or focussing on the negative, but there is very little that can be said in favour of the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool because on another occasion this season the opposition walked to victory without really having to try.
If plus points are needed, then Albrighton is getting more first team football and N’Zogbia put in a better performance. Not good, but certainly better. Unfortunately, the points to celebrate stop there.
The defensive issues, particularly from set pieces, are laughable, with Match of the Day and Sky pundits pulling Villa’s defensive basics to threads. The most concerning factor is that McLeish is known for defensive football, yet Villa’s defence is the worst in the league from set pieces. Take McLeish’s defensive strategy away, and what is left?
A task for any Villa supporter is to count the amount of times this happens in a game: try to pass or dribble it forwards in the opposition half, run out of options and pass it back towards the half way line, switch to the other wing and back to the middle, pass back to Dunne or Collins who will hoof it forwards and lose possession. Occasionally it will go back to the goalkeeper who will also hoof it up the pitch, but the result is the same. Heskey may get the odd knock on, but the tactics are transparent and decent opposition can play against it all day long.
Villa still play the so-called ‘bigger’ teams with an intimidation that would be typical of a lower league side, and it is difficult to know where it has come from. As Graeme Souness said yesterday the chasm of different between Villa and Liverpool never existing under Martin O’Neill. I’m not singing O’Neill’s praises, but something has certainly happened since his departure that makes Villa frightened of playing the ‘bigger’ teams.
A certain fact was revealed yesterday, and it is that Villa rely too much on one or two options. If Bent or Agbonlahor do not play, the attacking options are drastically reduced. With both of them out, Villa do not look even close to getting a goal. The January transfer window will provide an opportunity to bolster the attack, be it Zamora or another striker, and that opportunity must be taken. Contrary to a previous article, Delfouneso has proven that he is not the solution. I stand corrected.
The defence is another issue, and one that can only be sorted on the training ground. The same players (except Hutton, who should be replaced by Cuellar) played under O’Neill, and provided one of the most solid defences in the league. It is back to the drawing board, in many ways, otherwise 2012 could be a rough ride.
(Follow me on Twitter @MattLeCameron, and check out the Villa Mad Twitter and Facebook pages).