Champions League Football - Does Aston Villa Have What It Takes?
I have been following the Champion's League quite closely since it started in December being an ardent fan of football. One thing I have derived from the performance of the various teams is that although Martin O'Neill's team may yet be far from achieving the title yet it won't come as a surprise to me if they finished somewhere in the top 4 this season.
I find it hard to disagree that Aston Villa is not as strong a football team as say that of Manchester United, Liverpool or the Arsenal and I won't bet on them winning the trophy just yet. However, after winning 5 league matches out of 6, getting the 4th place in the Premier League and being just 1 point short of Chelsea shows that they are surely catching up with them.
To know that you are playing to lose must be quite a tough position to find oneself in but it is strange that Coach O'Neill and his team are just fine with it specially after having earned 21 points from 27 which shows they are in top form. It was ironic to witness Aston Villa show their gumption in a match against the Arsenal which ended in a draw. Villa has certainly come far under the guidance of O'Neill as was obvious from the 2nd half comeback they made thanks to 2 fantastic goals by Gareth Barry and Zat Knight. This was a Boxing Day gift for Aston as the draw helped them in keeping their 3 points lead over Arsène Wenger's side.
The character and determination with which the Aston Villa players defended their team against a loss from Arsenal was a revelation for me and fans all over. Earlier on if they had been placed in a situation where they were lagging behind a first class team such as Arsenal they would have given up long time ago but not this new team that Aston is developing into. Their confidence remained unwavering in the face of adversity and they proved that they were a courageous team that took destiny in their own hands. It doesn't take long for the result of football matches to turn around and surprise all!
In addition to these newfound characteristics of Aston Villa as a team, the exclusive traits possessed by football players Martin Laursen, Ashely Young, Steve Sidwell and James Milner are proving to be the driving force behind its' new role as a strongly competitive side. I don't see them letting anyone take them lightly and dismiss them so easily.
The only thing that worries me at the moment is a player getting injured and not being able to play. John Carew is already missing from the action so in such a case the coach will have to play either one of these 2 players, Marlon Harewood or Nathan Delfouneso. I am not saying that these 2 players should be rejected outright as they have a lot of promise of turning into future stars but it is experience and expertise that is needed by Aston at this point. They have too much at stake to leave anything to chance. Therefore, it won't be unwise to suggest that they should seriously consider hiring a new forward.
The ouster of Carew due to injury has in some ways proved to be a blessing in disguise. O'Neill has experimented with setting up Barry, Sidwell and Petroy in the central midfield and has also deployed Milner and Young on the flanks. The result has not been disappointing. It makes me wonder if the Norwegian striker will find himself a place on the team when he is fit enough to return.
O'Neill seems to settle quite a score by the Bulgarian Petrov. I also have started to accept him in the team but it is a mystery to me why O'Neill would try so hard to make sure Petrov got a place on the team. No doubt he is showing a lot of improvement this season but then let's be fair. His passing is at best economical whereas what Aston needs is incisiveness. He lacks competitiveness and is not athletic enough as a midfielder should be. It may sound harsh to some but trust me, after having observed him for the past 2 and a half years I am not able to understand what it is that makes O'Neill so keen on having him on an otherwise splendid team.
One weakness that I have observed is the weak full-back positions. Reo-Coker provided Arsenal with their 1st goal of the match but that could be merely a one time mistake that anyone could fall prey to. Luke Young is also playing well out of his familiar role although he could do better back where he belonged.
All said Aston Villa seems to be a good contender for a place amongst the top 4. It is phenomenal that from being the team that always found itself right at the bottom of the ranks should suddenly be competing for the top slots. I couldn't doubt manager O'Neill's claim that it ought come as no surprise if his side finishes in the top four.
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