Monday, November 24, 2008

Martin the Magnificent

Commendable results at the Emirates and at Villa Park against Arsenal and Manchester United respectively have reinforced Aston Villa’s credentials for a top four finish this season. Martin O’Neill has been marvellous at the helm of Villa and his achievements so far seem all that more laudable when one considers the lowly sixteenth place finish of Villa in 2005-06, the season before O’Neill’s appointment as manger. The fact that only two players in the eleven that started against Man United were a part of the Aston Villa squad prior to O’Neill’s reign is testament to the tremendous effort that has gone into making the Villains a compact footballing unit. Although Villa do not possess the largest of squads, the basic nucleus around which the team is built is extremely impressive. O’Neill has got the team to play an entertaining brand of football without sacrificing on the solidity and organization required from a defensive standpoint.

From back to front, Villa possess players of excellent quality. The signing of Brad Friedel despite his age has been a masterstroke from O’Neill, one from which the likes of Spurs could have done well to learn from. At the centre of defence, skipper Martin Laursen and Curtis Davies compliment each other admirably with Zat Knight offering a more than decent back-up option. Nigel Reo-Coker is a big hearted footballer who will always work his socks off as he showed with his outstanding performance at an unfamiliar right back position against the champions on Saturday. Having been embarrassed by Ronaldo in the corresponding fixture last season, Reo-Coker showed superb awareness and ability in keeping United’s wing wizard quiet.

In the middle of midfield, the likes of Gareth Barry, Stiliyan Petrov and Steve Sidwell offer fabulous variety to the Aston Villa set-up. Barry was outstanding against Arsenal at the Emirates and O’Neill’s persistence in keeping the England international at Villa has been of crucial importance to Villa’s quests this season. Stiliyan Petrov’s role has been modified with O’Neill using him in a holding midfield role that ensures that Villa are never too stretched going forward. Steve Sidwell has brought a superior level of composure and technical excellence, which is certain to serve the team superbly in the coming seasons. In addition to the quality in the central midfield, the presence of the ebullient duo of Ashley Young and James Milner in the squad allows Martin O'Neill to play with two traditional wingers, which ensures the sort of balance that most teams would crave for.

But for all the merits of the other players in the squad, it is the dynamic Gabriel Agbonlahor who has been at the centre of most things good about the Villains this season. Agbonlahor has kicked off splendidly from where he left off last season and is probably the quickest striker in the Premier League at the moment. His partnership with big John Carew is a match made in heaven and if O’Neill can keep Carew fit, Villa can cause most backlines severe headaches over the course of the season.

There is no doubting that Martin O Neill has fashioned Aston Villa into an extremely organized and compact unit. However, the lack of squad depth in my opinion could well come to haunt Villa in their quest for champions league qualification. Even a fifth place finish though would be a super achievement for the Midlands club, who have been confined to mid-table mediocrity for more than a decade now. Whether Aston Villa can project themselves as a big club with big ambitions, which is necessary to attract the kind of players to the club that is required to ensure success over an extended period of time, only time will tell. What is certain though is that in Martin O’Neill, they have one of the world’s most capable managers.


Rahul Saha said...

Big four uis going a bit too far. Expecially with ManCity's money power soon to make a similar bid. Top 6 is more like it.

A Couch-side View said...

Yeah I think realistically they are looking for a uefa cup spot. But in Randy Lerner they have an excellent billionaire owner who backs the manager to the hilt, which is quite an exception these days. I think Villa will look to build over the next couple of seasons and try and sneak into the odd champions league and maybe win an fa/league cup here and there.