Aston Villa: The Post-Mortem
by Matt Booher
The numbers paint a pretty dismal picture:
- 38 points from 38 games – lowest point total in 42 years
- One point worse than the total accumulated by relegated Birmingham City last season
- Four wins in 18 home games – worst home record in history of the club
- Two wins in final 18 games of the season
- Winless in final 10 games of the season
- Escaped relegation by two points
- Worst league finish in six years
Needless to say the recent dismissal of Alex McLeish as Aston Villa manager closes the door on a relationship that was a day too long from the day it began. CEO Paul Faulkner exhibited poor judgement with his selection of McLeish. Not only did the former Birmingham City skipper twice relegate the Blues in three seasons, but his teams played unattractive football. Many of McLeish’s defenders in the media chalked the vitriol from Villa supporters up to his St. Andrew’s ties, but that’s just lazy journalism. The record above speaks for itself. Moving on…
Randy Lerner invested no small sum of his inherited fortune upon arriving at Villa Park. With Martin O’Neal on board, Lerner decided to go for it. The current state of the squad is penance for the trust he placed in MON but the money spent chasing a Champions League position. It’s hard to fault Lerner for pulling back on the spending. But the whole cost-cutting approach seemed directionless. Villa accepted cuts wherever they could be found and the slash and burn approach left a weakened squad ill-prepared for the challenges presented during the 2011-2012 campaign.
Shay Given may have single-handedly kept Villa from falling into the Championship. Far too often the back four conceded goal chances too easily, leaving Given exposed and isolated. When Richard Dunne went down with a broken collarbone, Given took command and helped organize an inexperienced and unfamiliar backline. Left to make acrobatic saves, Given showed himself to be one of the smartest pieces of business from last summer’s transfer window.
Injuries forced Villa to shuffle the defense on far too many occasions. As the Claret and Blue slipped into a relegation tussle, the back four typically included youngsters Eric Lichaj and Nathan Baker as Stephen Warnock slid into midfield (certainly one of the more “curious” McLeish decisions).
Darren Bent’s injury certainly hindered Villa’s ability to score goals, but the midfield looked in complete disarray all season. Part of the midfield’s ineffectiveness can be attributed to McLeish’s inexplicable tactics and scatter-brained style of play. Too narrow. Too defensive. Absolutely no imagination. Too often Villa were overrun in the middle of the pitch and forced into their own half. The inability to generate an attack from a defensive position led to Villa’s strikers spending an awful large amount of time isolated up front with nothing to do.
Andreas Wiemann’s emergence as a future fixture up front stood out as a lone highlight from the attackers this season. Bent’s injury and Gabby Agbonlahor’s disappearing act stiffled an offense already limited by the manager’s preferred approach to football. Emile Heskey offered no relief as a target man. Villa’s new manager must find a way to improve goal production.
Rival Premier League sides offer a way out of this current fog engulfing Villa Park (see United, Newcastle and Everton). It’s clear the wage bill must be reduced, but it must be reduced with clear alternatives in mind. This will require a manager with an eye for finding value in places most English clubs wouldn’t think to look. The buy-to-sell mindset must evolve into a buy-low, perform-high approach that looks beyond the net transfer earnings and produces results on the pitch.