Aston Villa’s Season In Stats

It’s been a poor season for us Villa fans again, as we know, and the future is pretty uncertain too. Randy is selling up, not a moment too soon, and Lambert’s future is precarious at best.

Still, before we look forward, let’s take one last look back.

Here is Aston Villa’s season in stats:

aston villa season in statistics, randy lerner, aston villa for sale, paul lambert, AVFC

A grim season by anyone’s standards.

All is not lost, however. If we can avoid the club falling into the hands of a Tan or Shinawatra, we might have cause for optimism come the new season.

Up The Villa.

Stats and graphics courtesy of Opta

Advertisements

Why Pellegrini is the right choice for Man City

Roberto Mancini’s departure from Manchester City is good news for City fans, if Manuel Pellegrini is appointed as his successor.

roberto mancini, man city, mancini sacked, manuel pellegrini, malaga, man city

Mancini – ‘relieved of his duties’

 

Tactical failings

Despite winning the Premier League last season, City’s fundamental lack of attacking width was obvious. Mancini always preferred a compact midfield devoid of wingers and relied heavily on the stamina of Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta to provide overlaps during attacking passages.

These conservative tactics had been stifling the team’s attacking talent and this was shown by their inability to break down the top sides in Europe, evidenced by their failure to advance from the group stages of the Champions League.

Mancini claimed the Premier League title in 2011-12, just. Yet this season has been a different, trophy-less story.

City have become predictable. With 62 league goals this season, they are behind Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and, of course, Robin van Persie Manchester United on goals scored. Mancini’s pragmatic Italian tactics have seen City concede just 31 times in 36 games, but this is not the philosophy that chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, or Director of Football Txiki Begiristain (formerly of Barcelona), expect.

manuel pellegrini, manchester city, malaga, roberto mancini, man city, sacked, mancini sack

Pellegrini – doesn’t even need to buy a new tie

Time for a change

If – as is widely reported, Manuel Pellegrini is appointed – City will be gaining a manager of distinction and one who is hugely respected, particularly in Spain, despite a relatively modest list of achievements (in terms of trophies, at least).

Champions League success is at the top of City’s list of objectives, and Pellegrini has consistently outperformed his teams’ expectations in Europe. In fact, he is the only manager to reach the Quarter Finals of the Champions League with two debutant teams in Villarreal and Malaga – the latter only narrowly missing out on the Semi Finals after a late siege from this year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund.

In Spain, Pellegrini has extracted exciting attacking performances from each of his teams.

At Villarreal, he mixed Spanish talents with South American imports to great effect, and brought the team unprecedented success. Playing a fluid 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2), El Submarino Amarillo broke the Barca-Madrid duopoly and narrowly missed out on a Champions League final to Arsenal.

At Real Madrid, the Chilean guided Los Blancos to their (then) club record points tally of 96 points, only to be pipped by Guardiola’s party-pooping Barcelona side. Were it not for the availability of Mourinho following his departure from Inter Milan, Pellegrini would likely have been given a deserved second season at the Bernabeu.

In joining Malaga, he was tasked with throwing together any available players under the authority of a rich owner and was had to desperately sculpt them into a team. Despite boardroom problems and off-field disarray, he brought the players together on the pitch.

Suddenly, the pieces start to fit together.

Isco, malaga, man city, manchester city, transfer, cavani, pellegrini

Isco could be next if Pellegrini arrives

Pellegrini’s Philosophy

Fortunately for David Silva, Pellegrini loves a playmaker. Formerly with D’Alessandro at River Plate, then Juan Roman Riquelme at Villarreal, briefly with Kaka at Madrid, and latterly with Santi Cazorla and then Isco at Malaga – Pellegrini’s teams revolve around a creative number 10.

City have a number of players who could fit the bill here. At the front of the queue will be David Silva, who must surely be a focal point if City are to become a major force in Europe.

Aside from the Spaniard, Samir Nasri has the technical ability (if not the mindset) to flourish in the playmaker role.

For a change of tactic, Yaya Toure can be deployed in his preferred attacking role. What he lacks in skills and turning circle, he makes up for in raw power and unmatched presence in the midfield.

Manchester City’s formation may change under Pellegrini and – based on the current squad – would likely see Nasri and Tevez deployed in wider support positions either side of Aguero. Alternatively, a 4-2-3-1 similar to Mancini’s starting XI in the FA Cup final could be used, but with the attacking three midfielders more spaced out.

aguero, man city, sergio aguero, kun, mancini, pellegrini

Aguero struggled with injuries this season. Probably all that sitting down.

City’s Summer Spending

After recognising that their inactivity last summer cost them this year’s Premier League crown, expect Sheik Mansour to leave his cheque book waiting for the new manager.

Few would be surprised to see Dzeko, Kolarov and Pantilimon leave but, judging by recent performances, there may be half a dozen players who are actively shepherded out the club.

Gareth Barry isn’t up to the task at the top level of European football, and the attitude of players like Samir Nasri are questionable at best. Carlos Tevez has made no secret of his desire to return to Argentina with Boca Juniors, whilst a number of fringe players may seek first team football elsewhere.

Reportedly, top of City’s wishlist are Edinson Cavani and Isco. Whether the transfer dealings are dictated by Begiristain or Pellegrini: only time will tell.

Whatever the summer holds, one thing is for certain: Manchester City’s owners expect the Premier League crown back at The Etihad Stadium in 12 months’ time.

5 January signings to save Aston Villa

The January transfer window closes in 3 weeks and Aston Villa are in a precarious position, hovering just above the relegation zone and having conceded 5 billion goals in their last 5 games. Even Wigan and Bradford City have hit three goals apiece past the woeful Villa defense. With the Premier League’s youngest squad seriously struggling, Paul Lambert needs the backing of Randy Lerner in this transfer window more than McLeish or O’Neill ever did previously.

Scott Sinclair aston villa manchester city everton transfer january loan swansea

The lesser spotted ‘Sinclair in a City shirt’

barry bannan aston villa

Barry Bannan – nothing like Patrick Vieira

Here’s a look at 5 (realistic) signings that could save Villa’s season.

Scott Sinclair
Club: Manchester City
Cost: Loan

Sinclair had a fine 2011/12 season with Swansea before making the brilliant career choice to go put out cones and carry bibs at Manchester City for £50,000 a week.
Having made just 4 appearances for City since his £8m move, Sinclair will be keen to get back to first team action to prove that he is worth his place in the City squad. With Villa lacking creative spark, it could be a win-win situation.

Jolean Lescott
Club: Manchester City
Cost: Loan

Despite ‘a source’ in The Mirror apparently ruling out a loan move in January, Lescott – a boyhood Villa fan – is below Kompany, Nastasic and Toure in the City pecking order and could be tempted by a chance to be a hero – at least in the short term – at Villa Park.

Moussa Sissoko
Club: Toulouse
Cost: £10m

Although Lerner might need to actually spend the Milner/Young/Downing/Barry money, a strong CM is an absolute priority. Sissoko is tall, powerful and aggressive in the tackle, drawing predictable comparisons with Patrick Vieira. He is literally the exact opposite to Barry Bannan. Need I say more?

Tim Cahill

Club: NY Red Bulls
Cost: Loan

If there’s one thing Villa are lacking this season, it’s experience. Cahill would bring this in abundance, with personality and work rate to match. Available on a three-month loan in the MLS off-season, a return to Goodison is perhaps more likely but would be guaranteed game time at Villa Park. His heading ability would also be crucial in helping Villa at set pieces at both ends of the pitch.

Martin Olsson blackburn rovers transfer west ham january transfer window donovan

Martin Olsson could finally put Joe Bennett out his misery

Martin Olsson
Club: Blackburn
Cost: £2-3m

OK, so there are many better defenders out there, but Olsson is a quick, strong full back with Premier League experience. There aren’t many defenders with these strengths for under £4m, but Lambert will need to move quickly to beat West Ham to his signature.
Lazio’s Belgian full back Luis Cavanda is also apparently a transfer target, but I’m not going to pretend I know anything about him so won’t pass judgement.

Here’s how the Villa team could look at the end of the January transfer window:

Aston Villa team 2012 2013 january transfer window guzan vlaar lowton el ahmadi benteke weimann

It’s not going to happen, is it?

Who do you want Villa to sign?
What can we expect from Lambert and Lerner this month?
Will Villa survive to fight another Premier League day?

Join the debate on Twitter: 
@soccersagacity & @giplu

Premier League 2012/13 Season Predictions

It seems like a lifetime ago that Martin Tyler was reaching for the tissues following Sergio Agüero’s last minute heroics against QPR.

With the 2011/12 season widely dubbed ‘the greatest ever’, the 2012/13 season has a lot to live up to. This summer has seen managerial changes galore, and with players swapping clubs left, right and centre there’s sure to be a few Chamakh’s for every van Persie.

So what will the Premier League table look like come May 2013? Let’s take a look at what might happen at the top end of the league…

 

Manchester City

Last season: Champions

Summer business: Minimal. Rodwell comes in to boost their ‘homegrown’ quota by one – Gareth Barry is now completely pointless. An already strong team has been kept together, and they are good enough to win the league again. Selling Adebayor/ Santa Cruz remains a priority to meet the Financial Fair Play regulations. On-form and motivated bi-polar billionaire Carlos Tevez could be crucial.

jack rodwell manchester city man signs everton midfielder

Jack Rodwell is City’s only signing this summer…so far

Successful season: No more fall-outs, team grows together. Tevez stays and enjoys playing football more than golf and forms an outstanding partnership with Agüero. City win the league before the last minute of the last game of the season. Champions League semi-finals appearance and an FA Cup win.

Disappointing season: More fall-outs undermine Mancini’s influence. Overpaid fringe players cause a negative atmosphere. Team’s lack of wingers means opponents learn to play against them, and they struggle to hit the heights of last season. Lose out to United in title race and another early exit from Champions League.

Prediction: Champions. City still have the strongest 1st and 2nd XI in the league, possibly only behind Barcelona and Madrid in the World. Barring an injury-ravaged season, they should be good enough to retain the title. Agüero to be crowned Top Goalscorer and Player of the Season.

 

Manchester United

Last season: 2nd

Summer business:Robin van Persie. Shinji Kagawa. Wonderkid from Crewe. Haven’t yet sold Berbatov, which is a worry. Aging squad needs further refreshment.

van persie manchester united man transfer football rooney soccer arsenal rvp

RVP and Rooney will form one of the League’s best ever strike partnerships, on paper at least

Successful season: RVP stays fit, forms a telepathic partnership with Rooney and beats his previous seasons’ goal tally. United beat City and regain the league title. Competitive Champions League campaign and a domestic cup win.

Disappointing season: RVP returns to his old ways and misses half the season with injury. Rooney left to prop the team up, gains weight and loses his hair again. Kagawa fails to settle and team continues to lack midfield creativity. City win the league at a canter and United end the season trophy-less.

Prediction: 2nd. The addition of van Persie keeps them ahead of Chelsea in the City-challenging crowd. Fergie rarely let’s his teams underperform and this season will be no different. Valencia, Nani, Kagawa and Young mean RVP will have chances in abundance. Strong title challenge.

 

Arsenal

Last season: 3rd

Summer business:Lost captain van Persie to rivals United. Fans despair. Wenger signs well with Podolski, Giroud and the outstanding Cazorla. Wilshere and Diaby working towards fitness.

podolski lucas arsenal german striker

Podolski will be charged with replacing van Persie at Arsenal

Successful season: van Persie’s exit makes room for the new partnership of Giroud and Podolski. Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain offer deadly width and pace to tear teams apart on the counter attack. Cazorla becomes the new David Silva. Arsenal challenge for the title and put strong building blocks together for next season. Domestic cup win to end trophy-less streak.

Disappointing season: Another trophy-less season. Without van Persie, the team struggles for goals. Giroud fails to adapt and Podolski plays like he did at Euro 2012. Cazorla has no one to pass to except Walcott, who still hasn’t learnt to shoot. Fall behind Spurs in the final standings.

Prediction: 4th. Santi Cazorla is the signing of the summer so far (value for money). A lot depends on how the new forwards adapt to the Premier League. Season will be seen as transitional after losing the Dutchman. Fans will be on Wenger’s back, unfairly so.

 

Tottenham Hotspur

Last season: 4th

Summer business:Two good signings in Vertonghen and Sigurdsson, but the impending departure of Modric to Madrid weakens the starting XI. Moutinho is lined up as the ideal replacement but yet to be agreed. Andre Villas-Boas in for Harry Redknapp brings an entirely new management style – aesthetically at least, the move to handsome young manager from a blushing scrotum shows progress.

andre villas boas tottenham hotspur avb spurs new manager redknapp football soccer

AVB takes over from Redknapp at Tottenham

Successful season: AVB settles quickly into the hot seat and continues the Tottenham tradition of bold attacking football. Tottenham outscore their opponents and challenge for the top four again. They will see RVP’s departure as a chance to leapfrog Arsenal into the Champions League slots.

Disappointing season: The defensive frailties that plagued Villas-Boas’ Chelsea side reoccur and his Spurs team to concede too many goals. With no attacking spearhead, Tottenham create chances but struggle to finish them, and drop out of the European places altogether. AVB is sacked for a second consecutive season and goes to manage Inter.

Prediction: 5th. This will largely depend on AVB’s ability to bring in a striker to lead the line. The permanent move of Adebayor is still in the pipeline, but alternative options are dwindling. The Portuguese needs to move fast, as Defoe won’t be able to carry this team on his own. Expect lots of classic Villas-Boas squats.

 

Newcastle United

Last season: 5th

Summer business:A few minor signings, nothing like the headlines of Cabaye and Cisse of previous windows. Keeping hold of their best players is an achievement in itself.

hatem ben arfa newcastle united soccer midfielder football

Ben Arfa will need to be at his best to get Newcastle into Europe again next season

Successful season: A strong squad with plenty of talent that is mentally stronger for last year’s experience kicks on. Key players stay fit and lead Newcastle to another European-qualifying finish, with hopes of a good run in this season’s Europa League.

Disappointing season: Cisse gets injured, Ba struggles and Newcastle are light on goals. The best XI is good, but the squad is shallow and a long campaign domestically and in Europe takes its toll and the Magpies limp to a mid table finish. Stars like Ben Arfa and Cabaye leave in January.

Prediction: 7th. With Liverpool and Chelsea seemingly stronger than last season, Newcastle will struggle to match a 5th place finish. 7th would be solid and Pardew could seek further squad investment next summer knowing he has built a consistent European standard team.

 

Chelsea

Last season: 6th

Summer business:Busy. Eden Hazard signs for $100bn. Younger brother Thorgan signs for a packet of sweets. Marin and Oscar provide more attacking midfield options. Drogba leaves to run riot in the Chinese Super League. Essien continues his post-injury hibernation.

eden hazard chelsea midfielder soccer football new signing lille

Hazard is expected to hit the ground running at Chelsea

Successful season: Torres finds form, fed by a midfield full of attacking flair and invention. New players blend seamlessly into the squad and score for fun. Chelsea mount a title challenge and have a good go at retaining the Champions League. Retaining the FA Cup would be a bonus. Hazard named Young Player of the Year and tops the league’s assist table.

Disappointing season: Torres finds no form. New team of flair midfielders are stifled by Di Matteo’s defensive tactics and the team looks disjointed. Unable to keep up with the Manchester clubs and make little impact in the cups, RDM is sacked before the season’s end.

Prediction: 3rd. Chelsea have spent the most of all English clubs and it should show. Torres looks on hot form after Euro 2012. Di Matteo builds around defensive stability and needs the midfield provide Torres with the chances to hit 30+ goals this season. Title challenge, good cup runs, possibly one domestic cup win but a strong season overall.

 

Liverpool

Last season: 8th

Summer business:Kenny “stuck in the past” Dalglish leaves, Brendan Rodgers comes in. A couple of summer signings but nothing ground-breaking. Major talking point has been Rodgers seemingly casting out £35m man Andy Carroll.

fabio borini liverpool striker signs brendan rodgers

Borini adds much-needed firepower to the Liverpool attack

Successful season: Rodgers gets the team playing attractive football which the fans haven’t seen for years. Suarez and Borini form a strong combination, with Carroll also used in rotation. Joe Cole remembers how to play football. Solid push for Champions League places. Cup run to a final.

Disappointing season: More of the same. The team relies on Reina-Agger-Gerrard-Suarez spine too heavily and squad can’t cope with injuries. Another slump into mid table and no cup runs of note. More unrest, and Rodgers isn’t given time to implement his philosophy. Jay Spearing is relied upon. Glen Johnson is asked to performance defensive duties.

Prediction: 6th. Rodgers is a likeable manager who will engage players and fans alike with attacking, creative football. It may take time to organise a team around his philosophy, so don’t expect too much in his first season.

 

Predicted final table:

premier league prediction 2012 2013 english football

Chelsea’s Fantastic Four: 2012-13

With Roberto Di Matteo on the verge of completing a deal for Brazilian wonderkid Oscar, we preview how Chelsea’s attack might look as they seek to retain the Champions League and challenge Manchester City for the Premier League.

Chelsea team 2012 2013 hazard torres mata oscar lampard ramires

How Chelsea could line up for the 2012-13 season

The key to the above formation is the ability of Lampard and Ramires to provide a stable enough central partnership to allow the front four the freedom to play fluid passing football without worrying too much about their defensive responsibilities.

 

“The centre of the park”

Lampard

We all know ‘Fat Frank’ isn’t the player he used to be, and he certainly won’t hit 20 goals-a-season anymore. However, a look north to how Fergie has employed diminutive ginger Paul Scholes in a ‘Pirlo’ role should give you all the justification you need that Lampard should retain his place in the centre of Chelsea’s midfield.

Lampard possesses an eye for a pass and composure in his decision making that make him a valuable part of this formation. With more experience than the rest of the midfield/attack, he can orchestrate the forwards, giving guidance to the youthful Oscar/Hazard/Mata combination further up the pitch.

 

Ramires

The engine room of this Chelsea side – Ramires has the stamina of Dirk Kuyt, but thankfully isn’t cursed with the same technical ability. His role in this side would be to compensate for Lampard’s lack of mobility and cover as much ground defensively as possible.

Alternatively, against stronger opposition, the central pairing could become a three with Oscar (or whoever the AMC is) sacrificed and David Luiz being employed as a defensive midfielder behind Lampard and Ramires. Luiz could also replace Lampard if a bit of erratic defending interspersed with attacking brilliance is what RDM is looking for.

 

“The Fantastic Four”

Oscar

The skillful and highly-rated Brazilian is somewhat of a gamble for Chelsea (if they indeed manage to complete his signing, as expected). However, he will offer invention that Lampard and Ramires don’t, and has the potential to play in a fluid attacking trident with Mata and Hazard either side, behind Torres. His ability to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League will determine how successful he can be in England.

In the event that Chelsea fail to complete a deal for Oscar, they may choose to move Mata inside and give Daniel Sturridge the wide attacking role. Or just splash some more деньги in search of another wonderkid (Ganso).

 

Mata

In the 2011-12 Premier League season, Juan Mata created 102 goal scoring opportunities. Only David Silva (104) created more.

The beauty of Mata’s play is his typically Spanish movement; he glides across the pitch and, much City’s prolific assist-maker, creates space for himself. His ability to turn, dribble and find a pass under immense pressure makes him key to Chelsea’s attack, and with increased creativity around him this season he should get even better.

 

Hazard

No one quite knows what the cocksure Belgian will deliver in the blue of Chelsea. There’s no doubting his ability, but his mentality could be called into question when he realises defenders like Vidic and Kompany won’t be as forgiving as those he faced in Ligue 1.

What Hazard will benefit from at Chelsea is the increased level (mentally and technically) of the players around him. The above formation allows Mata and Hazard to interchange positions in a way that Roman’s men haven’t done since the days of Robben and Duff. Constant movement between the two wide players will either leave one of them free, or expose space for Torres and Oscar to exploit.

 

Torres

Possibly the most important piece of this jigsaw is the Spanish number 9. With Drogba gone, Torres is RDM’s main man this season. This season will decide whether he climbs to the lofty heights of his days under Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, or is cast off as another failed Abramovich forward (see Kezman, Shevchenko).

His form in the Euros showed (in the little time he had) that under the right circumstances he can still be a lethal finisher. With a wealth of creative talent behind him, this season could potentially be his most fruitful yet. If he fails to find form, Hazard’s Belgium teammate and devourer of books Romelu Lukaku is waiting for his chance to shine.

 

City, be afraid. Or don’t, as you have Aguero. But everyone else…be afraid! Chelsea are back!

 

Falcao and Torres – contrasting fortunes of two of Europe’s very best

falcao torres atletico chelsea

Falcao and Torres: two players of arguably similar ability who have been going through remarkably different runs of form

Radamel Falcao

radamel falcao goal v braga

Falcao possesses outstanding heading ability despite only being 5’10”

The greasy haired Columbian has gone from strength to strength in the past three seasons. Fans of South American football and Football Manager alike will know him from his days at River Plate, where he showed signs of extraordinary talent but where injury prevented him from hitting the top level.

In 2009 he was signed by FC Porto for a bargain €3.9m and immediately made an impact, scoring 34 goals in all competitions. It was the 2010/11 season where he really grabbed the wider attention of Europe with his performances in Andre Villa-Boas’ all-conquering Porto team, including a record 17 goals in 14 UEFA Europa League games as Porto blitzed their way to European glory.

falcao celebrates goal europa league final athletic bilbao

Falcao celebrates his second goal in a 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final, and becomes the first player ever to win consecutive Europa Leagues with different teams

Falcao was signed by Atletico Madrid in 2011 for around €40m to replace the Man City-bound Sergio Agüero. In another record breaking season – this time as the most potent debut-season goal scorer in Atletico history – Falcao hit 36 goals in all competitions; 24 in La Liga, finishing 3rd in the race for the Pichichi behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

On 19th May 2012 in a friendly against America de Cali, Falcao scored an overhead scissor kick which is already being touted as one of the greatest goals of all time – you really do have to see it to believe it (below).

With David Villa suffering from injuries and reportedly unhappy at Barcelona, and with Higuain looking likely to sign for Serie A Champions Juventus, Falcao could well be tempted by one of the Spanish Giants.
A transfer to city rivals Real would be convenient for his lifestyle and Madrid could certainly afford the transfer, whilst their style of play would likely suit his poacher’s style better than Barcelona’s total football which would require him to constantly drop deep for the ball.

Further, with Manchester City looking to sell Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez, and Chelsea’s possible departures including Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres, Atletico will not be short of interest this summer. However, any potential suitor would have to offer in the region of €60m to persuade Atletico to part with their prized asset.

Judging by his performances in these past three seasons, he could well be worth every penny.

Fernando Torres

Although he showed signed of re-discovering his form this season, Torres remains a shadow of his former self. A £50m signing from Liverpool, he has suffered with injuries and lack of confidence both domestically and at international level for 2 years now.

fernando torres chelsea upset transfer champions league

Fernando Torres has been a forlorn figure at Chelsea since his £50m transfer

Improved performances under Roberto Di Matteo this season culminated in coming off the bench to score against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and Torres seemed to have his swagger back. He was, however, left out of the Champions League Final line up against Bayern Munich – confined to a substitute’s role in the latter stages of the game. He again showed his worth to the team by playing as a right-sided forward, supporting Drogba where possible and doubling up on Ivica Olic in defense. Indeed, it was his persistence that earned the corner from which Drogba equalised.

torres goal barcelona chelsea nou camp champions league

Torres rounds Victor Valdes at the Nou Camp to seal Chelsea’s place in the Champions League final

As extra time ended, Torres seemed disgruntled when he volunteered to take a penalty in the shootout, but Di Matteo decided not to use him.

After the game he spoke to Guillem Balague and said he’ll be reviewing his future this summer:

Torres:

“It’s contradictory because I feel like I’m at a peak moment in my career, with more desire and hunger than I’ve felt in a long time, but I’ve had to spend the final on the bench. It was a huge disappointment when I saw the line-up, perhaps the biggest in my life”

“I’ve felt like they treated me in a way that I didn’t expect, not in the way that was spoken of when they signed me. We’ve had a lot of talks and we’ll talk about my future because the role I’ve had this season is not for me.”

“I’m not comfortable. I want them to tell me what is going to happen in the future. Now I do feel like football is worth it but I’ve been through a difficult time; the worst in my career. I don’t want that again. There’s been many times when I’ve felt lost, I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt like I didn’t know where I belonged. I’m eternally grateful to my family who have been by my side and also for the support of the owners who have stuck by me. And especially to the fans, if it hadn’t been for them this season I would have given up.”

“I need the club to tell me what is going to happen and what sort of role I will have within the team, what my duties are, what the club expects of me. And then judge whether it is worth it.”

Balague described his interview with Torres; “I found Fernando Torres troubled, wounded. Nobody wants to hear this, but he is a young man under lots of pressure.

torres champions league win chelsea celebrate juan mata

Torres celebrates the Champions League win with Juan Mata – but his post-match comments suggest he is far from happy

Torres is now 28 and realistically has 4 good seasons left in him. He should now be at his peak and I truly believe that he has the potential to be a top striker for many seasons to come. He now boasts Champions League, European Championship and World Cup medals to his name, and he may want another crack at the Premier League to complete his collection.

However, he clearly isn’t settled at Chelsea and he would perhaps be worth a risk for another top European team. It remains to be seen whether Chelsea would cut their losses, but an offer in the region of £25m would give them something to think about.

A lot will depend on whether Di Matteo continues at the helm, and if Didier Drogba has done enough to earn a contract extension. If the Ivorian does leave the club along with Di Matteo, Torres’ future will hinge on who the new manager is and how he intends to use the Spaniard next season. If Abramovich does decide to discard Di Matteo, he could do worse than to hire Rafa Benitez if he wants to get a return on his £50m investment in Torres.

Interview quotes courtesy of guillembalague.com via Twitter @GuillemBalague

Who will be the next Aston Villa manager?

No words can describe how relieved Villa fans were on Monday when the news of Alex McLeish’s sacking broke and finally gave us something to cheer. Suffice to say that #McLeishOutParty was a popular hashtag from around 8.30am as rumours of his imminent departure circulated.

It was a glorious day to be a Villa fan, especially on Twitter. Slowly but surely information started to leak out of the club. It was finally confirmed (unofficially) by Stan Collymore at around 3pm who claimed to have spoken to McLeish via text message.

collymore twitter

Stan Collymore announced the news on Twitter yesterday

The official club line arrived shortly after and a collective Claret and Blue cheer arose.

I could happily sit here and smash out expletive after expletive on ‘Eck’s reign at Villa until my fingers become mashed into the keyboard (it would be worth the pain), but I am aware that most reading this blog will be aware of Villa fans’ feelings towards McUnt so we’ll leave it there. It’s done, we’re happy, let’s move on.

So, who next for Villa? Who will be lured by the promise of impatient fans? Who will be tempted by the sky-high expectations which our revenues can’t match?

If you believe some Villa fans (do so at your peril) we ‘must’ be looking towards Andre Villas-Boas (possibly slightly over-qualified, I’d argue) or someone of that calibre. Yeah…right. Anyway, here are the bookies favourites as it stands.

The ‘Big’ Three

paul lambert villa

Lambert – the bookies favourite

Paul Lambert (15/8 favourite)

After a successful season guiding the league’s most inoffensive team (barring the hideous kit) to a comfortable 12th place finish in their return to the Premier League, including a final day 2-0 win over Villa, Paul Lambert is the bookies (and fans) choice to succeed McLeish. Known for developing players who look shite on paper into an organised and attacking outfit, Lambert seems the perfect fit for Villa. He may feel he has taken Norwich as far as he can and might bail out before Delia hits the Vodka during a relegation-battling ‘difficult second season’.

Mick McCarthy (2/1)

A surge of betting on the former Wolves boss pushed him to 2nd favourite on Tuesday. He seems to have all the credentials to be Randy Lerner’s next appointment – angry, tactically useless, blissfully unaware of the aesthetic merits of the game, and (effectively if not technically) condemned his team to relegation this season. I will literally soil myself if he is appointed, and not in a good way.

Roberto Martinez (11/4)

roberto martinez villa

Martinez – would he refuse for a 2nd consecutive year?

A spirited end to the season saw Wigan climb above Villa to finish 15th, eventually a lofty 7 points clear of relegation. The charming Spaniard plays attacking football which the Villa fans would enjoy (at least for a few games until the novelty wears off). However, he has flirted dangerously with relegation for two seasons running and is far from a proven performer in the upper echelons of management – not that this is something Villa have to worry about for the moment. In fact, two consecutive relegation escapes makes him a very attractive prospect.

Some Outsiders

Gus Poyet (20/1)

The man utterly incapable of pronouncing consonants (“Aayy soo wha di yoo thin abow da game?”) is building a solid reputation in the Championship with Brighton. After winning the League One title in 2011, they had a good shot at the playoffs but eventually fell away. However, with a seemingly cushy job on the south coast assured (new stadium, solid fanbase and good financial backing), it is unlikely that he will be enticed into the lion’s den at Villa without having one more shot at getting Albion into the big time.

Rafael Benitez (16/1)

I personally can’t see this happening – ‘Rafa’ is suggested for every major job in every major league in Europe. Essentially, his name is in the mix because he has managed in England before, and he is currently unemployed. However, a career path which follows Tenerife, Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan with Aston Villa doesn’t seem right. Many expect Benitez to bide his time for a top La Liga role or, potentially, another stint in England. Don’t rule out a return to Liverpool when Dalglish finally gets found out.

Avram Grant (25/1)

avram grant lookalike face

Grant – too much skin for a human

The human scrotum has never enjoyed a particularly fruitful relationship with the English media (due to having the charisma of a discarded, crusty tissue) and I can’t imagine him impressing in an interview with Randy Lerner. Having said that – McLeish managed to convince him so you never know what might happen.

Dion Dublin (66/1)

Oh God, please let this happen, just for comedy value. If he were to bring Steve Stone, Ian Taylor and Boško Balaban as his backroom staff it would just be wonderful. Actually, I hope I have one of those super-realistic dreams about this so I can experience the hilarity without it actually happening.

On first glance, my preference would be Paul Lambert, and all signs point to this being Lerner’s first choice. However, should he turn the offer I think I have an alternative. My preference, in this scenario, would be Vincenzo Montella.

vincenzo montella villa manager

Montella – could he be the surprise appointment?

Now just 37, Montella was a legend at AS Roma and joined their staff as youth coach after he retired. He was promoted to First Team coach to undo the mistakes made by the batty Claudio Ranieri. However, his career there was cut short when new American ownership decided to install their very own mini-Guardiola (Luis Enrique) instead.

Subsequently, Montella has taken over at Catania and surpassed expectations at the Sicilian club. Widely touted as relegation candidates, Montella led the team to a comfortable mid-table finish. In fact, only a couple of sloppy end-of-season results prevent the Sicilians making a challenge on the Europa League qualification spots.

At a time when Villa need a charismatic, inspiring manager to rejuvenate both the players and the fans, the sharply-dressed Montella could be that man. It is certainly the trend to have young managers who can relate to the players (see Guardiola, Di Matteo, AVB to some extent) and I’d love to have the slick Italian at Villa Park. It is possible that his English isn’t good enough to manage in the Premier League at the moment, but that didn’t stop the F.A. taking on Fabio Capello. On second thoughts, maybe that isn’t the best example…

Follow me on Twitter @SoccerSagacity

Odds courtesy of SkyBet.com via OddsChecker.com

Protests planned at Villa Park as fans push for action against McLeish

Sunday will see Aston Villa fans stage a mass protest against persona non grata Alex McLeish in an attempt to persuade the board that he is not the man for the job (if any further evidence was needed).

mcleish out flyer aston villa protest spurs

‘McLeish Out’ flyer to be handed out on Sunday

With 2 games remaining, Villa look to have done enough to secure Premier League status for next season. Blackburn are all-but consigned to relegation, and it seems that it will be one of either Bolton or QPR joining them. Somewhat fortunately, Villa have a vastly superior goal difference to the teams below them (with a comparatively triumphant -14, compared to Wigan’s -22, QPR’s -23 and Bolton’s -31).

barclays premier league relegation zone

The bottom of the Barclays Premier League – sorry viewing for Villa fans

It says a lot for the work of McLeish that I’m even talking in these terms. Comparing Villa to the dross of the Premier League is embarrassing and depressing.

We’re two places and seven points behind Stoke City. STOKE CITY! This is a team who employs two of my most hated players – Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross – and whose kingpin is the only man ever to wear a baseball cap on the sidelines at Wembley and champion of The Ugly Game, Tony Pulis.

Under Martin O’Neill, Villa finished sixth for three seasons in a row. Now, we sit 15th and – in terms of points –  are over nine times further from the European places than we are from the relegation zone.

You can argue that McLeish inherited a worse group of players than MO’N, and that O’Neill’s elaborate spending is partly to blame for this shameful season. I can now only dream of an all-England midfield of Downing (as much as I loathe him), Barry, Milner, and Young. Such a team was only sustainable for a certain length of time given the club’s moderate revenues. However, there are many reasons why McLeish has himself to blame and why, indeed, we Villa fans hate him oh so much. [I was going to say ‘have grown to hate him’ but there really was no ‘growing’ period].

aston villa mcleish welcome protest

Welcome to Aston Villa – the day McLeish arrived

Firstly, the appointment was always the wrong one. I don’t know a single Villa fan that was happy with McLeish joining from relegated rivals Small Heath. Even the widely maligned Steve McLaren would have divided option if appointed, but McLeish drew no support. I remember the day I found out about it; it’s what psychologists call a Flashbulb Memory – a vivid and deeply embedded memory due to a heightened state of emotional and neurological arousal (in this case, rage).

I was on holiday in Cyprus and a beautiful 35°c day was ruined when I picked up an English paper at a local shop, turned to the back cover and saw the ginger haired Scot holding up the claret and blue ‘1’ shirt. I felt physically sick. My girlfriend looked confused as I slammed the paper down in disgust. There is no way you can explain this kind of feeling to someone who doesn’t care about football.

To clarify, it’s not that he managed the scum down the road – it’s that he got them relegated TWICE playing the kind of football that wouldn’t look out of place in amateur Sunday league matches. I was laughed at by Birmingham fans (yes you, Dan Marsh) when he was appointed. I’m pretty sure I was told “you can look forward to the dullest football you’ve ever seen”. They couldn’t believe their luck that we had paid £3m compensation for him. To quote another Birmingham fan, “he was our third biggest source of income that summer”.

I was slightly encouraged when McLeish signed Charles N’Zogbia to replace Ashley Young, as I’ve always rated N’Zogbia. However, his complete inability to play N’Zogbia in the right style of play/position brings me onto my next point – tactical incompetency.

When Villa are drawing or losing, the Ginge brings off experienced players like N’Zogbia, Agbonlahor and Ireland and throws on inexperienced youngsters like Weimann, Bannan and Carruthers. To their credit, these youngsters have done a solid job of making the step up to the senior team, but the pressure to score at any cost and salvage a point can’t do their confidence any good, let alone benefit the team.

aston villa protest banner bolton

The fans make their voices heard during the game against Bolton

McLeish is utterly incapable of getting the best out of players. O’Neill was a great motivator and managed to drain every last drop of potential out of average players like Stewart Downing.
McLeish insists on tinkering with players’ positions. Heskey – possibly the most useless player I’ve ever seen hold down a first team place at Villa – has been employed more regularly as a wide midfielder than a CF. If there is one player in history that is not a wide midfielder, it’s Emile Heskey. Hutton too has been used in a midfield capacity. Odd, considering the man has the technical ability of a drunk Pascal Cygan.

Agbonlahor is another who has been completely misused by McChump. Agbonlahor thrives on through balls in behind the defence; balls that divide the full backs from the centre backs and give slower players like Carragher and even Vidic nightmares.  Instead, Villa have played short, slow football which inevitably results in a desperate long ball when the team run out of ideas.

I can imagine this team under O’Neill; it would have deployed N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor either side of Bent, both players left to ‘get chalk on their boots’ and with a remit to provide Bent with 25+ goals a season, plus chipping in 5-15 each themselves.

miserable aston villa mcleish

McLeish – as miserable as the fans at Villa

There are many other reasons why the fans have long had enough of McLeish’s dreary ways, a few of which are worth noting briefly.

Firstly, the perennial excuses are tiresome and many fans would applaud a bit of honesty rather than blaming the injuries, the lack of experience or the bad fortune.

Also, any manager worth his salt can motivate a team when relegation is looming. Look at the way Martinez has changed Wigan’s fortunes, winning 5 of their last 10, losing just 3. Villa, on the other hand, have won just one game in 10 – only rock-bottom Wolves are on a worse run.

Then there is the lack of squad harmony. N’Zogbia has tweeted about not enjoying his football, whilst Bent has been seen out shopping whilst Villa are playing. This week, 3 players were fined for a brawl outside a nightclub less than a week before the penultimate game of the season. Whilst the players must take some responsibility, ultimately McLeish has lost control over his squad and commands little respect amongst those associated with the club.

And so the season draws to a close in what has been one of the worst in the club’s recent history. Relegation is still a possibility, and although Bolton’s late surge of 3 wins from 4 games seems to have given them hope of survival, QPR should provide Villa with a safety net (hopefully). It sums up the atmosphere at Villa that I expect no points from these final two desperate games at home to Spurs and away at Norwich.

Some of the many frustrated Villa fans have arranged a protest before and during the game at home to Spurs on Sunday. The protest is due to begin at 13:00 outside Trinity Road Stand near the McGregor statue. Flyers will be distributed around the ground and I would strongly encourage fans to participate if they agree with the view that McLeish should leave for the good of the football club. The flyers are to be held aloft as McTwonk walks from the tunnel to the dugout, and frankly at every opportunity.

Personally, I’d like to see a mass protest inside the stadium for a really dramatic effect. The best idea I’ve come up with would involve everyone turning their back to the pitch for 2 minutes of play and standing in silence. At the end of the silence, everyone turns back around and starts chanting “We want Alex out, we want Alex out”. However, football fans are difficult to coordinate so let’s start with the flyers and see how we get on.

To support the protests, follow @SoccerSagacity and @McLeish_Out on Twitter.

sack mcleish aston villa

‘Almost End of Season’ Premier League Awards – Part One

With the Premier League title surely heading to Old Trafford again this season (barring a complete and utter capitulation from United in the remaining six games); it’s time for the inaugural ‘Soccer Sagacity Almost End of Season Barclays Premier League Awards’ (catchy, right?).

Award winners

Award Winners (left to right): Aguero, Carroll, Newcastle (Pardew), Liverpool (Dalglish), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tevez

Signing of the season – Sergio Agüero

Since arriving at Man City for £38m from Atlético Madrid last summer, Sergio Agüero has been a revelation in the Premier League. After a sensational debut from the substitute’s bench – scoring twice and setting up one in a 4-0 win against Swansea – ‘Kun’ has gone on to score 19 goals in 31 games for City. Mancini has relied upon Agüero to get him through issues with all the other strikers on the books at Eastlands. Adebayor has been shipped to Tottenham; Balotelli with his IQ of 17 seems more interested in his girlfriend and bathroom-based fireworks than football; Džeko started the season well but now seems to have the manoeuvrability of a cruise liner; and Carlos Tevez is, well, Carlos Tevez.

Through all of these sub-plots and dramas, Agüero has been the driving force behind City’s title challenge. Fast and determined, strong and agile; Agüero possesses all the physical and mental attributes to be a world class striker. Coupled with (almost) Messi-like close control, potent finishing ability and perfectly shaped hair, Agüero has been arguably City’s best signing under the reign of Sheikh Mansour. Oddly for a Manchester City forward, he also seems to possess a level of humility and composure which should serve him well under the media spotlight of the Premier League.

Flop of the season – Andy Carroll

Carroll narrowly pips Jordan Henderson to the title of “biggest waste of money” this season (and perhaps in football history, given the £35m transfer fee). Some will argue Fernando Torres should take this accolade, but I would strongly refuse this suggestion on two counts. Firstly, as he has begun to show recently, Torres is still a top class player despite a dip in form (I’ll resist the cliché). Secondly, Andy Carroll’s hair offends me, as does his fuzzy stubble and his general yobbish demeanour.

Carroll’s biggest attributes are heading, ‘hold-up play’ and ‘occasionally hitting a decent shot but generally scuffing it wide’. This reminds me of my least-favourite player of recent years – Emile Heskey. Heskey was a £3.5m flop signing for Villa, so where does this leave £35m Andy Carroll? Let’s put it this way, Newcastle’s starting XI has a cumulative transfer fee total of less than that of Andy Carroll alone, and Newcastle are pushing for a top-four finish whilst Liverpool are only 3 points ahead of Norwich. And no; a winning goal in injury time against lowly Blackburn doesn’t change my mind on this award.

Most improved club – Newcastle United

Alan Pardew’s arrival at St James’ Park was hardly a popular decision, as the likeable and honest Chris Hughton was shown the door. Yet Pardew has reinvigorated the club, aided by the departures of Jose Enrique and the aforementioned ponytail-wearer to Liverpool and the arrival of ambitious, talented players like Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cissé, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba.

Newcastle continue to surprise and have a very real chance of pipping underperforming Chelsea to 5th spot, whilst a sustained challenge for fourth will be challenging but is still entirely possible. They are perhaps a little unfortunate that there will be one less Europa League place available via the Premier League standings following Liverpool’s League Cup win. Sunderland supporters aside, you’ve got to like Newcastle for their passionate and dedicated fan base and the way they’ve recovered from relegation to the Championship to be a side chasing European football.

Underperformer of the season – Liverpool

“King Kenny” has successfully lead Liverpool to their first silverware in six years; a magical League Cup triumph which will surely tempt Europe’s greatest players to descent upon Anfield in the summer. However, Dalglish has decided not to inspire his team for Premier League games. I’m pretty sure that if I had bet £1 on a draw every time Liverpool played at home this year, I’d have lots of pounds.

Liverpool’s blueprint for success has been ingenious: sign overrated, overpriced British (wherever possible) players. I won’t mention the long-haired thug again, so we’ll look towards Jordan Henderson (£20m), Stewart “gutless” Downing (£20m) and Glen Johnson (£17m). Captain and talisman – and the man who dives regularly but never gets criticised by the English press – Steven Gerrard has been injured and will have more of an influence in the dressing room than on the pitch in the coming seasons. Arguably the best player under the Dalglish reign has been the cheating, diving, moaning racist Luis Suarez. In its current situation, Liverpool Football Club is a shadow of its former self and requires a major overhaul if things are to improve next season.

One to watch next season – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

When the mop-headed Ivorian winger Gervinho headed for the Africa Cup of Nations in January, Arsene Wenger was left with Andrei Arshavin to fill the wide position. Unfortunately, after a promising first season at Arsenal, the indolent little Russian doesn’t much fancy England or indeed the Premier League.

Step up, erm, the young man with the long name. “The Ox” has made quite an impact in his first dozen Arsenal appearances, even in the Champions League. Confident, direct and skilful with pace that would leave Usain Bolt eating Chicken McNuggets in his dust (possibly), Oxlade-Chamberlain has the potential to be one of Arsenal’s and England’s most dangerous attacking players for many years to come. Think Theo Walcott, but with some control over his feet.

One to sell next season – Carlos Tevez

Although the limelight has recently been hogged by the über-talented über-moronic Mario Balotelli, we should not forget the original idiot of Eastlands. The Carlos Tevez saga has been well documented and does not need re-telling, so I will summarise by rhetorically asking; in what other profession could someone on a £10m-a-year contract get away with leaving work without approval, to return to their native country to eat kebabs and play golf, and then be welcomed back into the job with minimal punishment a few months later?

The disruptive Argentine has returned to first team action purely to be seen in the metaphorical shop window, and will be shipped out of City to the highest bidder this summer. Whilst Balotelli must also either get his act together or move on, he has time on his side and I’m sure his madness is nothing that a little Skinnerian conditioning can’t resolve (“Mario, you’ve been bad, go sit in the reject corner with Hargreaves and Santa Cruz and eat sand”).

Got an award you’d like to give or seen a winner here that you don’t agree with? Leave a comment!

Part Two coming soon…

Villas-Boas becomes sixth managerial casualty of Abramovich era

Andre Villas-Boas was today sacked by Chelsea after just nine months in the job. With The Blues languishing in 5th place, 20 points off leaders Manchester City, Abramovich has wielded the axe for the sixth time in his nine-year tenure at the London club. The change in management will certainly please Lampard and co. who never bonded with Villas-Boas in the way they did Jose Mourinho, or to a lesser extent Carlo Ancelotti. However, questions must be asked of Abramovich after yet another manager fails to meet his exceptionally-high standards.

This Chelsea squad is in need of a complete rebuild, and that is what AVB should have been allowed to oversee for many years. Teams in transition will inevitably suffer from a dip in form and fortunes – just ask Arsene Wenger. The problem that Villas-Boas had from the start was that he was never totally in control at Chelsea. The club’s failure to generate home-grown talent from their Cobham training ground led to substantial investment in promising young European players. However, these signings were often not selected by AVB but by the powers above. In the January transfer window, Chelsea announced the signing of exciting Belgian winger Kevin de Bruyne from Genk – a move that the Londoners had been working on for over 6 months. Upon announcement of the deal, Villas-Boas commented:

It’s a target that’s decided by the club…it’s the club policy for the future. I’m a manager who respects club policy. A club has to look to the future, whether it’s with this manager or another.

The signing of de Bruyne followed deals to bring Romelu Lukaku, Oriol Romeu, Thibaut Courtois, Lucas Piazon and Juan Mata to Chelsea. Whilst well over £60m was spent bringing these players in, only Mata and Romeu have made an impact on the first team squad. Indeed, de Bruyne and Courtois were immediately loaned out to gain further experience, whilst Lukaku and Piazon have been largely confined to the reserve team. This recruitment policy clearly points to the future, as did the signing of the hottest young manager in Europe (at a cost of £13.3m) following a season in which his Porto side went unbeaten in the league (only the second Portuguese team in history to acheive this feat) and completed a phenomenal quadruple. Yet the London club seem to have backed out of this plan less than a year into Villas-Boas’ contract. Which begs the question – why employ him if he isn’t going to be given time to rebuild the team around his own tactics and style?

The odds have been stacked against the Portuguese since day one. Chelsea have been without direction and clarity for several years, and there is no greater evidence of this than the signing of Fernando Torres. Another Abramovich decision (despite the approval of then-manager Carlo Ancelotti) – Torres joined Chelsea for £50m despite more than a year riddled with injury and poor form for club and country. If ever there was striker to build a team around, it is Fernando Torres. Quick and agile, he is an instinctive finisher who thrives on high tempo attacking play and dissecting through balls. Instead, Chelsea left him up front whilst Ancelotti played slow, methodical possession football. Torres spent his first six months at Chelsea being dropped in and out of the team as a lone striker, then alongside Drogba, then out wide in a trident attack. His confidence already down from a year of injuries, he became a shadow of his former self.
Underperformers like Anelka and Alex left, and the club invested in Gary Cahill as a long-term replacement for the ailing John Terry. However, the senior players were not happy with Villas-Boas and private issues soon became public. The young players Villas-Boas had brought in would take time to develop, and he needed time to work with these players and raise them to play ‘the AVB way’. The club needed to trust in his tactis, his methods, and his vision.
Young players like Lukaku and Courtois are ready-made replacements for Drogba and Cech respectively, whilst de Bruyne is showing signs of being the winger Chelsea have missed since Arjen Robben left for Madrid. Aging players like Lampard, Terry, Lampard and Drogba are past their prime and yet continue to dominate the club, still basking in their Mourinho-built ‘Legend’ status. What Villas-Boas needed was the club’s full support when senior players openly criticised his team selection and tactics. Instead, all he got was a telling silence.

In a time when the club needed to support their talented, charismatic young manager in building a new-look team for the decade ahead, Abramovich has again hit the panic button. With Guus Hiddink recently lured to Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea haven’t got a replacement in mind. Di Matteo has been put in charge until the season’s conclusion but will not command much more respect than the outgoing manager. Mourinho is certain to return to England in the summer, and will be the leading contender for the permanent job in the eyes of many Chelsea fans. His relationship with the Russian owner may well be the decisive factor in whether or not he makes a sensational return.

Villas-Boas will surely not be short of options when he is ready for a return to managerial action. With Harry Redknapp ready to take the England hotseat for the European Championships in June, Villas-Boas might not be selling his London home just yet.

And so Andre Villas-Boas becomes just another chapter in the Chelsea story. Abramovich has tried, tested and rejected the experienced Ancelotti, his personal friend Avram Grant, the enigmatic Luis Felipe Scolari, and now the wonderkid Villas-Boas. Only time will tell if the story is to take the biggest twist of all and lead back to the Special One – Mourinho.