I decided to write a Game week preview focusing on Aston Villa. Having posted the Leader on Monday that included the pre Brighton info I thought I should post another before the weekend. I was going to write a Leader entitled ‘Scapegoat of the Month’. However, in doing some research it soon became evident that it should be called ‘Scapegoat of the Week’. Further research suggested it should be ‘…of the day’ or even ‘…of the hour’. Hence, I decided to pick a different topic as a Leader but here are a few thoughts on scapegoating.
Some of what I have read is ridiculous. One suggestion was that Sanson should start ahead of Luiz against Brighton. I would really love to understand the logic behind this idea. Yes, Sanson could turn out to be a great player for Villa but we haven’t seen him play! A 10-minute cameo when losing 3-1 is not quite enough time to judge a player. Many suggesting Barkley should be dropped. Do people realise that all 10 of Watkins’ goals were scored when Barkley plays? I am not a football analyst, but to me, that suggests Barkley should be starting games when possible.
Give Players Some Time
I harp on a bit about Dean Smith and learning. In one Leader Blog I spoke about the need for ‘continuous improvement’. These attributes are extremely important to AVFC. I think they are also important for some of our fanbase. Last year, the rhetoric was that most of our players were rubbish and a waste of money. Given time and coaching these players are now looking very competent and some are looking really good. Konsa is now attracting the attention of pundits with glowing praise. Last year he was a Championship standard player bought by a Championship manager that was out of his depth. Players can improve. We should learn from this and not go back to the (very recent) days where ‘Jack is just an average player’.
Game Week Preview
As we have now entered the 2nd half of the season I think the games are becoming more and more important. What is our objective for this season? It is clear we have avoided relegation and that our focus now needs to be adjusted up. Well done Smith and the lads! It also appears that we are going to finish in midtable but the big question is where in the midtable. The objective must be to finish as high as we can i.e. 7th. But we should keep in the back of our minds that Champions League qualification is still a possibility but a very long shot.
Midtable Mini League
The focus of my Game Week Preview Leaders will not be the usual list of games with an opinion of the outcome. I intend to focus on how each game impacts Villa with regard to our push to finish 7th and hopefully qualification for the Europa Cup. If you are bored with my midtable mini-league table discussions then it may be an idea not to read this particular set of leader posts.
With this focus, I think it makes sense to start with an updated midtable mini-league table. There is only one change since last time and that is as a result of Leeds beating Palace on Monday night. I am not sure if I mentioned this before, but the start date for this table was when Villa had completed the first half of the season (after 19 games).
Game Week Fixtures
All teams are playing in this game week so there are 10 matches to enjoy. There are some great games for the neutrals and 6 games that directly impact the midtable mini-league.
Palace v Burnley
Palace host Burnley, my preference is to see any result other than a Palace win. But as we are 6 points clear of Palace with 2 games in hand I don’t see them as too much of a threat. As such, I am not too bothered by whatever the result is.
Saints v Wolves
Saints have been on the slide since they reached the summit of the PL back in early November. Their recent results are dire having lost 9-0 to Man Utd and 3-2 to a Newcastle team which only had 9 men at the final whistle. They are 6 points behind us and don’t look capable of mounting a threat to Villa’s position. Wolves, who many expected to be competing for a top 6 place are in last place in the mini-league table. Although I expect Wolves to rise up the table I am comfortable with our 8 point advantage with 2 games in hand. I think another draw would be nice from this game but if there is a winner it is not going to impact us too much.
Arsenal v Leeds
This is a tough game to call in terms of result and in terms of the desired result. Leeds are only 3 points behind us in the mini-league so a win would put them level. We do have a game in hand though. We are 4 points clear of Arsenal so a win for the Gunners will have them only 1 point behind us. With two games in hand over The Gunners, the table suggests I should be looking for an Arsenal win. However, Arsenal scare me a little and I am going to say I would prefer a draw. This would maintain a little points gap over both clubs. However, I think Arsenal will put in a good performance and come away with all 3 points.
Everton v Fulham
Of the 8 teams in the mini-league, I believe it is Everton that poses the most threat to our entry into Europe next season. We have played the same amount of games and they are a 2 points ahead of us having scored 4 points to our 3 points since the halfway mark. Everton host Fulham who have only won 2 games all season and look certain for relegation. This looks like a banker with 3 points for Everton. Anything less than 3 points will be seen as points dropped by them. However, Fulham have 9 draws to go with their 11 losses and they are starting to play some decent football. Any result for Fulham would be a huge bonus to Villa.
Hammers v Blades
This is another game like the Everton game. Hammers in good form against the bottom, and sure to be relegated side, Sheffield United. If The Hammers don’t take 3 points it will be a bad result for them and an opportunity for us to close the gap. The Blades have started to show some form with 2 wins from their last 4 outings. This is a massive improvement considering they had only 1 win from their previous 18 games this season. Although I would love to see an upset I just think The Blades defense is far too weak and all 3 points will remain in London.
Brighton v Aston Villa
Keeping the best to last. Villa travel to Brighton on Saturday evening. This is a game that we really must win if we want to qualify for the Europa. Particularly so as the two teams above us have what look like easy fixtures. We are playing a team from the ‘bottom half’ of the league. Unfortunately, we are playing the team that is top of the bottom half and in a very rich vein of form. Wins against Man Utd and Spurs followed by a draw against Burnley shows just how rich.
This is a very tough fixture and, in normal circumstances, I would think a draw would not be the worst result. However, looking at the midtable mini-league and the other fixtures I believe we need to win this one. Deano will be well aware of this and I hope and expect he approaches the game in the right manner. I am going to put my cash on him to get this right and come away with maximum points.
And The Rest
This game week has 4 other fixtures with 3 of them looking fairly straightforward. I expect City to beat Spurs, Baggies to get thrashed by Man Utd, and Chelsea to have a comfortable win against Newcastle. The fourth game is a game I am looking forward to. Leicester host Liverpool on Sat morning at 12:30. Liverpool are on a dreadful run of games. They have lost the chance of retaining the league title this season and are now competing to actually qualify for Champions League. Away to 3rd placed Leicester is a horrid fixture for them. Lose that and Leicester open up a 4 point gap.
With Chelsea breathing down Liverpool’s neck, one position and one point behind, Liverpool could find themselves in 5th place on Monday night. This is a collapse of Kevin Keegan magnitude. Liverpool were top on Jan 1st. At that time, Man City were 8th and 7 points adrift. If City beat Spurs, and if Leicester beat Liverpool, City will be top and a whopping 13 points clear of Liverpool in 5th. If, as expected The Hammers beat Sheffield Utd, Liverpool could drop to 6th.
Given that it looks like City have won the league and the 3 relegation teams have all but been confirmed, some may say the run-in is boring. For Villa fans, this season is just getting more and more exciting with every game that passes. There is so much play for and so many interesting games to watch. Isn’t football great!