The Season So Far
To describe Aston Villa’s 2015-16 season as a disaster would be inaccurate. Sure, they’ve been as good as relegated from the second round of games onwards, and at no point have they looked like a side that would escape the drop. Sure, they went winless in the league from August until the middle of January, avoiding defeat only five times in a run of nineteen games, and even then only drawing those five. Sure, to achieve this they spent rather a lot of money in the summer and will see next to no return on any of their signings.
And sure, they spent the most crucial period of their season under Tim Sherwood, arguably the most offensively moronic manager in the history of the Premier League, if not of all football, if not of all anything. And sure, they just sacked another manager, Remi Garde, whose only task was to Not Be Tim Sherwood.
However, to frame this as just one season of disaster is to overlook a full decade of absolutely horrific mismanagement. Aston Villa’s relegation is not just a result of hiring Sherwood and spending loads of cash on players Tactics Tim didn’t really want, as the papers and Match of the Day crew will have us believe. In reality, it’s a result of Randy Lerner hiring Martin O’Neill and trusting the vastly overrated Northern Irishman with £100m+ to spend on shockingly average players (and eventually allowing O’Neill to increase the wage bill to £71m p/a, at that point 85% of Villa’s turnover).
It’s a result of Villa missing out on the Champions League under O’Neill, and then falling behind when Manchester City’s oil money arrived and sent the top four into another stratosphere. It’s a result of Lerner noticing that his club’s ship had sailed and subsequently cutting the budget drastically, and then hiring a succession of average-at-best managers and asking them to perform miracles. It’s a result of the acceleration of the rest of the Premier League’s also-rans and relegation battlers in recent years.
Above all, it’s a result of dreaming big and failing. Along with Leeds and Portsmouth, Aston Villa briefly lived the dream and now they must face a long, harsh, unforgiving reality in the lower divisions. Along with Leeds and Portsmouth, it might be a while before they’re in the Premier League again.
The Season Ahead
Now that they have no manager it’s difficult to predict how Villa will play, besides saying ‘badly’. Under Sherwood and Garde they experimented with numerous formations, approaches and angles of attack, and nothing has worked.
Of late they’ve played 5-3-1-1/3-5-1-1, with the thought seemingly being that playing two central defenders hasn’t been enough to make them sturdy, so they needed a third, as well as a three-man midfield. The idea has obviously been to at least try and keep things tight and deny their opponents space through the middle, while attempting to create problems for them by countering down the flanks and using the pace of Jordan Ayew and Gabby Agbonlahor in behind. Notably talentless beanpole Rudy Gestede is their Andy Carroll, scoring two or three headers off the bench all season and consequently being regarded if not revered as a Real Threat by co-commentators throughout the land.
Unfortunately, most tactics require work to match talent to succeed and Villa haven’t worked hard for a very long time. Everyone knows what’s coming and no-one really cares enough to try and stop it. If Chelsea have one problem here, it’s that their players don’t really care or have anything to play for either. This could be a hell of a boring game.
Nice stadium, I suppose.
I ran the numbers and I can confirm that Aston Villa 2015-16 are historically bad in all aspects of football.
Improbable captain Micah Richards is a doubt, so Villa may well revert to a conventional 4-2-3-1 and play with Ciaran ‘Own Goal’ Clark and Joleon ‘Sports Car’ Lescott at the back. Alternatively, caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald could select the starting XI via a raffle system. The end result would be no less effective.
As for Chelsea, little change from the norm is expected.
Nothing would be more damning for Chelsea than not winning this game. Somehow, given the way this season has gone, it feels quite likely that they won’t.