Dave Woodhall is starting to query Villa’s title-chasing credentials.
Now the nightmare run of fixtures involving the pre-season title contenders is over we can look back and see which of them is most likely to win the league. I think it’s fair to say it isn’t us.
The last of the quartet arrived at Villa Park on Saturday for a 5.30 date with destiny. There was a time when no matter how bad Manchester City were, as soon as their coach swung through the North Stand gates the players on board were transformed. Clogging defenders transformed into Paolo Maldini. Donkeyesque forwards became imbued with the goalscoring attributes of Gerd Muller. Their mercurial one game a season midfielder knew when his one game would be.
There’s no mystery about it now – they’ve got more money than us and can buy better players. yet again the opposition had someone on the bench who cost more than our entire team. And yet again, Villa had a late change to the team when a player failed to make it past the warm-up, this time Gabby Agbonlahor.
To find a further link with the past, we used to ‘entertain’ visitors from Manchester and, on the whole, match them for an hour or so. Then they’d step up the pace, bring on a couple of subs who were better than anything we’d started with and score twice to kill the game while we went home reflecting on if only that half-chance had gone in or that mistake hadn’t been made. Only the colour of the shirts has changed.
The same thing can be said about this match as last week’s defeat at Chelsea. For Villa, or most other teams, to have any realistic chance of winning games like this with any regularity there has to be a radical overhaul of the way football is run. But while the people in charge of the Premier League bemoan Manchester United’s decline as being bad for business rather than applaud it as improving the competition we have no hope of the status quo altering.
The only thing that we can hope for is a change in tactics. Christian Benteke’s fit now, so there’s even less excuse for the safety-first approach which Paul Lambert has relied on too often. Less than thirty thousand Villa supporters turned up to watch the league champions, with a team containing some of the best players in the world, and even though top prices and live on TV would have pout some off, many others were clearly not persuaded to part with their hard-earned by the prospect of seeing Villa hoping to nick a goal on the break.
We’ve now got two weeks before a trip to Goodison Park, a place where we’ve usually done well over the years. Why Liverpool can be such a happy destination and Manchester so bad is a mystery on a par with the whereabouts of Jores Okore.