Stuck in a jam

Dave Woodhall on Villa and the predictable.

Villa lost to Manchester United on Friday evening. That was as unsurprising as the fact that there was traffic chaos getting to the game. To stretch the comparison close to breaking point, Villa don’t lose to Manchester United about once every four years and that’s how often there isn’t traffic chaos around the A38 on a Friday night.

The game itself wasn’t a particularly interesting one for the TV-watching public, and a traffic jam wasn’t far off being more interesting at times. This is far from a vintage Manchester United side, and the fact that they will probably finish in the top four shows the paucity of the Premier League. As the song goes, “Greatest in the world, yer ‘avvin’ a laff,” or words to that effect.

Saying that, of course, United didn’t have to do much to beat Villa. They never do. Villa’s record in this fixture is truly appalling, not to mention mystifying. The team have shown that over the years they can raise their game to beat every other club, and boast a record at places such as Anfield and against Chelsea that would do credit to much better sides, but they can never raise their game against Manchester United.

There’s never the fluke goal, debatable decison or battered-for-89-minutes-and-get-a-breakaway-winner that every other club seems to get against everyone else at some stage. It’s not only mystifying, it’s bloody annoying. Anyway, it was United who got the inevitable only goal of the match, and for the next hour and a bit Villa never really looked like equalising.

One benefit of having that lot as your first home game is that it gets it out of the way early. I can see the logic in that line of argument, but this season is one when it would have been much better to be playing them later on. Villa are a work in progress, new arrivals need time to get up to speed and gel together, and in such circumstances playing them in the first week of the season is not a happy combination. This was, after all, only the second game for Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa.

In fact, there are strong parallels to Ron Atkinson and 1991-92. After selling the team’s star player for a massive amount, a handful of new signings started away to a newly-promoted side on the opening day, win that one, turn up at Villa Park for an evening kick-off full of hope and expectation and watch a lifeless Villa side lose by a single goal to Manchester United.

Add in the run of injuries that has started even earlier this year than usual and defeat to such expensively-assembled opponents might not have been acceptable but there was, perhaps, some excuse to be made. If the team are still playing as disjointedly in a couple of months time I’ll start to get worried, but for now let’s look forward to seeing Jack Grealish, Carles Gil and the newly-arrived Adama Traore work their magic.

There’s a week gone of the season, a fortnight to go before the transfer deadline and Villa’s deficiencies are clear. A top-quality goalscorer, maybe a right-back, and it will have been the most promising summer at Villa Park for many a year. We can still live in hope.