Posts Tagged ‘Aston Villa’

After Liverpool’s disappointing 0-0 draw at St Andrew’s this weekend, and Villa’s last-minute defeat at the hands of Stoke, we can see there is a real air of uncertainty around both clubs, but are they really in a state of decline, or just transition?

‘Pool Predicament

Assessing the draw against Birmingham, the Irish Independent carried the headline “What’s wrong with Torres?,” but really, Roy Hodgson’s men have many more problems than just their misfiring Spaniard. Money has been a huge issue for a few years now, with unpopular American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett coming under serious pressure to step down. There seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel when Chinese businessman Kenny Huang showed an interest in buying the club, but that deal has since fallen through. The real problem, however, lies in the lack of top-quality personnel at the club.

Benitez - Under fire from old foe Mourinho

Even Roy Hodgson, who had received so much praise for guiding Fulham to a Europa Cup final with meagre resources, could not have imagined the extent of the challenge he now faces at Anfield. The squad he has inherited from Rafa Benitez is weak in every area of the pitch, and they simply don’t have the money to put it right. In a recent interview, Jose Mourinho fired a parting shot at his successor as Inter coach, saying Benitez had effectively reduced the Liverpool setup to mere also-rans, saying “It is very difficult for Roy to do it with Liverpool as, over the last few years, they have been getting worse, worse and worse. The Liverpool of 2004 was better than the Liverpool of 2005, 2005 was better than 2006 and 2006 better than 2007.” Strong words indeed, and it’s worth noting that he and Rafa did not always see eye-to-eye, but as The Special One himself says of Hodgson’s new squad; “he needs time and it’s not easy because I don’t think they went in the right direction.”

Mourinho is justified in this statement when we look at the kind of players Benitez has brought in over the last few years. Nabil El Zhar, Ryan Babel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Alberto Aquilani, Philipp Degen and Emiliano Insua have all been costly flops, with Aquilani standing out as one of the worst purchases of the decade. The midfielder, who was supposed to fill the boots of the influential Xabi Alonso, is now back in Italy, on loan to Juventus after making absolutely no impression on the Premier League.

The rare sight of Aquilani in a Liverpool jersey

In fact, the sale of Alonso was a real turning-point in the club’s fortunes. They came 7th in their first season without him, and seem to have bought not one, but two players – Christian Poulson and Raul Meireles – to replace him. Whether either can combine with Steven Gerrard in the way the Spaniard did remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely. Both of these new recruits are dogged, holding midfielders, so it seems unlikely that they will have the same passing vision or guile in the final third of the pitch.

On top of this, the free signing of Joe Cole this summer already seems to have been a typically disappointing Liverpool venture. Cole hasn’t hit anything close to his best form since his West Ham days, and that wasn’t today or yesterday. Lucas, Dirk Kuyt, Milan Jovanovich and Maxi Rodriguez make up the rest of their underwhelming midfield. So, when Torres and Gerrard are playing badly, which they have been for quite some time, where can they turn to for inspiration? Martin Skrtel?

So, what about Villa?

With Gerard Houllier taking over this week, can we expect to see more of the same inconsistent Aston Villa, who can lose 6-0 to Newcastle and then beat Everton a week later?

Marc Albrighton is one of many exciting young Englishmen who Villa have produced in recent times

There’s no doubt they’ve had a strange start to the season, but, had they beaten Stoke last night (13th Sept), they would have gone into third place. Under Martin O’Neill, they had developed a young, home-grown and exciting squad of players, who had performed consistently well for the last few seasons. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Stephen Warnock, Stuart Downing are all vying for places in the England squad, while the young Marc Albrighton has been one of the revelations of the season so far. There is little doubt they have quality, but the sale of James Milner to Manchester City (who will be one of their closest rivals come May) sent the club into disarray, and Martin O’Neill was next out the door.

O'Neill arguably quit when the going got tough at Villa Park

While O’Neill’s frustration at not being able to use the Milner money to fund new signings was understandable, they did recruit a suitable replacement in Stephen Ireland, who is only one step behind Milner in terms of quality. The fact is, compared to Hicks and Gillett, Villa’s very own American chairman, Randy Lerner, is quite a reasonable, unobtrusive kind of guy, who seems to have the interest of the club at heart. O’Neill should have stayed, and while Houllier will relish the challenge put in front of him, it could be difficult to build upon last season’s sixth place in the current climate.

Money is power in the Premiership these days, and while Roberto Mancini’s Man City have yet to hit top form, there can be little doubt they will be fighting it out for a top-four finish. Spurs, Arsenal and Everton all have stronger squads than Villa, and we may even see Fulham or Birmingham fighting it out for the Europa League spots. So, can Villa get in there again this year? The answer is yes, but it will be a lot harder than before, and a real test of Houllier’s abilities as a coach.

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Some had said that this Summer could be a quiet Transfer Window, but already there are plenty of big money moves in the pipeline, with Barcelona leading the charge. The Catalans, who were crowned Spanish champions last weekend, are seemingly ready to make wholesale changes to their already brilliant squad. In England, the financial power that Man City have is bound to usher in some new faces, while Arsenal, Newcastle and Villa may face an uphill struggle to keep their best players. So, here are some of the big stories, team by team.

Barcelona

cesc-fabregas-1.jpg smaller pic of fabregas image by kwalker_7

Fabregas looks set to be Barcelona's next signing

They’ve officially signed David Villa from Valencia in what is the first major transfer of the summer. The 28 year-old striker has signed a four year deal, joining Lionel Messi and Co. in what promises to be the world’s most exciting attacking side (which they are already, I suppose). Perhaps even more interesting is the prospect of Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas coming to join Pep Guardiola’s side as well. According to Goal.com, Fabregas has expressed his desire to leave Arsenal, telling Arsene Wenger during a meeting the two held a few days ago. Fabregas has been constantly linked with a move back to his homeland, and now it looks more likely than ever that it will happen. If the move does go ahead, and chances are it will, Barca will have spent a huge sum on just two players, and may have to offload a a couple of their own men to cut costs. One of those who may leave is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, possibly to the Emirates Stadium as part of the Fabregas deal. It would be a logical move since Arsenal have had very little choice of top-class frontmen apart from the injury-prone Robin Van Persie. They should also have enough money left over from Fabregas’ departure to buy a much-needed holding midfield player, with Marseille’s Stephane M’Bia top of their list of targets.

Liverpool

We can expect to see a huge clearout of many of the Benitez Blunders that have been gathering dust on the sidelines in recent years. Albert Riera, who has openly criticised Benitez in the Spanish press, will definitely be leaving, possibly to Stuttgart or CSKA Moscow. Ryan Babel is wanted by Birmingham City, but would cost the Blues upwards of £8 million. Financial troubles mean the Reds won’t have a lot to spend, and even club captain Steven Gerrard may hit the road, possibly in a £30 million deal to Inter Milan.

Manchester City

RobertoMancini.jpg Roberto Mancini image by CashingInbtk

City boss Mancini will, as ever, be a big player in the transfer market this summer

Roberto Mancini’s men are said to be looking for James Milner, but Aston Villa would be looking for at least £20 million before even considering letting their influential midfielder depart for one of their closest rivals, and have already had one offer turned down. Failing this, they may go for Benfica’s highly-rated David Luiz, who would cost a similar amount. They could face stiff competition from Manchester United and Real Madrid, who are also said to be interested in the 23 year-old Brazilian. City have also been linked with an audacious move for Liverpool’s Fernando Torres. The likelihood of this, however, is slim – Reds owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are already hugely unpopular at the club, and selling their prized asset would cause uproar.

Newcastle United

Another story of unpopular owners in the North East… Despite such an impressive season in the Championship, racking up 102 points on their way to lifting the title, owner Mike Ashley has announced that there will be “no capital outlay” in the summer transfer period. This means that manager Chris Hughton, who expected to have had at least £15 million to spend, will now have to look for loan deals and free transfers if he wants to strengthen his squad. It also puts Hughton in the uncomfortable position of possibly losing key players such as Jose Enrique, Steven Taylor and Andy Carroll, since rival teams now know that the Magpies need to boost their finances. On the plus side, prolific striker Kris Boyd is out of contract at Rangers could be joining former teammate Peter Lovenkrands at St James’ Park.

Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Redknapp is well known for his Del Boy-esque shrewdness in the transfer market, and they’ve shown their ambition by enquiring about Joe Cole, but a real sticking point would be Cole’s wage demands of £100,000 a week, which he has been making at Chelsea for the last few years. A more likely option is Villa’s Ashley Young. To me, it is by far the better move for Spurs, it would be the final piece in the jigsaw – a left winger to complete what would then be one of the best midfield quartets in the entire Premiership, alongside Modric, Lennon, and Bentley/Huddlestone. For Villa, losing both Young and Milner would be unthinkable, and chances are, they won’t sell both, but then again, if the right offer comes along, they may be tempted, they could use the money to fund the purchase of West Ham’s Carlton Cole.

Chelsea

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Frustrated during his time in Milan, Huntelaar may be playing in the Premiership next season

They may have just won the Premiership, but Chelsea’s squad are getting old. They will almost certainly dip into Roman Abramovich’s deep pockets this summer, and AC Milan’s Klaas Jan Huntelaar seems to be one of their targets. The Dutchman has fallen out of favour with the Rossoneri, and a move to Stamford Bridge would cost about £16 million. Even if this move doesn’t go ahead, can still expect to see Chelsea buy at least one quality striker, since Anelka and Drogba are 31 and 32 years old.