The Week In Villa #17 (12/12/08 - 18/12/08)
Friday, 12th December
Very little news today other than James Milner may be fit after all, and the predictable "I-didn`t-want-to-leave-but-my-career-is-better-for-it` interview with Gary Cahill. Personally I would MUCH rather have him than Zat Knight, but if he wanted first team football then no-one can really begrudge him his move, and of course the fact that he turned down Blues into the bargain generally meant he held on to a fair amount of his affections from Villa fans!
Saturday, 13th December
What a good day. We were very good, and while tactically Bolton played into our hands, we still had to get the job done and we did so emphatically. The same applies for Agbonlahor`s first goal - yes, defensively it was awful but he still finished excellently.
Speaking of Gabby, I feel I must offer some special praise here. He has improved so much in such a short space of time that he is becoming irreplaceable. Anyone who thinks his game is all about pace seriously needs their knowledge of football questioned; while pace is his biggest asset, his all round play, his holding up of the ball, a lot of his decisions and - perhaps most importantly - his finishing have all improved beyond recognition from the 'raw talent` that first come into the team. His goal per chance ratio this season is second only to Michael Owen, who, despite his baffling critics, IS world class. I for one would be hard pressed to come up with many forwards that I would be willing to swap Gabby for right now, especially when you take his age into consideration.
Back to the 'business end` of the game, results went our way with Arsenal and Man U both drawing. We`re back into fourth above Arsenal and right on Man U`s heels, albeit with them having a game in hand. In addition, Liverpool and Chelsea also drew so, laugh as you may, but we are only 7 points off top spot and we`re only two games off the half-way point of the season. Good times!
Sunday, 14th December
The traditionally big transfer rumour day of the week is relatively quiet, with rumours linking us to Peter Crouch and Charles N`Zogbia, with Real Madrid believed to be interested in Ashley Young. I doubt that is true, and even if it is, they don`t have enough money!
Monday, 15th December
Monday brings us some sad news. Stephen O`Halloran has been ruled out for the rest of the season after once again damaging his cruciate ligaments. You have to worry for the future of the lad.
Transfer news is all recycled news, Henrik Larsson confirming that he is not joining us, Everton or anyone else and some more (weak) noises about Ashley Young going to Real Madrid.
Finally, Fabio Cappello praises James Milner, as well as Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young. That`s nice to hear, obviously.
Tuesday, 16th December
First things first, Martin O`Neill scoffs the Ashley-Young-To-Real-Madrid rumours. Good!
So on to tomorrow, and our Hamburg squad is announced. It does not include Martin Laursen, Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor or James Milner. The latter has been ill lately so was unsurprisingly rested, otherwise I think he may have also attended. It does include Barry Bannan, Chris Herd, Shane Lowry, Ciaran Clark and Zoltan Steiber. All promising young talents.
I have to be honest; if I was going to Hamburg then I would probably feel a tad miffed. However, the bigger picture is easy to see and I have to support the decision. The fact is, if you was to offer me a win against Hamburg or West Ham, then I would not even need a second to contemplate it, and the answer is most definitely West Ham. When you consider that Arsenal are playing Liverpool this weekend, the West Ham game is absolutely massive. When you consider that the following game is against Arsenal, the West Ham game probably becomes even bigger. Make no mistake about it, the game on Saturday is huge, and we have a much better chance of winning it with a well-rested and fully fit quintet of Laursen, Barry, A Young, Agbonlahor and Milner.
Finally, Martin Jol confirms the reports (at that time) that he wanted to take Ashley Young to Spurs when we bought him, and he says some very nice things about us, including his opinion that we are now 'better than Arsenal`.
Oh and if anyone cares it`s my best mates birthday. He turns 28 today. I get there in May. We are getting old…!
Wednesday, 17th December
Unsurprisingly, we lose in Hamburg. Out of the squad, if you take away James Milner, I think that the other quartet of players that have not travelled are our most important players. The next most important quartet, in my opinion, has John Carew, Stilian Petrov, Brad Friedel and probably Curtis Davies. None of them played either, with Carew still being injured and the other three on the bench. So, it wasn`t even close to our strongest team and the result was not really surprising.
Frustratingly, we were our own worst enemies as the goals come from our own errors, and we should have had a penalty just before their 3rd which could have changed the result. Still, it wasn`t a great night. There were a few positives though… I felt Craig Gardner did well (in the main - he had our best chance & should have done better with it) before he got injured, Brad Guzan could not really do anything with the goals and did a perfectly good job otherwise, Nathan Delfounso made it two goals from two starts and Barry Bannan, who has probably been the shining light in the reserves this year, got his first piece of first team football.
A quick word on Delfounso`s goal. Despite Graham Taylor (who would be the worst co-commentator in the game if David Pleat wasn`t around) suggesting it was just a deflection, it was (correctly) picked up by the commentator and Stan Collymore that he shaped his body and directed it toward the goal, in a true striker fashion. Having listened to him on a number of occasions, I wonder how Graham Taylor ever had any success in the game. Maybe age is just mushing his brain…
Thursday, 18th December
We get told by various media sources that Hamburg was a 'reality check` about our squad. Personally I think that is a bit of rubbish. Actually, no, I think that is a LOT of rubbish.
Let`s look at the facts. The team that played Hamburg was minus Friedel, Laursen, Davies, Bouma, Barry, Petrov, Milner, A Young, Abonlahor and Carew. How many Premiership teams could handle having THAT many of their first team players missing? I`ll tell you… None. Nada. Not one. Zero. Nil. Not a sausage. None of the three teams above us, none of the sixteen bellow us. Maybe a couple might survive in the Prem. Maybe. But no team in the Premiership - nay the world - could cope with having that many of their BEST players out on a consistent basis.
The simple fact is that we were already through and, as I have mentioned above, West Ham is massive. We played a reserve team in order to preserve the fitness of our best players. There are very few of those players that could not do a job in the first team if called upon. You know, SQUAD players? Jeez, get a grip people.
On a personal note, today is my last day of work until January 12th, 2009. I then go back for three days and have the 15th & 16th off, too. YYYEEESSS!!!