Top Four In December - Déjà Vu?
I would just like to start by saying, WOOHOO!!!! We beat them!!!
Ahem, anyway.......I have noticed that one or two Villa fans are getting a little carried away following the biggest win under Martin O`Neill and I would argue our biggest win since the 1996 League Cup final!! However I am here as always to be the voice of reason, to just keep you all mindful of the fact that league wise, we have been here before.
I would like you to all cast your minds back 12 months………… got it? Yes that`s right, we were in the top four then too, and although many of us have erased it from our memories, we were talking about winning the league, qualifying for the Champions League etc. What happened next…… well you know that!
So what`s different now? Well for starters our squad is more balanced, I want to say 'better` but when I consider we had Martin Laursen and Gareth Barry back then I am not sure that is the case. What we do have is a bigger squad and a key factor in my view is having a left back that is good enough and as a result we have a right back at right back (it`s taken 4 seasons with O`Neill in charge for that to be the case!). Something else worth considering is the fact we went out of Europe early this season, and although that was disappointing the most positive of fans did claim it could benefit us in the long run which to be fair, it could well do.
With Laursen at the back we had a brilliant centre half, I felt sorry for O`Neill in his task to replace our captain, but he didn`t let us down when he signed Richard Dunne and James Collins. Now I don`t think either are as good as the Great Dane, however both are good defenders and together they look brilliant and a special mention to Carlos Cuellar who has really stepped up his game this season. I always think that a good team is built from the back and with those three players plus Luke Young and Stephen Warnock too, this is a much better defence than last year, plus with Curtis Davies to return and Wilfred Bouma hopefully coming back at some point, we have options too.
Behind this new look defence is a player who needs no introduction, but I am going to give him one anyway…………the big American, everyone`s favourite old fart, Brad Friedel. Brad does make the odd mistake but he can be forgiven because for the most part he is fantastic.
Then there is the midfield, Petrov now as captain and Milner has taken on the role once played by what`s his face who plays for Manchester City, in the middle. Stewart Downing on the left or is it the right? And of course Ashley Young on the other wing, which leads me to my next point he isn`t even in form yet, so that will be a boost when he firing on all cylinders (like we know he is capable of). We then have Steve Sidwell, Nigel Reo-Coker and Fabien Delph all sat on the bench, which aren`t a bad group of players in all fairness.
Up front we have Gabriel Agbonlahor, now I have often been vocal in my criticism of Gabby. And I don`t know what people think of me, but I am always willing to hold my hands when I am wrong and I can tell you something, I have been totally wrong about this young man, his header not only won the game for us at Old Trafford but it also put any doubts I had over his ability to bed. He is no Dwight Yorke but he could go on to be. We also have Emile Heskey and John Carew, not sure Carew will be around when the season ends but Heskey always has my support when he is on the pitch so I am happy enough for him to remain.
So are we in better shape to challenge for a top four spot? I genuinely think we are, I am not saying we will finish up there but I don`t think the players will want to let the opportunity slip again, we have obviously got some seriously tough games coming our way before the New Year and if we can manage to get through them and remain in the running then Mr Lerner and Mr O`Neill may bring us some reinforcements in January and help us maintain the challenge.
So with all this in mind, I have come up with 10 reasons (no particular order) for why we could qualify for the Champions League this season, I hope you agree.
1. Liverpool`s form
2. No distraction from European games
3. Having a right back at right back
4. Having a left back at left back
5. Gabby Agbonlahor
6. Ashley Young yet to hit form
7. Being overlooked by the media in favour of Man City and Spurs (means we can go under the radar)
8. More depth than last season
9. Players not wanting the heart ache from last season
10. Everyone chipping in with goals
I said at the start of the article I would be the voice of reason, and that was my intention, but its hard not to be positive!!
I think we can do it because of the reasons above but do you know what would be the icing on the cake? Us qualifying and Gareth Barry and Manchester City not.