Something For The Weekend (231)
I asked for a performance from Villa last Sunday and that is exactly what I got and not much more. To say it was a sickener was like saying that the Home Secretary knows how to fill in an expenses form to her own advantage.
And, I don't know what Jacqui's hubby was watching in the way of movies this week but I couldn't bring myself to view the Old Trafford highlights until Wednesday and even then it turned out to be more painful than the birch-twigs and nipple-clamps, I'd been practising with, by way of getting me used to the anticipated pain.
When I found myself ready for this latest Villa tear-jerker, it was all rather worse than I'd actually anticipated and not just because the commentators seemed to think that the whole world, outside Liverpool, were glad to see Man United win in the fifteenth minute of big-team-time. Okay, I exaggerate, but we have been there before: the divine right of kings might have been debunked but Man United have their own rules.
The worst thing about the highlights, for me, was the realisation that Ferguson had looked at Villa and once again judged exactly the minimum team he needed to put out to beat them. Obviously, his decision to play Gary Neville at centre-back proved overly optimistic but his assessment of what he needed to put out to beat Villa, proved to be right on the button, as per fecking usual.
So the result became a measure of my self-delusion and I had to conclude that while I might slightly over-estimate Villa's powers and the extent of their progress, Old Trafford's favourite pensioner is not so easily fooled.
I now realised that when Martin O'Neill said Villa are a million miles away from the Champions League, what he actually meant was a hundred million quid, or what ever you get, when you add the cost of Man United's missing (last Sunday) to the price of Cristiano Ronaldo. It seems that Villa's willingness to expend any amount of blood, sweat and tears, is still not quite enough to overcome that gap.
On closer examination of Macheda's telling contribution, it was quickly revealed that it had less to do with the freakish intervention of the gods and a referees use of big-team-time, than the culmination of the investment of a good measure of time, trouble and you guessed it, expense. Federico had not been found juggling pizzas in Stretford or was his signing the result of a phone-call from a scout on Hackney Marshes. He made his way to Manchester because United took advantage of the fact that Lazio, like all Italian clubs, are not allowed to sign children (Freddie was 16) and United were. Man United then moved his family to Manchester and stuck him in their academy.
Faced with these facts, Macheda's goal looked less like a blessing from the gods, or in Villa's case, a curse, and more like the fulfilment of considerable effort. It proved the old adage that you make your own luck, just as United did when they signed Ryan Giggs from right under the noses of Man City. Obviously, the myth-makers tend to overlook these things because that sort of thoroughgoing ruthlessness and determination is just not very romantic.
Facts have to be faced and having discarded my S&M kit, I began to see the positive side and even O'Neill's bitter accusation of elastic Old Trafford time, seemed to be appropriate, as sometimes bitter defeat has to be greeted with something more than yet another deferential bow to the victors, and players and fans alike, need to hear something more than more praise for the already over-praised. Psychological pressure, is an investment for the future, like any other, as Sralex well knows, so no accusation that officials behave differently at Old Trafford is ever wasted; without it, I am sure it would be worse. And, I am sure Martin can afford the fine rather more easily than I could the best seat in the theatre of dreams/nightmares (delete as appropriate).
The good news was that Villa's performance showed that when John Carew is not thinking about girls, he is a tremendous player and with Gabby ending his goal-drought, there were plenty of positives to take from the game (once the pain had subsided). The closeness of the result proved that Ferguson actually under-estimated Villa, or perhaps over-estimated Gary Neville (confirmed mid-week against Porto) and with a bit more determination and old fashioned nous, the Villa could have got a bit closer to embarrassing United.
And that it seems, with Villa's present resources, is as good as it gets.
Trying to beat Man United to make up for their failings against Stoke should not have been necessary and Villa's heroics will count for less than nothing, if they fail to do the business against Everton. Moyes, already being the recipient of many accolades, including suggestions by old Beetroot-face that he should be considered as the heir in waiting for the hot seat at Old Trafford, will provide an even sterner test for Villa's credentials and Martin's team will be judged rather more harshly, than for any defeat against the top-four, should they bottle it.
It certainly will be a test of nerve, as an unthinkable defeat would make Villa look like the Perkin Warbeck of the Premiership, this season's failed pretenders, and myself the Earl of Desmond. Many fans will see it as, as much a contest between the two managers, as between two well-matched teams. Have Villa recovered from their attack of the vapours and can they recapture the form which suggested not so long ago that they were the real deal?
Having learnt my lesson, I will be asking for both a good performance and the right result this week, anything else will be unacceptable. Villa need to prove that they can be more than the plucky underdogs and show their fans and the rest of the Premiership what they are made of. Its time for Villa to reveal their ruthless streak.
No mercy for the bad if they want it, no mercy for the bad if they plead.