Something For The Weekend (379)
Like drowning men pulling each other under, the Villa fans were desperately floundering for someone to blame this week, after, shock, horror, Villa were beaten four-nil by the same team which beat Arsenal eight-two.
Obviously, McLeish got most of the flak but not just content with that, quite a few players got it in the neck too, from Villa's unhappy flailing fans.
But no matter how the fans felt, according to Match of The Day, Gary Gardner had an even more miserable time but he needn't worry; crafty old Fergie has played the same trick successfully against more experienced players than Gary. Sometimes Giggs has played the role of deep-lying passing-maestro, just out of reach of the central midfield, this time it was old man Scholes. When the opposition set themselves up to defend it is a very decent strategy because the old chap can stroll around the centre-circle, knowing he'll not have to do much running, and pick his passes, while Rooney does what he does best in the hole
(Ooh er missus!).
It reminded me of that miserable afternoon out which Lee Cattermole endured for Middlesbrough against Villa, a few seasons ago, when his abject misery reduced him to tears, in a similar four-nil thumping. He's been kicking people ever since in an effort to prove he is no wuss (We believe you! We believe you!). Football is a trade which has to be learned like any other, and I am sure Gary will take his football lesson in his stride.
Here comes the numbers.
Just to put Villa's defeat into perspective, Man United fielded a starting-eleven worth £180m, while Villa's starting eleven was valued at around £44m. But the most interesting number was provided by the fact that the players on Man United's bench (£53.5) were worth more than Villa's whole frigging team. Sadly, this did not stop the Villa's desperate and distraught fans from ripping into their team's band of brothers.
Some might say that any team which has had its spine ripped out, might be excused for going a bit floppy, but the loss of Dunne, Petrov and Bent, tend to get overlooked these days, as the bridges break up in the panic of loss.
Here's another number.
At the beginning of the season the maths-based football column in the Times, Fink Tank, calculated that Villa, even with their full complement of players, would most likely finish 12th. Villa are now three places lower in 15th, which seems to indicate that some people's expectations are way out of whack, and those Villa representatives who talked of Europe are full of smelly brown stuff.
Of course, as soon as the press got wind of the panic which was spreading through the Villa ranks, they were all over Villa like a rash and even going as far as to suggest that relegation would be a good thing for the club. I couldn't disagree more. Once those parachute payments run out, relegated clubs, unless they have an asset like Andy Carroll to flog to a club as desperate and as flush as Liverpool, end up as financially anaemic as Madeline Smith tended to be, once Dracula had had his wicked way with her, back in the 1970s.
We should not go gently into that good night!
There were no surprises in the FA Cup semi-finals and both the clubs who had the highest valued starting-eleven went through. Everton (£72m) did the best by losing by such a narrow margin to Liverpool's £129m, which seems to prove that Moyes is every bit as good as they say he is and the fact that the game
was so close right up until Distin's unfortunate howler, suggests the claim that Dalglish is not getting as much out of his team as might be expected, is also true.
The difference between Chelsea (£178m) and Spurs (£162m) should have been a lot closer than four goals, if the value of the starting-elevens is anything to go to by. But as the value of the two teams is not too far apart the extent of Spurs loss, would probably have to go down to mistakes by Redknapp. He succumbed to sentimentality by playing Cudicini, who looked at fault for at least one of the goals, rather than his usual first-choice Friedel. He then took off a midfielder in Van Der Vaart and replaced him with a forward, Defoe, which gave the Chelsea midfield space to create the three goals which turned it into a drubbing.
So Redknapp's performance was hardly an endorsement of the inflated status he is enjoying in the media these days. Spurs' performance against an arguably better Chelsea side, in the 2008 League Cup final, was much better and so was the referee's.
Meanwhile as Spurs and Everton rue the loss of their cup-final dreams, Villa have rather more mundane challenges to face, as they take on their financial peers, when Sunderland pay them a visit this Saturday. So assuming that they both field a side of similar value, it really is a contest between the managers, to see who can squeeze the most out of that value.
Sunderland have a slight advantage because the value of their team is spread more evenly through the eleven, and they are stronger in the midfield areas where Villa are weakest. Villa have their most valuable player (Gabby), who is rumoured to be carrying an injury, playing out of position as a winger, while his actual value is mostly based on his performance as a striker.
So I would probably conclude that Sunderland are slightly better equipped to win the game than Villa.
As is well-known Martin O'Neill managed to bring Sunderland above par, after their problems under Steve Bruce but there has been a physical cost for these players who have been playing above themselves, and this has resulted in some big losses for the Black Cats, and they have recently fallen to 16th in the form table, but that is still better than Villa in 18th, one place below Spurs. But as Villa's losses were against Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United, in their last six games, a bit of perspective is in order.
Hopefully, McLeish has been resting his higher value players, against the teams Villa were least likely to beat, and will bring them in to add crucial value to his team, against a team with substantially less advantage than Man United.
The return of O'Neill certainly adds some spice to the game and possibly even some irony, if his team manage to add to Villa's self-inflicted woes and bad luck.
The fiercely policed orthodoxy amongst the Villa fans is that O'Neill cannot be forgiven for leaving Villa at a crucial time, and the fact that he did amounts to some kind of treason. This of course contrasts strongly with their view of Ron Saunders, who left mid-season when Villa were at the crucial stage of the quarter-finals of the European Cup. Not only that, Saunders risked the scuppering of Villa's finest hour, so he could go and work for Birmingham City. The contrasting view of the fans on the two incidents is impossible to justify but somehow they manage to square that circle.
Whether square, circle or irregular polygon, it seems likely that the Villa fans will boo Martin O'Neill but as there is a chance they will boo Alex McLeish too, the Ulsterman will never be quite sure whether it is his turn or Big 'Eck's, when the pantomime begins.
Needless to say, the real architects of Villa's present lamentable situation, where the fans face the possibility of ignominious relegation while encumbered with a manager forced upon them by a taciturn and aloof owner, will no doubt be greeted with cheers and the usualforelock-tugging they have come to expect.
But once the booing, cheering and toadying is out of the way, no Villan can doubt that this is a game Villa desperately need to win, if their belief that Villa can make some kind of renaissance, is to gain any traction.
In American accountancy parlance, Villa have taken a big bath, this past two years, as they attempt to get the bad news (the big losses) and the massive restructuring of the club's running-costs, over with, as quickly as possible.
So are we waving or drowning?
We're about to find out.
Keep the faith!