What does 2012-13 have in store for Aston Villa?

To say that 2011-12 was a blow-par season for Aston Villa is something of an understatement. The Midlands club avoided the relegation places by two points, struggled to score goals, and with the lowly total of seven wins all season, the Villa Park faithful suffered at the hands of mediocre performances for the bulk of the campaign. However with Alex McLeish being shown the door, what does 2012-13 hold in store for Villa?

Villa’s season seemed doomed from day one, as ex-Birmingham City boss McLeish’s appointment was treated with contempt from the fans, a lack of money was spent in last summer’s transfer market and main creators Stewart Downing and Ashley Young left the club. Despite a plucky start, the club quickly spiralled into lacklustre performances, too many draws and not enough goals.

The days of Martin O’Neill, where Villa on their day could go toe-to-toe with most sides in the division, especially at home, have felt like a lifetime ago. Under the Northern Irishman the side posed an attacking threat, were confident and proved dogged when their opponents were in possession – none of these traits seemed overwhelmingly evident in the recently-concluded campaign.

Randy Lerner’s appointment of McLeish’s replacement is now critical for the side’s future. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emerged as a surprise candidate before turning his back on the club to stay in his homeland; this may well be a blessing in disguise. Although the Norwegian trainer would more than likely offer a more progressive style than McLeish, Villa need a boss with Premier League experience and a track record of success.

Wigan’s Roberto Martinez turned the job down a year ago, but he and Paul Lambert are being touted as possible contenders. The Spaniard was Lerner’s first-choice last year, but with the Liverpool job now available the Latics boss may reject Villa once more. Lambert would be a bold choice, whilst the likes of Steve Bruce and Alan Curbishley are available immediately; however there is no real frontrunner screaming out to be hired.

Whoever the new man is, there is work to be done at the Birmingham-based side. Looking at the side’s rearguard, experienced campaigners like Shay Given, Richard Dunne and James Collins provide a solid base for the team, however additional strength at full-back looks necessary. Despite 53 goals conceded in 2011-12 being too many, the core is there to shore up the backline but other areas needed more imminent attention.

In midfield, due to the departure of Downing and Young, added creativity is needed. Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia are able, but another winger to supply opportunities for the attackers would be a welcome addition. With the blow of Stiliyan Petrov’s fight against Leukaemia, Villa have been robbed of the bite in the centre of the park, and the side are crying out for strength in depth, with Fabian Delph and Barry Bannon needing an older head to lead them.

Up front, Darren Bent remains the side’s shining light in the hunt for goals, and the Villa Park faithful will hope the England man can return to fitness and form ahead of 2012-13. Gabriel Agbonlahor has been inconsistent but is still a threat, whilst Andreas Weimann has shown glimpses in breaking into the first-team squad. With Emile Heskey departing, Villa could use a new forward with an eye for goal to compliment the existing trio.

Australia international Brett Holman will join the side on a Bosman ruling this summer, and comes highly-rated after a successful spell at AZ Alkmaar. A move for Heerenveen targetman Bas Dost has been speculated also, without any concrete progression. The likes of Junior Hoilett, Matt Jarvis, Mohamed Diame and Steven Fletcher will be available and are names Villa should be monitoring, whilst other stars from the continent need to be unearthed by the side’s scouting system.

All in all, Randy Lerner needs to do two things this off-season to get Villa back into the top half next season; pick an experienced manager with an attacking outlook, and back him with money to strengthen in the summer.

Aston Villa need a win over Norwich to give their long-suffering fans something to cheer about

Aston Villa finish their 2011-12 season with a tricky trip to take on Norwich at Carrow Road on Sunday, but will know that their Premier League status is safe after picking up a point against Tottenham last weekend. Despite this, it has been a massively mediocre season for the Midlands club, one to forget even and Alex McLeish will look to give the travelling support something to cheer about before the summer break.

The main problem this season for the Villa Park club has been a lack of incision, which has meant few goals. With Darren Bent injured and potentially missing Euro 2012, the club have struggled to hit the back of the net, and with 37 strikes in 37 games have the second-lowest tally in the division after Stoke. Seven wins out of 37 games has been painful viewing for the club’s supporters, whilst 17 draws is five more than the nearest side this term (Sunderland have drawn 12).

Randy Lerner and the Villa board have some real soul-searching to do in the summer, and a few important questions to answer. The first originates around the team’s manager Alex McLeish, who started on the backfoot due to his ties to rivals Birmingham City, and has failed to capture the imagination with lifeless performances by his team on the pitch.

The Scot is not solely to blame for the poor season however, as the sales of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young were always going to take their toll, and replacement Charles N’Zogbia has found the pairs’ boots difficult to fill. Despite attacking midfielder Steven Ireland coming back into the fold, the club needs to replace the two creative players that it lost last summer, and the American owner should put his hand in his pocket and stump up some much-needed financial backing. The signing of Brett Holman from AZ Alkmaar is a start, but more new faces are needed.

The team face a stern test against Norwich this Sunday, who have been one of the standout sides in the division this season. Their fearless and attacking approach has drawn many plaudits, and Paul Lambert’s men have never even looked vaguely in danger of being relegated, which cannot be said for Villa. The Canaries boss has been mooted as a potential replacement for his countryman McLeish should a managerial change be in order, but the current incumbent will look to prove that he is the right man to lead the club forward with a win at Carrow Road.

Richard Dunne and co will have their hands full with Grant Holt and maybe Steve Morison, and the attacking threat of Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan in midfield should not be overlooked. However, with nothing but pride and a more flattering league position to play for, hopefully McLeish will send his side out to entertain and play free-flowing football; something the Villa faithful have seldom seen this season.

Published – Villa Talk

Wigan’s destruction of Newcastle shows that the Latics belong in the Premier League

Wigan put on a show on Saturday to all-but-secure their Premier League status for another year, and delighted the DW Stadium and onlookers in the process. A 4-0 win over Champions League qualification hopefuls Newcastle mixed a determined and dogged defensive approach with sublime attacking play, and Roberto Martinez’s men were good value for their comprehensive victory.

With Newcastle undoubtedly the surprise package of the season, and Alan Pardew crafting a team of rough-around-the-edges players into some of the most sought-after stars in the league, the victory is all the more impressive. The first-half showing by the hosts was nothing short of masterful, as Wigan were quite simply too good for their Tyneside opponents.

A Victor Moses brace and goals from Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo gave the home side an unassailable lead, and in truth Wigan could have scored more in the first 45. The win sends Wigan up to 16th place and 37 points, three ahead of the bottom three, and three adrift of the holy grail of 40.

Wigan’s escapology act from last season had the club’s fans on cloud nine, but this season seems to be even more of an achievement. Given the fact that the Latics were bottom of the pile not too long ago, and faced a stern fixture list, Martinez and his team should be proud of their end of season heroics.

Five wins in the last eight games has lifted Wigan above their relegation rivals, with three points against Liverpool at Anfield, at home against Manchester United and at the Emirates against Arsenal, along with yesterday’s triumph, sticking out in the memory. The Latics could already be safe, but one win from their last two games against Blackburn and Wolves, will ensure Martinez’s men stay in the top flight for another year.

The manner of the afore-mentioned victories, and Wigan’s play for the majority of the campaign, is the real standout point. Martinez has urged his troops to consistently get the ball down on the deck and play football, even against their supposedly superior opponents, and this must be admired. When a team goes into a spiral of bad results, like Wigan have this season, there is a temptation to try and get the ball forward in a direct fashion rather than keeping possession, and the Latics have resisted this urge for the majority of the campaign.

The likes of Victor Moses, James McCarthy and Maynor Figueroa have all been excellent, and the cash-strapped side may have a battle on their hands to hold onto their best players. Like Wilson Palacios, Antonio Valencia and Charles N’Zogbia before them, the chance to play for a bigger club could be too good to resist.

Looking forward, there could be a few changes at the DW Stadium this summer, and the club’s fans will hope that Wigan can get off to a better start next term. Despite their heroics in escaping relegation through end-of-season wins over the last couple of years, the team will hope to not leave it so late next term, and secure their Premier League status well before the last five games. A sensible summer in the transfer market and a continuation of Martinez’s positive attitude could well see Wigan as more than relegation escapees in 2012-13.

Published – Soccerlens

Villa to look to Marc Albrighton in the wake of Young and Downing departures

Aston Villa fans will not have enjoyed watching England international wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing leave the club to move to Manchester United and Liverpool this summer, and Alex McLeish will be slightly worried about his side’s lack of width in their absence. Although difficult and expensive to replace, the new man at the helm at Villa Park will be mightily relieved that he has the pace, versatility and quality of Marc Albrighton to call upon.

With Charles N’Zogbia’s transfer to the club from Wigan, Villa have replaced like for like, and the France international will harbour the responsibility of recreating some of Downing’s exploits down the left. The ex-Newcastle player contributed valuable goals to the Latics successful relegation escape last term, and like Downing likes to drift in-field and provide support to the strikers.

On the right of midfield the Scottish coach has the option to play someone like Stephen Ireland, but this would narrow the side’s play, and Albrighton offers a more dangerous option, as the team look to make chances for the frontmen. Ireland will find opportunities more forthcoming in the centre of the park, as Albrighton takes the step up to start for the team on a more regular basis on the right wing.

The 21-year-old progressed through the youth ranks to take his place in the senior squad along with a number of other promising youngsters, and has showed vast improvement over the last two seasons. The Tamworth born winger has pace to burn and a trickery that Premier League full-backs will not look forward to having to face, but the main attribute in the player’s locker is his delivery.

McLeish will most likely rotate Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor in partnering Darren Bent in attack in 2011-12, and the trio have a physicality and presence in the box that will be difficult to contain. Villa have depended on the quality of service from the now departed England duo, but in their absence the level of supply to the attackers will not diminish, as Albrighton has is an excellent crosser of the ball.

With N’Zogbia on the left and Albrighton on the right, the pair are equally as comfortable in swapping flanks, and with Stiliyan Petrov and Ireland’s passing ability in the centre of the park, the Villa midfield should not be diminished too much from Downing and Young leaving. Despite this, more strength in depth is needed, as if one of the wingers was to get injured it limits the Midlands club as an attacking unit.

Hitman Rodallega stifled by Wigan’s lack of creativity

Wigan Athletic currently sit rock bottom of the Barclays Premier League, and looked doomed to Championship football next season, however, if they are to stand any chance of survival they must increase supply to their diamond in the rough, Hugo Rodallega.

The Colombian striker has shown glimpses of genius in his two and a half seasons in English football, but has struggled to produce the form and goals he is capable of this season as The Latics have lacked creativity and the necessary enterprise to conjure up chances for him. The striker cuts a forlorn figure and is clearly frustrated at the limited and poor service he has to endure; it is obvious that the powerful hitman has outgrown his struggling Wigan team.

Rodallega has scored seven league goals this season, not an especially impressive return but the men who are supposed to create chances for him must harbour a lot of the blame for this, and Wigan’s dire predicament. Charles N’Zogbia sporadically can offer quality supply to manufacture chances for Rodallega, whilst young midfield dynamo James McCarthy has grown in stature with every game he gets. Unfortunately for Rodallega and Wigan fans, apart from this the Colombian would-be goalscorer does not have the quality around him to contribute considerable quality service to create chances.

Roberto Martinez has instilled a footballing mentality into his Wigan team, and has implored his side to get the ball down and pass it; the problem is that Martinez just does not have the personnel to successfully execute this gameplan, and Rodallega suffers due to this. The sale of Antonio Valencia to Manchester United for £16 million may have made good financial sense for the club given the fact the signed him for less than £5 million, but it has left Rodallega bereft of service. Valencia’s pace and quality of delivery helped Wigan sustain and prosper in the Premier League; without him they lack incision.

Put Hugo Rodallega into the Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United team and he would be one of the league’s leading scorers. The Colombian is your stereotypical centre forward; big, powerful, strong and fast, good in the air and he has an eye for goal. The South American is certainly still learning his trade but he has the potential to be an excellent player and has all the raw assets to cause Premier League defenders headaches on a weekly basis.

So what of Hugo Rodallega’s future? Wigan, in all honesty look doomed, and if a host of Premier League clubs aren’t keeping tabs on the striker, they should be. Newcastle have an Andy Carroll shaped hole in their attack, and could do worse than offer Wigan £10 million for Rodallega. Sunderland need a partner for Asamoah Gyan and Rodallega is of the Darren Bent mould, and would be an excellent addition at the Stadium of Light. Teams like Everton and West Ham, provided they stay up, would be lucky to have the Colombian heading their frontline come the start of the 2011/12 season. The striker wouldn’t look out of place in a top six side’s squad either and if they are clever, the bigger teams could grab a potential 20 goal a season striker at a budget price.

Wigan look likely to be playing Championship football next season but Hugo Rodallega won’t be, as The Latics demotion should trigger interest in the Colombian from other Premier League clubs and teams abroad. If Roberto Martinez had more creativity in his team Rodallega may well have contributed the goals to fire them out of danger, but Wigan’s relegation will benefit the striker as he will thrive from improved service at his new club next season.

Published – http://www.caughtoffside.com/2011/03/09/hitman-rodallega-stifled-by-wigan%E2%80%99s-lack-of-creativity/

 

N’Zogbia focuses on Lactics relegation battle

Wigan wideman Charles N’Zogbia has stated that he is 100% committed to helping Wigan avoid the drop to The Championship, despite doubts over the French stars future at the club. N’Zogbia was the subject of transfer talk in the January transfer window, and opted to stay and fight at the DW Stadium amid interest from Birmingham and ex-employers Newcastle.

The Frenchman at times cuts something of a forlorn figure and his temperament and work ethic has been called into question previously, but he has told L’Equipe that he is not interested in speculation and is focused on helping Wigan move out of the dropzone.

“I don’t want to hear anymore about the January transfer market”, N’Zogbia claimed this week. “I told people who called me that I would not move, I just want to do everything to help Wigan survive”.

N’Zogbia recently made his debut for the French International team, and is keen to improve both personal and team performances to increase his chances of impressing Les Blues head coach Laurent Blanc and being selected for remaining UEFA Euro 2012 qualifiers. If Wigan are to avoid the drop the creativity and versatility of N’Zogbia will be essential; they face a tough task this weekend however as they go up against rejuvenated Liverpool at Anfield.

Published – http://www.1000goals.com/nzogbia-focuses-on-lactics-relegation-battle

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