We have only two days to wait until our first Premier League match of the 2015-16 campaign against AFC Bournemouth. With many players leaving the club and many players having joined this summer, we should expect to see a difference in performances and tactics in order to remove the threat of relegation. One thing that does need changing is the threat in front of goal and more specifically from set pieces. I will also have a look at the injuries Sherwood has to contend with before our first game and consider Ciaran Clark signing a new five-year deal with the club.
Set piece problem
Whilst watching television, I happened to tune in to BT Sport and see a memorable match in which Aston Villa took on Newcastle United in the 2007-08 season, a game Aston Villa won 4-1. This was when the Villans were chasing a top five finish. One reason why they were able to do this was due to their supreme power when it came to set pieces. The likes of John Carew and Ashley Young were vital in making this happen. Young would provide the brilliant crosses that Carew’s head connected with, helping him to score thirteen goals and become the club’s top scorer that season. Having looked at this and compared it to the seasons we had under Lambert and now Sherwood, you can see we had the ability of Carew with Benteke but we never found an adequate replacement for Young. It’s all well and good having someone who can score using his head but if he doesn’t have the crosses coming in then there is only so much that player can do. We have a lots of players who are tall and can jump up high, like Kozak, but they aren’t being given ample opportunity to do this. If you look at other teams in the league, such as Arsenal, they have defenders like Mertesacker who are always scoring from set pieces and that’s one of many reasons as to why they are a top four club. From what I can gather, our set piece crosser is Ashley Westwood who at times can cross a decent ball in to the box and look threatening. How many times have we seen him cross a ball in from a corner that goes straight to the first defender? We know that Leandro Bacuna can score from a direct free-kick but this is not something he does consistently. Our squad now contains more players who can score goals but we no longer have the delivery in order to get those goals.
This leads on to the bigger problem of who can become the player who provides the assists. Gil, Sinclair, Grealish and Agbonlahor are players I would class as wingers or who can assist. What these players need to do is provide better crosses, whether they’re from set pieces or from running down the channels and looking to pump the ball into the box. From what I’ve seen in pre-season, there hasn’t been much assist work coming from any of these players, although Grealish, Gil and Agbonlahor have been injured. If none of these players can do that then Sherwood has a problem and we won’t be using set pieces to our advantage or exploiting the potential of a striker as tall as Kozák. Even though we have wing backs in the likes of Hutton and Amavi, their main job is to defend.
If I were Sherwood, I would find a winger who can cross a ball in to the box for the strikers and defenders to have a real go at goal. Whether or not these stories are true remains to be seen but Sherwood has been linked to Adama Traore from Barcelona and Andros Townsend from Tottenham Hotspur, both players who can provide assists and cause defenders problems. While I can’t see many more players coming in, I’m sure Sherwood has a game plan and I hope he can try and use the likes of Gil, Sinclair or even Ayew to try and provide those assists as we are still relatively poor at the back and may be relying on getting as many goals as we can.
Perhaps getting a new winger might not be a bad idea, with the club announcing that both Gil and Grealish have been ruled out of this weekend’s encounter with The Cherries while defender Okore has also been ruled out due to a knee operation. Last season, especially towards the end of it, injuried became our Achilles’ heel and it was a real struggle to field a strong starting line-up. Having bought in bulk, the hope is that Sherwood will have greater choice when it comes to replacing injured players. However, if he decides not to buy any more defenders, we must hope we do not lose more than one central defender to injury as we only have Richards, Clark and Okore who seem to be strong enough to play there.
On a happier note, I would like to congratulate Ciaran Clark on signing a new five-year deal. He has progressed a lot since first being given the chance to play in the starting XI. He has tough competition for that space and he’ll be up against Baker and Okore. I would choose Clark and Richards as my two centre backs but Okore would be ideal as a replacement for Clark. If Sherwood is thinking of going for a three at the back then Richards, Clark and Okore, when he is fit again, doesn’t seem like a bad line-up. The only problem is that we would then have Baker as the only good defender left to cover if one gets injured. I really hope Sherwood can find some extra pounds to fund a new central defender as it’s imperative that we start to keep out those silly goals we like to concede.
Let’s hope we see a solid performance from the Villa boys on Saturday to show The Cherries what life is really like in the top flight of English football. UTV!