One area of the squad that Rémi Garde seems to have improved hugely since he joined the club is the defence.
Under Tim Sherwood, we never really knew what our best defence was – and neither did the manager, who made a number of decisions that didn’t seem to make much sense at all. Sherwood took the decision to drop Jordan Amavi for Kieran Richardson in his final couple of games at the club, a decision that baffled many.
The Villans started the season with Micah Richards and Ciaran Clark as the club’s first choice centre backs. This was a partnership that Sherwood trusted for a while, before placing Joleon Lescott – a signing that Sherwood made himself – in the side. Lescott had no effect on the team and Aston Villa lost every game that he started under Sherwood.
For whatever reason, Tim Sherwood never really knew what to do with his defence, although he did try a lot of different things. He changed the system that Villa played, trialling five defenders in the game versus Sunderland, a move that ultimately failed. He tried a number of different players in the back four but not knowing his best defence ultimately cost him his job.
Rémi Garde took over a dejected defence that hadn’t kept a clean sheet since the opening day of the season. In his first game, the Villans rode their luck and managed to hold on for a 0-0 draw with Manchester City. Things began to look up.
Joleon Lescott has looked much better under Garde, playing almost every game during the last couple of months. He has been entrusted with marshalling the defence and does that job brilliantly, being the most experienced player in the Villa back four.
Lescott has formed a good partnership with Danish defender Jores Okore in the last few months as well, keeping Micah Richards out of the side due to his performances. Richards has only got back in the team as a right back, a position that seems to suit him much better than centre back. Alan Hutton has been kept out of the team due to injury and he will find it tough to dislodge Richards at right back when fit.
Aly Cissokho was recalled back from his loan spell at Porto and he has generally done well since his return. Left back was a problem position for Villa and, since Cissokho’s return, things have looked much better. The former Liverpool defender does his defensive work with ease and offers a good outlet going forward.
Garde took the bold decision to drop goalkeeper Brad Guzan in January and that has been a very good decision. The American goalkeeper had been poor all season and perhaps Garde felt that Mark Bunn couldn’t be any worse. In fact, Bunn has been much better, offering his defence a calm head that they can trust and his distribution is much better than that of the man he replaced.
Overall, the Villa boys look a lot more solid at the back now and, although it is likely to be too little too late, are in a position where they can win games and also see games out, thanks to the defence.