All is quiet on the Villa front at the moment, as an impending takeover seems to have put incoming transfer activity on hold while Tim Sherwood has parted company with a few of the players he perceived as ‘losers’.

One Aston Villa player has been in the thick of it in the last few weeks, however. Unlike the tabloid press, I’m not alluding to Jack Grealish. Carlos Sanchez has beein starring for Colombia in the Copa America, shutting down Neymar in his country’s 2-1 win over Brazil last week. The twenty-nine-year-old earned rave reviews on his way to picking up the man of the match award in the aforementioned game. Not many dominate Neymar. South American football expert Tim Vickery, writing for Bleacher Report, stated:

Four years ago I saw him mark Lionel Messi out of the game in the Copa America in Argentina. Now, he was even better.

It was a wonderful display of defensive midfield play. Sanchez took all the responsibility for stopping Brazil at its source. He protected the space, won the tackles and frustrated Neymar to the extent that the Brazilian captain, on the losing side for the first time in a competitive match, turned into a petulant brat.

An Aston Villa player shackling one of Barcelona’s all star front three sounds unthinkable, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it has happened and obviously isn’t a one off. Put Carlos Sanchez up against Luis Suarez and he will have completed a hat trick of Barcelona scalps. Many Aston Villa fans will read this and find it hard to believe, for the Sanchez who lined up for the Villans really did not hit the ground running and he received few plaudits.

Carlos Sanchez’s first start for Villa came in a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Arsenal at Villa Park in September 2014, when he was late addition to the side as Ashley Westwood pulled out with a virus. Sanchez had very little preparation – and it showed: he was off the pace and his passing was off target. Some Villa fans would have wondered what had persuaded the Villa officials to buy him. He was bad but, given the circumstances, he should have been forgiven.

A month later, Sanchez was given his next start away at QPR, which was another game to forget for the Villa boys, as in ended in 2-0 defeat. Sanchez actually performed well in this game at the base of the midfield until a clumsy pass led to QPR’s second goal and effectively killed the game. Sanchez was learning the hard way that the Premier League’s pace is intense.

Sanchez continued in the side but the team struggled to get results and even to score goals. The defence remained relatively tight, which signalled that the Colombian was actually doing part of his job respectably.

In December, Paul Lambert introduced the disastrous “possession-based” game to Aston Villa, which was a far cry from the counter-attacking football that was seen in the Scot’s first season. This concept was illogical and not suitable for many of our players, with the slow tempo sucking the life out of the likes of Delph and Cleverley. However, it suited Sanchez; during those forgettable Christmas games Sanchez was actually our best player. Winning the ball and keeping it simple, he looked good. During this time it was clear he is a good player and it was no coincidence that after a sustained run in the team Sanchez’s form and fitness improved. He was given instructions and followed them successfully.

The next few months were dire for Aston Villa and in his first season in English football Sanchez was in and out of the team and not endearing himself to the crowd. Lambert departed, Sherwood arrived. Sanchez started Sherwood’s first game, a 1-2 defeat at home to Stoke. In a flat 4-4-2 the Colombian struggled and it was evident that a two man central midfield was not the place for ‘The Rock’. Sanchez lost his place but returned when Ashley Westwood picked up an injury. The team was now beginning to excel under Sherwood, although Sanchez still didn’t look comfortable. Despite this, he managed to impress Sherwood, who praised our number twenty-four for taking one for the team late in the game in a 0-1 win at White Hart Lane when Sanchez was sent off for a second bookable offence and therefore missed the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool through suspension.

Sanchez still struggled despite the team’s upturn in fortune under Sherwood. Sherwood spoke of players being ‘free’ under him and that he didn’t give them too many instructions. In my opinion, Sanchez does better when working under instruction. In the days of ‘possession’ football under Lambert he had a defined role and he carried it out. For a good Colombia side he has a defined role and he appears to be carrying that out.

I believe Sanchez also suffered because he did not have the luxury of pre-season at Bodymoor Heath, which is especially important for a player new to a country. I don’t truly believe we ever see the best of new players until they have had a full pre-season campaign. As good as it is that Sanchez is earning plaudits at the Copa America, it will kill his chances of a full pre-season at Aston Villa this summer as he may well only return to Bodymoor Heath just before the season starts, which is not ideal as it will take him time to get up to speed with his team-mates.

Some supporters will struggle to accept Sanchez now as they will have his card marked but he is a good player, despite some of his below-par games. Stiliyan Petrov is a prime example of a player who did not settle into life in the Premier League and at Aston Villa Football Club immediately. The crowd turned on him at one point but Petrov battled away and went on to become an icon at B6 and the club captain. Sanchez has a big season in front of him: this campaign will show whether he has the stomach to become a Premier League player, as I believe he has. A redeeming characteristic is that even when he played poorly he did not shy away and he still wanted the ball. When central midfielders are off their game they can hide. Carlos Sanchez didn’t go missing but came back for more – and I like that.

I think Sherwood sees something in Sanchez. The Colombian has infuriated me at times but his Copa America exploits have shown that we have a potential defensive spoiler in our side. Over the years it has become too easy for sides to roll Villa over. If Sherwood and the coaching staff can get Sanchez up to speed, that could become harder for the opposition to do.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I thought he played very well at times, but his performance tailed off and although he was not rubbish it was clear Westwood was doing a good job.

    If anything Sanchez tries too hard, in one game he had probably the worst 10 minutes I have ever seen from a Villa midfielder, he just went totally to pot. You could see him trying to influence the game but he either dwelt too long or misplaced passes he would make with his eyes closed and he just crumbled and was hauled off.

    I like Sanchez, I think he has lots to offer, but if he plays central we need more creativity and more assists
    from him.

    and we need all the midfield to chip in with goals and ideally delph covers when he goes forwards,,,,,
    he needs to be a menace in the box now and again,,,,,, and ping a few long rangers in

    its clear though with a pre season under his belt he should be a better player this season,, i think he has
    many excellent qualities that if we can build upon he could be a really good player

  2. You make some good points Dan, and Sanchez did indeed take some time to settle in. Tim Vickery was fulsome in his praise of him man marking the mighty Messi out of two games, something which Vickery says he had never seen done so well before, and Tim is the one journalist I would trust regarding anything South American.

    The issue with Sanchez went beyond getting up to speed, it also related to playing in a way he understands. Used in front of a strong pair of centre halves he can be a destroyer. Winning the ball and playing it simply. Trying to get him to spray thirty yard passes about, or asking him to play tiki taka passes through the middle is to use him incorrectly. He has pace, a great tackle, and can in turn retain the ball under pressure as well. Hwe is best suited as an anchor, getting it and giving it to those who can create. Something Villa have lacked for too long.

    With Sherwood rightly identifying the back five (including GK) as a weakness and seeking to rectify that, Carlos could find his place assured, as with two talented full backs pushing forward, the security of a player like Carlos sweeping in support of the centre halves becomes essential.

    Sherwood has his work cut out. Villa were weak in defence and limited in attack. A solid base with real attacking full backs could well prove to be a revolution. Expect various formations that in effect create a variant 4-1-4-1 system, with wingers or two number tens breaking in support of a powerful central striker. Whomsoever that striker may be.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. Definitely a premiership quality player. possibly in final should have been bought on to man mark Cazorla, then might have been a different result.

  4. We have to keep him.

    We certainly don’t have the cash to improve upon him. There’s definite potential there. He has the ability, the pedigree.

    Hopefully he can do a job for us. I fear another season of struggle. The likes of Carlos Sanchez need to step up to the plate and deliver.

  5. talking of midfielders what about gil !!
    to be honest he looks descent.
    we need to give the kid a chance.
    how can he toughen up if he doesn’t play !1

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here