*Actually, AV turns 133 this year, but it’s year two under the ownership of Mr. Lerner.
Aston Villa is arguably the best professional football team associated with Cleveland. For the time being the Browns, while #1 in our hearts, are #2 in the list of best professional Cleveland football teams. Last season the Soccer Spot provided outstanding coverage of all things Aston Villa. He’s moved on to greener pastures as far as soccer blogging is concerned — he’s now your guy for all things FC Barcelona over at The Offside — but he’s still willing to slum it with us from time to time. (1)
Aston Villa begins its campaign for an EPL title tomorrow, 12e/11c. The DZ will be posted up at a local drinking hole to watch the game and in hand will certainly be this lovely guide penned by Mr. Barca Offside himself. His words follow:
Aston Villa: The 2007/08 EPL Season
Even though the season has officially begun, there’s room for a little preview of the best Cleveland-related soccer team, except for maybe the Force. After finishing 10th in last year’s English Premier League (EPL), Aston Villa is definitely looking to finish up the year with a place in European competition, though even shooting for one of the Champions League spots given to English FA by UEFA would be ridiculous.
In case you’re not particularly familiar with the EPL, here’s a very brief rundown of the league:
Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool seem to comprise the upper echelon of English soccer these days, all having made pretty serious moves in the off-season. ManU added Carlos Tevez after a protracted legal battle, as well as Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich, Nani from Sporting Lisbon, and Anderson from FC Porto. They also either sold or let go of Kieran Richardson, Giuseppe Rossi, and Alan Smith.
Liverpool’s biggest signing was Fernando Torres, who arrived from Atlético Madrid for the bargain price of €30million, which is about $40million. I’m being facetious about the price, of course (I have my own opinions about Torres), but Liverpool certainly haven’t spared any expense that I can see in also signing (among others) Andriy Voronin from Bayer Leverkusen, Yossi Benayoun from West Ham, Ryan Babel from Ajax, and Lucas from Grêmio while offloading (among others) Luis Garcia, Boudewijn Zenden, Djibril Cisse, Craig Bellamy, Jerzy Dudek, and Robbie Fowler.
Chelsea made moves too, of course: Incoming were Alex from PSV, Tal Ben Haim from Bolton, Claudio Pizarro from Bayern Munich, Steve Sidwell from Reading, and Florent Malouda from Lyon. Chelsea rid themselves of Geremi and Kalid Boularhouz (loan).
There’s Arsenal, of course, but they don’t look like they’re going to challenge for the title, especially after losing their “talisman,” Thierry Henry to Spain’s FC Barcelona. They’ve replaced him with Eduardo da Silva from Dinamo Zagreb and also brought in Bacary Sagna from Auxerre and brought back Nicklas Bendtner from a loan at Birmingham. Still they’ve also loaned out Johan Djourou, sold Jose Antonio Reyes, Fredrik Ljunberg, and Jeremie Aliadiere, and have seen Julio Baptista return to Real Madrid after finishing his loan. I’m not expecting Arsenal to finish higher than fourth, but there’s no doubt that Arsene Wenger can make magic happen with a midfield including Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, and Alexandre Hleb, among others.
This all suggests that in order to compete in a league flush with money (from TV deals), Aston Villa needed to bring in new players and get rid of useless ones. Here is what Villa did:
Nigel Reo-Coker (West Ham)
Harry Forester (Watford)
Marlon Harewood (West Ham United)
Eric Lichaj (free)
Scott Carson (Liverpool)
Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls)
Gavin McCann (Birmingham City)
Aaron Hughes (Fulham)
Stephen Henderson (Bristol City)
Robert Olejnik (Falkirk)
Jlloyd Samuel (Bolton)
Steven Davies (Fulham)
Lee Hendrie (Sheffield United)
Liam Ridgewell (Birmingham City)
It certainly sounds like a lot of players went out the door, especially compared to how many came in, but those who left were either too old to compete in the EPL (Angel) or too crappy (well, all of the rest – no doubt many will dispute that about some of these players – it’s just sour grapes, people). It’s silly that we gave up so many players to competing teams, but, of course, if they’re too bad for us, let’s hope they continue to be to be bad while they play for other teams. Angel, of course, plays in the MLS, so what he does is immaterial to Villa’s fortunes and the same can be said for Henderson, Olejnik, and Hendrie, none of whom are in the EPL either. After one game (a 1-2 home loss to Liverpool), there’s little to suggest Villa is any different from last year, despite a solid acquisition in Nigel Reo-Coker. Villa has to play Liverpool, ManU, Chelsea, and Arsenal at home in the first half of the year, which means they have a chance to enter the second half with either a good shot at attaining Europe or no shot whatsoever: having to take points at Anfield, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, and the Emirates during the second half of the season is a daunting task, really.
So to Saturday’s game: Liverpool is not an easy opening round opponent and Steven Gerrard’s 87th minute freekick was both stunning and indicative of just why they’re no fun to face. I missed all but the final 35 minutes of the match, but it seems that most writers found Torres’ addition to the squad to be very positive. I didn’t see any of that in the 20 minutes he was on while I was watching (subbed off), but Villa had trouble with the entire team, so it was hard to decide if he was causing the issues at the back. Villa seemed unable to keep up with Liverpool’s speed and ability (Gerrard won the freekick he subsequently scored by outmaneuvering Stiliyan Petrov, though Petrov did touch the ball away in one of those judgement calls that went against Villa). Despite the fact that the ref seemed to favor Liverpool 9 times out of 10, Liverpool looked far better. (2) Villa failed to make a dent in Liverpool’s uncoordinated defense, despite the fact that it was so uncoordinated. Ashley Young looked good, but that seemed to be the only bright spot in the last few minutes. John Carew should have scored about 8 times, but his lack of finishing, which I have expounded upon before, cropped up again and he fired either well wide or well and truly wide from good positions.
Despite their prestigious position in the Disappointment Zone Power Rankings (1), Aston Villa looked fairly shoddy and deserved to lose. They got lucky to score a single goal (Gareth Barry scored a PK off a Jamie Carragher handball in the box), though somewhat unlucky to be down 0-1 at that point (Laursen scored an own goal). The rest of the season should go about like the last one, with Villa eking out a few points here and there, but doing nothing fantastic and nothing horrible. They’re a solid club, though they’re not really in a position to push too hard for European competition.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say they’ll finish 8th, just missing out on European competition. So that’s my official prediction, with ManU winning the league, Chelsea and Liverpool rounding out the top 3, and Arsenal squeaking into the 4th Champions League spot. Not that I took any risks with my top 4 picks, but 8th place for Villa is perhaps hoping for a little too big a piece of the pie.
This weekend’s game is at Newcastle, a team that finished 13th last year, 7 points behind Villa. They currently sit in 5th, having beaten Bolton 1-3 at Bolton in their only game so far. They’re a solid squad and it’s their home opener, so it could very easily be 0 points from 2 games for Villa (who are in 16th on goal differential).
Here is a handy link from Wikipedia to keep you up-to-date with Villa when I’m doing my much more important stuff and can’t be bothered to do write-ups. [Editor’s note: Is this a joke? What’s the point of me having these incriminating photos of you if you are not going to honor me blackmailing you into doing write-ups?]
fn 1: The DZ and Mr. Barca Offside went to college together and knowing the reputation of both of our alma mater and Mr. Barca Offside it probably goes without saying that the DZ is blackmailing him into doing these posts. It’s the only way we can get him to write for a blog that has a small-but-loyal readership.
fn 2: I fully realize that a team who gets all of the calls will naturally look better, but in this case it was true anyway.