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Know Your Opponent: Aston Villa

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I had the pleasure of asking Aaron Campeau of 7500 To Holte, several questions about the upcoming match between Aston Villa and Fulham. I think it is great to get the opposition's perspective from a writer who knows that club very well. 

I also answered Aaron's questions on Fulham which are now on 7500 To Holte. Please feel free to check out below my Q and A with Aaron Campeau of 7500 To Holte. 

What are your thoughts on your manager Gerard Houllier and the style he has brought to Aston Villa?
I've been mostly happy with Houllier so far. He's still getting his feet wet and trying a lot of different things. Some have worked, some haven't. At times I've joked that he seems to be a bit on the insane side, but he's not afraid of trying something new and I think that's commendable. I applauded his willingness to keep playing Ashley Young in a more central, withdrawn forward type of role, but as time has gone on I've found myself less enthralled with the experiment and I think he's more well suited to playing on the wing. He seems pretty set in the idea though, so I doubt it changes any time in the near future. In the end Houllier inherited a solid squad with a couple of glaring holes at the worst possible time. I'm certainly going to withhold judgment until we see what types of moves he makes on the transfer market, but to this point I think he's done fairly well.

Have Aston Villa been able to overcome the loss of James Milner and has the addition of Stephen Ireland helped?

Emphatically no, on both counts. I think everyone realized that losing Milner would hurt, but I don't think most people had any idea just how much. With him went all of Villa's creativity from the midfield and the high-motor, seemingly indefatigable box-to-box player that is essential to the style of football Villa are most well suited to playing. Ireland has ranged from invisible to disgraceful, and Villa have generally been better with him on the bench than in XI. He's hopeless in defense and hasn't shown the vision necessary to excel as a playmaker. He's been occasionally positive in the attack as a threat from long-range but he's also made an absolute mess of a lot of balls in key areas and has been a detriment to more dangerous passages of play than he's helped to create. If I were given the option of going back in time and being allowed to choose between Ireland and half of the money he was valued at I'd take the money every time. He's been a poor player going on two years now, and at a certain part a lack of confidence is no longer anywhere close to being a reasonable excuse.
Who has been the most stand out player so far this season for Aston Villa?

In my mind it has to be Nigel Reo-Coker. He didn't get a lot of opportunities under Martin O'Neill but he's been given another crack at things by Gerard Houllier and Kevin MacDonald before him and he's taken full advantage of them. Reo-Coker has been an absolute pest in the attack and Villa's only real defensive presence in midfield and he's been the best player in claret and blue on at least four occasions this season. A lot of people are only familiar with his season on the basis of a few missed sitters, and that's unfortunate because he's been absolutely brilliant the majority of the time.

 What are the current strengths for Aston Villa?

The defense got off to a less than encouraging start, but they look to be back to their old selves here lately. Their depth at center back is quite special, with Richard Dunne, Carlos Cuellar and James Collins all capable of starting for almost any team in the Premier League and Ciaran Clark beginning to make his way into the rotation based on some very strong performances early in the season when injuries forced him into the lineup. Villa are still quite dangerous on the counter if things break right; Ashley Young, Marc Albrighton and Stewart Downing are all capable of getting behind defenders and finding a trailing man from the wing if the opening on goal isn't there. Brad Friedel does not play like a man that is nearly 40 years of age.

 What are the current weaknesses for Aston Villa?
 The central midfield is the big one. Reo-Coker aside no one has been impressive and with Stilyan Petrov injured things have gotten quite a bit more dire in recent weeks. How Steve Sidwell still has a job as a professional footballer is beyond me; he seldom does anything noteworthy aside from make terrible challenges and give the ball away. Stephen Ireland we've talked about, but I'll take this time to mention once again how awful he has been. There's just no creativity, no threat of attack coming through the middle unless it's one of the wings cutting in or Reo-Coker breaking up the opposition's attack and storming in on goal.

Stephen Warnock has played well if unspectacularly, but he's also been a walking yellow card and has given away some very stupid free-kicks. And of course the injury problems up front have created some pretty massive problems at the moment.

With Emile Heskey out for this game who will be stepping up in his place?

At this point Villa have two healthy strikers in John Carew and Nathan Delfouneso. Carew has looked a shadow of his former self this season; he's given nothing in terms of hold up play, he's missed some absolute sitters and he hasn't worked his way into dangerous positions very often at all. Nathan Delfouneso is a player that I think a lot of Villa supporters would like to see get a chance to start and I include myself in that, but if I am being honest I have to point out that as much promise as Delfouneso has he's still a largely unknown quantity. He's certainly quite talented and he shows all the signs of being someone that can develop into a special player, but there's no real reason to think he can step in against Fulham and make a huge impact on the game.

There's also the distinct possibility that Houllier decides to start Ashley Young alone up top, which is something that I'm not much a fan of, given what I know. Gerard Houllier is a smart man that knows more about the game than I could ever hope to and he sees Ashley Young every day in training, so perhaps there is something I'm missing. But while Young has tremendous speed and is a respectable finisher, his greatest strength is in his delivery and if he's alone up top that's largely going to waste.

So, to answer your question: I really have no idea. I've tried to figure out what Gerard Houllier was going to do before every match and he's done at least two things to surprise me each time. If I wake up on Saturday to see that Richard Dunne was in the XI as a center forward I probably wouldn't even bat an eyelash.

 On the upcoming match what do you think is the key match-up for Aston Villa  against Fulham?

It's really all about whether Fulham are able to take control of the midfield from early on and establish some dominance. Villa have made a habit of coming out strong and dominating the beginning of the game without being able to find a goal, and a great deal of that is down to their inability to do much in the attack that's not centered around the wings. If Fulham can withstand an early onslaught, they've got the talent to win against the Aston Villa side that we've seen to this point in the year. Clint Dempsey's ability to play all over the attacking zone and confuse defenses make him the kind of player that can give Villa fits. For Aston Villa the key will be to come out strong as they've done so often and actually take advantage of their early chances.
What is your prediction for the match and why? 

1-1. Let's be honest, while both of these clubs have talented attacking players neither one are ever going to be confused for Chelsea. If this match were being played at Villa Park I might expect Villa to win, but I really think a point is about the best they can expect at Craven Cottage and really, it's a result I'd be more than happy with. Fulham winning would not surprise me in the least. Villa probably aren't as poor as they've looked this year, but at the moment they're not especially good either.


I want to thank Aaron for his time sharing his thoughts on Aston Villa and this match-up. Please do check out 7500 To Holte.