Date: 24th November 2009 at 9:42am
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Stewart Downing & The possibilities

We`ve been speculating about it all season, before he`d even kicked a ball even, but with Stuart Downing making his Aston Villa debut the weekend, added to the argument about the centre-midfield partnership. It`s the one issue amongst Villa fans that seems to be causing endless debate as to who the ideal first choice pairing should be. Stan Petrov seems to be the first name MON puts down and seemingly preferring Sidwell alongside him. But a look in the Vital Forums and you`ll find multiple threads and countless posts that always end centering around the issue.

Some call for Reo-Coker to partner Petrov while others prefer Delph to be given more of a chance. 4-5-1 also gets its fair amount of airtime with a three-man centre of Petrov & Delph and any pairing of Sidwell or NRC.

The full back issues of Young/Cuellar and Warnock/Bouma are a close second but the centre partnership is the clear leader in Aston Villa debates. And rightly so in my opinion. It was only a few weeks back MON was calling for goals from midfield and a look at the statistics will tell you why it`s not a difficult observation to make.

Below highlights the top teams in England and the goals-to-games ratio of their central midfielders.


We`re still waiting for a goal to come from the centre-mids this season. Hell, both centre-backs have already scored before they have. Even Cuellar managed his first goal for the club before any of Reo-Coker, Petrov or Sidwell has managed one this season. I still have to laugh when I think about Sidwell`s miss against Bolton. How anyone could miss that shot following Milner`s penalty is beyond me.

MON rightly pointed out that to be successful you have to have a goal scoring midfield, and to go a season without a goal coming from the centre but still be successful; you would have to be extremely lucky. It may sound like I am, but I`m not criticising the players as individuals. Regardless of what we say about them, they all have something to offer to the first team. It`s not their fault that MON prefers wing-play and has the team set up to play this way. It would be nice to have them popping up with goals every now and again but it doesn`t take a genius to figure out that the expectation for goals falls on the likes Carew, Agbonlahor and to a lesser extent, Milner & Young, and then to an even lesser extentÂ… Heskey. (Although congrats on the goal the weekend Emile).


The point I`m making is that with Downing`s return to playing, we could be seeing a major shake up to way MON sets up his midfield to try and improve the miserable goals-to-games of the midfield. Downing is hardly a superstar but I firmly believe he could go on to become one of the best signings O`Neill has made. Not through his own ability per say, but the options that he will bring to the team. This one player could make all the difference to MON`s plans A, B & C.

Plan A – Stick with what you know

LW: A. Young
LCM: Downing
RCM: Petrov
RW: Milner

This would see Downing become a straight replacement for Barry. I know we were reassured that this wasn`t the reason for his signing, but Stuart Downing is about as close as you going to get to Gareth Barry. It wouldn`t be too hard for Downing to adapt his play to the centre. We would finally have someone in the centre of the pitch actually able to make some good passes. It could even mean less long balls for Carew to aimlessly flick on!

Having a central midfielder in Downing would allow more time on the ball as he can hold the ball and pick out his pass. Much needed if you ask me. The amount of times I`m pulling my hair out over losing possession far too easily after aimless long balls to Carew to flick on.

After all, the formation is what Villa know and by and large has proved successful during MON`s tenure ship.

Plan B – Energetic centre

LW: Downing
LCM: Petrov
RCM: Milner
RW: A. Young

With Downing in the team MON has already dropped hints to giving Milner a chance in the centre of the pitch. For so long Villa have needed that little bit more creativity and energy in the middle. With the leadership of Petrov next to a player with more ability we could have Milner overlapping Carew & Agbonlahor to run onto balls into the box. And let`s not for

A goal-scoring central midfielder would be a huge addition to the Villa attacking arsenal, and lets not forget that Milner and his fantastic work rate, is more than able to get back and put a defensive shift in when needed. This is a distinct possibility, as it would come without the sacrifice of losing any of our wing play. Ashley moving to the right would mean less of a dependency to cut inside and would see him maybe beat his fullback that little easier. With the left free for Downing he can use his left peg to provide deep crosses to the far-post and with Gabby, Carew, Milner & Ashley Young all being available to attack the ball then surely we`re looking at goals??

Plan C – Three pronged attack

LW: Downing
CM: Petrov
RW: Milner
ACM: A. Young

To be a top, top team you need to have that ability to commit men forward when chasing a game. I feel that in this formation Downing in the team would be beneficial merely for just having him in that left wing position. This could then see Milner or Young playing just behind Gabby & Carew adding more pace, more threat and more chance of a goal than throwing on Heskey. (Although congrats on the goal the weekend Emile).

I can`t see MON employing this tactic too often, as it would leave us depleted in the centre of midfield. But as I say, just to have the option is a luxury that the top teams have been able to enjoy for years.

This in no way means that Sidwell, Delph, & Reo-Coker become redundant. I feel like the only one, but am getting increasingly sick of reading scathing comments and articles on the likes of Reo-Coker, Sidwell & Heskey. Admittedly they aren`t the best of players and they all have their faults, but to have players like this in the squad able to come into the first team and do a job is a massive luxury. For too long were we complaining about the lack of depth in the team. For too long did we hear the excuse of having such a small squad. Now that we finally do have options we`re spending our time trying to drum out some players because they don`t seem too able to get into the first team. Get a grip men!

This is the best Aston Villa squad I`ve seen for a long while and I`m more than happy to include Reo-Coker, Sidwell & Heskey into that.

Now Downing is on his way back to fitness this could be one of the final keys to unlock the top four. His mere presence is going to provide so many option and I hope he gets a run out a Spurs the weekend. I`d love to see him from Holte End.

Let me know how you think Downing will fit into the Villa team.


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