First off, I`d better warn you. This one is pretty long I`m afraid and as such there are no pretty pictures. I know how easily some of you get distracted so I thought it best to not tempt you with all the bright colours.
If someone had come to you in August and offered you that
Villa would be fourth in the Premier League at Christmas, 2 points ahead of 5th and goal difference away from third would you take it?
As we go into the hectic Christmas period, this ‘holy grail` 4th spot is very much ours. (Hate that term, since when did getting 4th be deemed successful? Surely the ‘Holy grail` is still the league title?) But oh well, the problem is, this only shows half the story. We`re starting to get a lot more attention in the media but you won`t find me surprised. As we don`t have an SW1 postcode it was always going to take something special for the London-based media companies to pay attention to ‘unfashionable` Birmingham but they are for now at least, starting to look a little closer
When we`ve beaten table toppers Chelsea at home, and were one of the first to take down Liverpool at Anfield, and slayed the Manchester United demon hanging over us at the Theatre of Dreams itself. With Arsenal now up next, the chance to complete a clean sweep of top four clubs is looking like more than just a chance. When was the last time any club did that? I genuinely can`t remember. I`m sure someone will be kind enough to do the leg-work for me on that one as I personally, just can`t be bothered at the moment . Sorry, just being honest.
Taking points from the top four will come the end of May, be one of the catalyst reasons of which team manages to break the top four. Four teams, play them twice, that`s 24 points a season that are considered to most fans around the country as bonus points due to not expecting too much. For us on the other the hand, we`ve met the challenge head on and come away with 9 invaluable points of 9.
Conceded only 13 goals in all games and with thanks to the simply miraculous arrivals of Richard Dunne, James, Collins, Stephen Warnock, and the renaissance of Carlos Cuellar, we now have the best defence in the league.
We were screaming about the defence last year if we`re being honest. To lose a player like Martin Laursen was a massive, massive blow (more so than Barry?) and things could have gone horribly wrong if not for the three of them above. You need strong top professional centre backs in your team if you`re to have any chance at cracking the top four. We are nothing short of blessed in knowledge that we have so many of them.
Dunne, Collins & Cuellar would be pretty much everybody`s first three centre backs but with Ciaran Clarke who made a very impressive debut against Fulham (if I remember correctly?) and the return of Curtis Davies imminent, they are the calibre of back up that could warrant a place in a many other Premier League club`s first team.
Then with full backs like Warnock & Luke Young, they have more confidence to get forward and support when attacking as they are know things are safe at the back with any of our defensive partnerships. If L. Young was to un-retire from international football then I`m sure he would be Capello`s first choice right back for the World Cup. A defender, Glenn Johnson is NOT. With the calibre of wingers in the national set-up he`s not needed. We need a rock at the back when coming up against the big teams and Young will not ever be found wanting in the defensive department. Warnock himself is steadily pushing Wayne Bridge out of the running to be 2nd to Ashley Cole.
100% effort and commitment is what we like to see, and with all the defenders at the club, you know you are guaranteed at least that.
Milner & Downing
Whether he meant it or not will undoubtedly be up for debate for millennia to come, but Martin O`Neill moving James Milner to a central role has produced the most in-form player in the Premier League. Unquestionably. I`m really not interested in hearing any other position on this matter, as you`re likely to get some very short shrift.
He is quite simply Milner the Magnificent. If the definition of a great player is that he always wants the ball, then Sir Jimmy must be in a league of his own. He not only wants the ball, but he will do just about everything humanly, and sometimes, inhumanly possible to get the ball. Just watch him run 50 yards full pelt to track back and win possession to lay off ball to start to the next wave of attack and you will see something special.
He is looking more and more the complete package every game and will still some way of his development to come. We can really expect a lot from him over the years to come but there will come a time when the sharks come circling. We need to get ourselves into a position in the Champions League where we have the bargaining power to keep hold of the top players for the duration of their careers. Barry is no Milner but none of us want to see that happen again. It`s a bit devastating when a player of their support leaves to become more successful at another club. I don`t expect that to be the case here though.
Some people were calling to move Milner into the middle a while back, myself included, but before we slaughter O`Neill for failing to do so earlier, it may well have taken the arrival of a certain Stewart Downing to enable the transition. The way he has slotted in so quickly to play a large part in an impressive team is a credit to him. The long lay off though could have seen a much slower start to Villa career but he truly has hit the ground running.
His switching of the flanks with Ashley Young is beautiful. I just love watching it. The opposing full backs just don`t know what to do. They are caught between man marking but be drawn out of position or to zonal marking and be caught out with the pace of the Villa attack. It`s allowing so much more freedom to our play in the final third because the opposition defence is quite simply to cautious to over commit as they know we have the ability to really punish a mistake. Hull will tell you that.
Heskey or Carew
For me this is the only position in the team that is still up for grabs. The rest of the team are all but picked on current form, but that starting role next to Gabby Agbonlahor is well and truly open.
We fans are torn between who we would rather see play. Some would prefer to see neither of them play and just go with a 4-5-1.
Truth is we need both these big lads at 100 % fitness and really pushing each other to make the place their own. Since the Burnley game Heskey has started to show some great form but after his injury against Stoke and John Carew`s winning goal as his substitution might see him get a chance through the busy festive period.
Either way both are potentially really good players so it`s a mystery equal to the Bermuda Triangle as to why they just don`t seem to be doing it lately. If these guy`s can click in the second half of the campaign, then between them they might make the one 20 goal a season striker to go with Gabby`s 15-20.
Should rack up the goal difference a bit.
No, I hadn`t forgotten. How could I? It`s what we`re all buzzing about. It`s been a long time since 1996 and a lot of us are struggling to remember what it`s like to see the Villa lift some silverware. We as a collective Villa unit have already accepted that we will be in that Cup final and are likely to go on and win it.
It`s fantastic. I love the optimism coming from everybody about it. Yeah we know that Blackburn over two legs will be no pushovers and we`re not in the final yet and all the rest of it, but If Sam Allerdyce underestimates the hunger of Aston Villa for trophies, then it will be at his own peril. I would be more worried about the semi final if it was a one legged tie but over two legs SURELY we will be too strong and far, far to hungry for them.
Cup final time for the Villa? I`d say it`s looking pretty likely at the moment.
With all of that said, would you take this position if offered at the start of the season?
Of course you would. If you can show me someone who wouldn`t, I`ll show you a liar.
There is a buzz around Villa Park lately and it`s been just in time for Christmas. I couldn`t be a happier fan at the moment. Next up we play Arsenal & Liverpool followed by the Blackburn encounters in January. Massive, massive games that are going to shape our whole season. Win and we will be on a march in the New Year with 7 straight wins and confidence to spare. Lose, and well, that just doesn`t bear thinking about.
This could well be the year that Martin O`Neill really starts to achieve something with Aston Villa. He`s done all the groundwork and with his recent admission that he won`t be actively looking for transfer targets in January, to me he`s saying ‘THIS is my team.`
Maybe we`d like a new striker at least but O`Neill obviously doesn`t think so. For me this is now the turning point of where we can freely start to judge O`Neill. He`s been brilliant so far but if we duplicate the tail end of last season again this year then for the first time I will openly claim that the blame lies with the manager.
I`m far from believing that we will have another meltdown because the season so far has been entertaining to say the least.
If we can secure that Champions League position than he won`t be far from a Holte End Hero.
In the mean time, I`m just over the moon going into this week. I`ve 11 days off work, two massive Villa clashes to look forward to and a whole lot of Turkey and Alcohol.
Fourth spot is the Christmas gift of the club, to you. Martin O`Neill has said himself with his lack of transfer activity.
All that`s left for me to do now is to wish all of you on Vital Villa a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Be drunk, but be safe and Friday is possibly the one day where Fear wouldn`t mind the forums being deserted, make the most it, it`ll be good to give his servers a well earned rest.