I've said it before, and I'll say it again, if I were to have the Lion of Vienna Suite marry any other blog it would be 7500 to Holte. We love those guys. Because of this, I always have mixed feelings playing Aston Villa. On the one hand, it's fun to play them, but on the other hand I wish we could both win. Obviously we can't, but we will just have to make the best of it. To mentally prepare for the match, we've asked Aaron Campeau a couple questions about Villa's season in general and what he expects from the match. Hit the jump to read what he said.
Aston Villa have conceded 18 goals from set pieces this season, coincidentally the exact same number as Bolton. Why are you guys so bad at defending set pieces? (Bonus points given if you also know why Bolton are terrible about it)
Aaron Campeau: I'm actually unconvinced that Villa is really that terrible at defending set pieces (though I certainly don't think they're all that good at it either.) I think a lot more of it has to do with the number of corners they allow, because the general defensive approach seems to be sit on the edge of the box and kick the ball out of play. I'd actually intended to run the numbers on this, but it turns out number of corners allowed isn't actually tracked by anyone and the thought of going through every single Premier League game and gathering that data manually was way more effort than I felt like putting in to anything having to do with Aston Villa. If there is an issue with the actual defending, I'd suspect it has a lot to do with tactical awareness; even at full strength, Villa isn't what one would call an especially intelligent team and with a lot of young players being forced into action those problems have been exacerbated. The easiest way to score from a set piece is to get away from your mark, and that happens far too often.
Since February, Villa have suffered a dip in form and now find themselves at the edge of the relegation battle. What's contributed to this (other than not defending set pieces)? Do you feel confident of surviving this season? Who do you think will get the drop?
AC: Injuries. First it was Darren Bent, then Richard Dunne, now James Collins. Charles N'Zogbia, Carlos Cuellar and Gabby Agbonlahor have missed big chunks of time. Stiliyan Petrov had been having what was arguably his best season in a Villa shirt; now he's undergoing treatment for leukemia. When Villa have their full compliment of players available, their best 18 is upper-mid-table quality. But it's also aging and fragile, and the quality in depth just isn't there. It's been fun to watch young players such as Andreas Weimann, Chris Herd, Eric Lichaj and Nathan Baker take their game to the next level, but there's also been a pretty major learning curve involved and I can think of more than a few draws that probably would have been wins had Bent been available. I still think Villa pull out of this, but I hope this is the scare the folks at the top needed to recignize that a lot of the things they're doing aren't going to work. Wolves are down and I think Blackburn is probably doomed as well, so it's really going to be a battle between Villa, Bolton, Wigan and QPR. My guess is QPR, but it's going to be tight.
What were your expectations of Aston Villa at the beginning of the season? How has reality measured up?
AC: This is pretty much what I expected, though perhaps to a more extreme degree. This was never going to be a very good team and the decision to appoint Alex McLeish and invest a very small portion of the proceeds from the sales of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing back into the squad. This season has clearly been about shedding payroll and staying in the league, nothing more and nothing less. What comes next is the real question; is this the way things will be going forward? I'm skeptical and think Villa might make a signing or two in the summer, with the funds available increasing next year if the level of performance is better, but it's really impossible to say. There's been little word about, well, anything from Randy Lerner or Peter Faulkner (owner/chairman and CEO, respectively) and every time Alex McLeish says something about planning to add players in the summer he comes back two days later with a statement reminding everyone that he's got to operate within a very tight budget. Still, Villa have been linked to some pretty high-profile players and, if one reads between the lines well enough, a few of those links have been publicly confirmed. So who knows.
Alex McLeish is not the world's most charismatic man, and has been receiving a lot of heat from Aston Villa fans. What are your views on him? Should he keep his job?
AC: I wanted desperately to like Alex McLeish and gave him every opportunity to win me over, but he's awful. His teams have consistently played terrible, boring football and with one season at Birmingham aside he's got a terrible managerial record since coming to England. He also openly criticizes his players, whines about damn near everything, makes excuse after excuse after excuse and then assures everyone that he's not making excuses and has the tactical acumen of a rotting tomato (of which his face is also reminiscent.) I think the best scenario would be for Villa to enter the final day still in relegation trouble and lose to Norwich City but be saved by results elsewhere and for the sacking of McLeish to be announced the following day, and for Villa to try a completely different approach-tactically adept manager working under a Director of Football, not placing the same artificial constraints on the applicant pool that they have in the past, things of that nature.
I expect Alex McLeish to be the manager of Aston Villa come August of this year.
Aston Villa have failed to win 10 of their 11 home games in the league, while Bolton have lost 5 of their last 6 away matches in the league. With this in mind, can I have a prediction for the match?
AC: My heart says we're going to win this game. My brain says 1-1 draw. I'd be pretty shocked if Bolton managed a win; nothing against the Trotters, as I actually quite like your team and would love to see you stay up over any of the other non-Villa teams involved in the relegation battle, but the last time Villa lost a game to a team outside of the top six was on January 2nd against Swansea, two days after beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. That's not to say Villa is significantly better than Bolton at the moment (I don't think they are) but they just know how to do what it takes to draw.
Thanks again to Aaron Campeau from our good friends at 7500 to Holte. Be sure to check them out for all of your Aston Villa needs.