As Aston Villa head into another challenging weekend, Villa blogger Matt Turvey asks if fans of the Birmingham club should be hopeful this weekend.
It isn’t often that a fan can feel optimistic despite having his team beaten late on by a goal that meant no points and yet another loss for his club.
However, Aston Villa is no ordinary club as any long term fan will know.
The loss to Manchester United was galling in a sense, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have been a bogey team for Villa for a long time, with the last home win for the Villans being in 1995, way back when I was still (technically) a child.
However, getting back to the game last weekend, there was much to hearten any ardent Villa fan. Sure, nobody likes to lose games and points, but Villa performance showed that, assuming the club can put in similar performances going forwards, everything should be OK this season.
Of course, one game does not make a season, and many may suggest it is foolhardy to make such a statement especially considering that Villa lost that particular match, and that lost games don’t make for positive steps in the league.
However, the performance against United was good enough that only a few teams in the league could have bettered it, the red team from Manchester being one.
The challenge for Villa is to keep that level of performance up, especially considering that Manchester’s other team - Manchester City - are the next team up as Villa’s opponents.
Villa had a great result against City earlier in the season as they ran out unexpected 5-2 winners in the Capital One Cup with a strong performance to go with it.
However, the league cup is not synonymous with the league, and whilst I am reticent to believe Roberto Mancini’s protestations following the loss that “this competition isn’t our focus this season”, the Citizens will play a stronger team this weekend.
The key to Villa getting anything from this weekend? Freedom from pressure.
It is very easy to say such a thing, but rather harder to actually deliver it. Over the past few seasons, Villa have suffered crises of identity and confidence.
Against United, Villa’s shakiness, even when two goals to the good, shined through like a beacon. If Villa are to develop this season, this shaky confidence must be stabilised.
At least Villa’s identity under Paul Lambert is, slowly but surely, being clarified.
After changing tactics and ideologies from the Martin O’Neill era, through Gerard Houllier’s ill-fated season, and into Alex McLeish’s single season in charge, it was easy to believe that Villa had no idea what to do with the ball.
Such a criticism may well seem harsh, but under differing managers, the football ethea have been strikingly different, moving from counter-attacking under O’Neill, to continental slow passing football under Houllier, to a “defence first” logic under McLeish.
It isn’t until ten games into the season under Lambert, that we’re starting to see the hallmarks of Villa’s current manager’s style - combining some of the best attributes of both O’Neill and Houllier.
The difference with Lambert from the two aforementioned managers is that he both knows how to direct his team in a passing style, but also rotates teams, rarely suffering slacking well as the exclusion of Darren Bent illustrates perfectly.
Against City, Lambert’s team will need to display a hard working ethos - one that will continue to exclude Bent, “injury” or not - as the Premier League champions will be a tough force to overcome. They are, however, beatable given the right circumstances.
Much of Villa’s fate will revolve around Christian Benteke, a man who has seamlessly gone from relative unknown in the eyes of many fans to the team’s key player, contributing goals, assists, and workrate, at the same time giving many fans enough reason to forget about the club’s current number nine.
The difference between Benteke and Bent is that the Belgian international is just as predatory and prolific as Villa’s number nine, but with a non-stop work ethic that makes his selection a very easy choice.
If there is to be one winner in the competition between the similarly named Benteke and Bent, it looks increasingly likely to be Villa’s number 20, as single dimensional poachers look alienated in something of a repeat of Bent’s final months at Tottenham Hotspur.
Should Villa manage to work and press hard against City, a result is feasible, albeit far from a certainty. However, whatever happens, Villa will likely see more of the same as Lambert’s transformation of the team in less than £20m looks to continue.
The wins may not be flowing yet but, going off the performance last week, a solid run should not be too far into the future.
You can read more of Matt Turvey’s articles & opinions on Aston Villa Life at www.astonvillalife.com, via the Aston Villa Life Twitter account @astonvillalife, or via his own Twitter account @MatthewSTurvey.