Spyin' Kop: Aston Villa at Anfield (28/10/06)

Posted by Rhi on October 26, 2006, 07:53:28 PM

After the brief (but pleasant) distraction from the league in midweek, we’re back with a tough home tie against the only team in the football league who remain unbeaten. Aston Villa – who’d have thought it? In fact, the respective starts our two teams have made to the season could hardly be more contrasting. While Villa are enjoying what is probably their best start to a season for many a year, we’re having one of our worst. I don’t think even the most optimistic of Villains, nor most pessimistic of Reds, would have predicted this back in August. However, that is how it stands and we now face the difficult task of trying to beat Martin O’Neill’s rejuvenated Villa side. And I don't need to remind you that Mr O'Neill has a great record at Anfield.

Liverpool v Aston Villa
Saturday, 28th October, 2006
Kick Off: 3.00pm

Club Honours

European Cup Winners: 1982
European Super Cup Winners: 1982-83
InterToto Cup Winners: 2001
First Division Champions: 1893-94, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1909-10,1980-81
Second Division Champions: 1937-38, 1959-60
Third Division Champions: 1971-72
FA Cup Winners: 1887, 1895, 1897, 1905, 1913, 1920, 1957
League Cup Winners: 1961, 1975, 1977, 1994, 1996

ChrisVillan, JohnCresswell and bickster of VillaTalk.com were kind enough to give us their time and their thoughts on the upcoming match.

With a new board and a new manager, things seem to be going well at the Villa! But how do the fans feel the season has been shaping up?

Chris: It has to be said we're absolutely loving this season so far. We're unbeaten having travelled to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge already and although there's been a few draws in that run it really is worlds apart from the rubbish we had to put up with last season. Villa fans actually look forward to going to games now and that's something a few of us haven't done for a while.

Bickster: I think 95% of the fans are extremely happy, compared to the last few seasons this is heaven

JohnCresswell: If you’d have asked us this two weeks before the start of the season, we’d have said we were going to be relegated. We are now ten games into the Premiership and the only unbeaten team in the English league. Things are great. There are a few people unhappy that we’ve drawn and not won games, which is understandable – and lets face it – it wouldn’t be Villa without some fans unhappy at something.

Martin O'Neill – what has he brought to the club that's made such a difference? How do you feel he's settled in?

Chirs: He seems to have settled in really well, he's the kind of manager that comes into a club and adopts it as his own. While he's here, he's Villa through and through. He has had a double impact on the club since he arrived in the summer. He's been able to bring a new-found confidence to Villa - along with Randy Lerner of course - and it shows through the whole club. He's an excellent manager, very astute tactically and full of respect for the fans and the club's history. The other side of the coin is that he will forever be compared to his predecessor and that is something of a bonus for Martin: there's simply no comparison.

Bickster: MON has brought a resolve to the team and a change in the tactical focus . You get the impression the players want to play for him, you never got that impression with the previous manager. He didn't have much time to purchase anyone before the window shut due to the takeover, so he's only really brought in Petrov for money and Sutton and Agathe as stop gap purchases, so basically he's working with last seasons squad, doing wonderful things with it - he's settled in well

JohnCresswell: He oozes class. The best thing about O’Neill is that he is a likeable man. It’s nearly impossible to hate him – he’s just a nice bloke, and after having a manager who seemed to really annoy sections of the crowd whatever he did, it’s a refreshing change – even if he does act like Mr Bean now and again!

He’s settled in well, and seems to be getting to know the club well. Even if we’ve become Little Celtic.

What about Randy Lerner? He was the one to finally oust Ellis – do you believe he is the right man to take the club forward? And how far can you actually go (in a realistic time scale)?

Chirs: Mr Lerner is a hugely popular character at Villa, and I believe he can take us to a new level. As well as buying out Doug Ellis, Lerner has already made changes in and around the club which show that his intentions are sound and - like O'Neill - he is a Villa man. Importantly he never claimed to be some kind of lifelong fan beforehand, but his blood has turned claret and blue over time and life is good at Villa because of it. He also seems very popular among Cleveland Browns fans and as a sporting enterprise that was very important to Villa's fans.

How far can we go? I think we'll be considered a regular top six side within three years and will have qualified for the Champions League within five. Any more success than that would be a dream come true, but our expectations need to at least retain some kind of restriction.

Bickster: Yes Mr Lerner is the man to take us forward. In two years we can be realistically competing for a UEFA spot, in 5 years I expect us to be regularly competing for the Champions League places

JohnCresswell: Doug who?

Seriously, it’s not just Lerner but the people he has brought in to run the club. They are all saying the right things and hopefully they will be able to see them through. I’m pretty confident. As for what can be achieved, well, the sky’s the limit. You only need to look at what happened in Istanbul in May 2005 to see what can be achieved with a bit of determination and ambition. Oh, and luck ;).

What are your expectations for this season? Have they changed from day one?

Chris: No change from day one at all. I said at the start of the season I'd settle for 12th or above and be delighted with finishing in the top half. That remains the case. However you look at it the playing staff is very similar to the one which narrowly escaped relegation last season and expecting Randy and Martin to change things so quickly would be ridiculous. If we're still in the top six or eight in January I might tweak my expectations slightly but for now I'm just ecstatic that the mood has changed.

Bickster: My expectations are the same as the day O'Neill became Boss, somewhere between 8th & 12th - after the last couple of seasons thats progress and I'll be happy with that. Its possible we can do better but looking at it realistically thats good enough for now

JohnCresswell: Expectations? I dunno. Part of being a Villa fan is to think the worst is going to happen. Before O’Neill and Lerner joined, it was not just expecting, but already coming to terms with being relegated. O’Neill joins and there’s a feeling that we should stay up, and now? Well, we’ve still got squad that’s small with some players who you do wonder about, but you can’t ignore the fantastic run we are currently on. I still think top half will be a good finish this year – but if we sign a few players in January, then who knows? I think a lot of Villa fans are hoping for a decent cup run this year.

Who do you think is your most important player(s)?

Chris: I'd say we are still a team with few stars. Thomas Sorensen has again kept us in a few games this season and Stiliyan Petrov has joined us from Celtic and shone out as an important player. Gavin McCann has improved since playing with an injury last season. Gabriel Agbonlahor is a threat also, but I think the pairing of Petrov and McCann, and the goalkeeper, are vital for us.

Bickster: Barry & Petrov

JohnCresswell: Without a doubt Gareth Barry. Wherever he plays, he leads by example. How the hell he isn’t in the England squad at the very least is similar to why the hell Phil Neville gets into it.

And your worst?

Chris: This time last season I’d have said all of them. There seems to be a question mark over Aaron Hughes at the moment, I think he's had a very poor start to the season. Didier Agathe has some way to go to prove himself too - his presence demonstrates that although we're doing well so far the squad has very little depth. I think Luke Moore's injury has rocked us a touch and our second string isn't great.

Bickster: Hmm of the regular first team players I'd have to say Milan Baros on current form

JohnCresswell: It’s got to be Eric Djemba-Djemba.

And what of our Czech exports, Milan Baros and Paddy Berger? How do they fit into your squad?

Chris: In all honesty we’ve not seen much of Berger as he's been injured. I thought he was in questionable form before his injury, for one reason or another he couldn't pick a pass or stay on his feet. He has undeniable class though and hopefully he can still be a useful squad player. He showed that class in his few minutes this season. Milan is frustrating as hell. I'm not a huge fan of his, I think he lacks commitment and I'm beginning to think he's simply not as good as we thought he was. He needs a goal, that's for sure.

Baros really hasn't set the Villa alight much and this season he seems so far off the pace of the game its untrue, Who is Paddy Berger? oh you mean that bloke that plays 15 minutes and gets another injury

JohnCresswell: Patrick Berger has played about 30 seconds of football. Spent all but the first few weeks of last season injured, came on to play for us a week ago and has since become injured again. He was a good player in his prime, but I think it’s been two seasons too many for him.

Baros? On his day, class. But he’s too prone to falling on the floor and is currently suffering from a massive confidence crisis, always wanting an extra touch on the ball. I’m not sure he’s a Martin O’Neill type player, to be honest.

Any young up and coming players in the squad that we might not know about?

Chris: As always with Villa there's a few, but midfielder Isaiah Osbourne made his debut against Fulham last week and then played again against Leicester on Tuesday, and he is highly thought of. Martin O'Neill was quick to praise him after his appointment and clearly wasn't hesitant to give him a chance. His appearances so far have been impressive, he's a strong lad with supreme confidence, he can pass and get stuck in and could be one for the future. Comparisons with Vieira are as yet unfounded.

Bickster: Isaiah Osborne - Midfielder in the Vierra mould, came on as sub for the last ten minutes against Fulham and looked useful, Started against Leicester though how he played I can't say as I didn't go

JohnCresswell: Quite a few, though Gabby Agbonlahor is possibly the quicker than the human eye. He could be a top player very soon.

What sort of line-up will be put out against us?

Chris: I think we'll stick with the 4-4-2 at least to start with. Sorensen should be back in goal. Freddie Bouma played against Leicester so it could be a defence of Bouma, Ridgewell, Mellberg and Hughes. If McCann is fit he'll play alongside Petrov in the middle with Barry on the left and Agbonlahor on the right. I think Steven Davis might be given a rest. Baros and Angel up front.

Bickster: If Baros starts we'll play 4-4-2, if he doesn't we'll play 4-3-3, I expect us to start with Baros and shift formations when MON has decided he's doing nothing as usual

One involving eleven players starting, five on the bench. O’Neill likes to pick between a 442 and 4321 at the moment, but I suspect it’ll depend on who is available.

Do you have any favourite/best chant(s) and perhaps any that require an explanation?

Chris: Personally I like 'Holte Enders in the sky' which needs no explanation. That always gets the blood pumping. The away crowd tend to come up with a few more interesting chants for individual players and if Osbourne gets on or Agbonlahor plays well you might hear some efforts at Anfield. Generally the chants we belt out the loudest are pretty generic ones, but we're one of the few clubs that deserve to sing them with a straight face, a feeling I'm sure you’ll be familiar with.

Bickster: I have least favorite chants, anything that mentions small heath alliance (you may know them as the team in blue from the same city as us - you know you hate them too) - "Shit on the City etc" - mindless crap about a team that are no longer relevant, though some of our supporters seem to be obsessed, can't see the point in singing about them unless we're playing them, My favorite has to be this one but you wont hear it

"Long time ago in Birmingham
Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-four
By the light of a gas lamp
This famous club was born
Hark now hear the Villa sing
A club was born that day
Who's name will live for evermore
Aston V I L L A"

JohnCresswell: Not really, though the current chant of “We are Unbeatable” is alright, I guess. Made stronger by the fact that we keep managing to drag something out of the bag to remain undefeated – the last minute winner against Leicester on Wednesday for instance.

Do you have a particular memory of any previous meeting between our clubs? Say something that happened to you that day or a decision you disagreed with?

Chris: I really don't like playing Liverpool. The results of the mid-90s killed off any chance I ever thought we had of beating you. 3-0 after 3-0, and Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore were particular worries of mine game after game. The 1996 FA Cup semi at Old Trafford was especially humiliating but there was a game a few years before which I watched on Sky at a friend's house and missed the first two goals despite arriving only five minutes late. Unfortunately that friend is a Coventry fan which didn’t help matters.

JohnCresswell: Aston Villa 4 Liverpool 2, 1992, Ronny Rozenthal, Dean Saunders on his debut. ‘Nuff said.

And what about Anfield? Any particular memories of our home?

Chris: You know what, I've never been. But I do remember very clearly the day The Kop terrace was knocked down as it was something we experienced with the loss of the Holte End terrace. I remember Liverpool's fans were very understanding that day too, so thanks.

Bickster: We'll I've had my car broken into 3 times parked outside the Father-in-laws house in Alroy road

JohnCresswell: Well, erm, how do I say this without hurting you? I know a lot of people love it, but, well, it’s a lot smaller than it looks and well, a bit shabby.

There – I’ve done it.

Where do you expect yourselves and Liverpool to finish in the Premier League?

I expect Villa to finish between 10th and 12th, and I'd be very pleased with that. Liverpool could be looking much higher but I think you'll be held out of the Champions League spots because of the points you've dropped so far. I suspect you'll improve greatly over the season though and that shouldn't be too far away. 5th.

Bickster: Liverpool - 6th Villa - 9th

JohnCresswell: Us? I have no idea. You? Get yourselves into shape in the next few weeks, stop that silly rotation system and it’ll be 3rd/4th again.

Which Liverpool player will you fear the most?

Chris: That has to be Steven Gerrard. He's got absolutely everything, he’s capable of running the game and I think he's more of a goal threat than Liverpool's strikers too. Craig Bellamy also can be a handful and if our defence has a slow moment he'll nick a goal without too much fuss. I'm a big fan of Sissoko too, though I wouldn’t say I fear anything from him specifically. Our boys will have a job getting hold of the midfield against him.

Bickster: Current Form? - none of them if I'm honest

JohnCresswell: Peter Crouch. Because he is very, very ugly.

With all the talk about you being the only unbeaten team in the football league, is there a danger that you’ll be more concerned with not losing, than with winning?

I don't think so. We'd be happy to pick up another draw because it's a very tough away game. I think we're capable of that but we're not in the habit of playing for a draw anymore. It's great being unbeaten but it is watered down because it's made up of so many draws so I think the manager and the players will be looking to win the game. The final league table doesn't arrange itself around the losses column, but the points column. We all know that.

Bickster: Not really, we either play badly and then have the resolve to get back into it or go ahead and ***** it up. I really haven't seen any signs of us playing for a draw - doesn't seem to be the O'Neill way

There has been talk of that on the VillaTalk messageboards. I’d hope that O’Neill can make sure that isn’t the case.

And finally, care to predict the score?

Chris: An optimistic 1-1, based on our away games elsewhere and the recent form of both sides. Villa's goal from Gabby Agbonlahor.

Bickster: Head says 1-1 Heart says 2-1 to us

JohnCresswell: My heart says we might manage to scrape a result. My head? I think it’ll be our first loss…7-1 to Villa it is then.

Thanks again to the guys from VillaTalk.com, particularly for the quick answers because I'd left it a bit late, so they deserve extra thanks from me ;).

© Rhi 2006

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