Sitting bottom of the table with only 1 win so far this season, it’s an all too familiar tale for Aston Villa. In the past four seasons, the Midlands club has dangled precariously over the drop zone only to avoid relegation almost at the death on each occasion. However after selling star striker Christian Benteke and playmaker Fabian Delph in the summer, Villa’s luck could be about to run out. Yesterday’s 3-1 defeat to Tottenham marked Villa’s seventh straight defeat in a row, a run that has seen them concede 15 goals and score only six and highlighted the magnitude of problems that the club faces. Lacking confidence, Villa were disorganised, defensively inept and impotent in attack. Captain for the night Gabby Agbonlahor’s first half performance summed it all up – no shots on goal, five miss hit passes and only eight touches in total during the first 45 minutes. Unsurprisingly Agbonlahor did not reappear for the second half.
In attendance at the match was new manager Remi Garde who surveyed the task ahead of him surely with some trepidation. His new side was brushed aside with ease by a youthful Tottenham side who themselves are far from the finished article. Mauricio Pochettino’s side created several chances throughout the game and would have scored more if their inexperience hadn’t gotten in the way. At the full-time whistle, Aston Villa’s caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald glanced upwards to where Garde was sitting as if to say “Now you can really see what you have gotten yourself in for”. The former Arsenal midfielder and Lyon boss was introduced to the media just shortly before the game but chose to sit in the stands and watch as Villa sank without a trace. His appointment may be viewed as a risky one by several camps but his work in France with Lyon in a variety of roles including as a coach, Director of the Centre Tola Vologe (Lyon’s training facility) and most recently manager should show that he has the credentials to at least be given a shot. This job however will be his most difficult to date as he attempts to turn around a team that has evaded the drop for too long and is in desperate need of restructuring from the ground up.
Garde is but one man though so his focus must be on fixing the team and propelling them back up the league. The faces a long list of tasks with an incredibly short time to get them all done. The venue for his first task will be someone where he feels most comfortable, on the training pitches. He needs to quickly get the group together, refocus on what is to come and more importantly get them to forget what has already happened. Sorting out a shaky looking defense will be an important task and he will need to lean on all of his experience to get the best out of what is an average group of players. He does have some experience at the back with Micah Richards, Jolean Lescott and Alan Hutton all having played several seasons in the Premiership. But the trio have been posted missing so far as has goalkeeper Brad Guzman. Once seen as a reliable stopper, Guzman lacks belief in his own abilities and that self-doubt is costing Villa dearly. Either Garde has to rejuvenate the US keeper or ditch him in favour of Mark Bunn or youngster Brad Watkins. Ironically letting 39-year-old Shay Given depart in the summer could be a major factor in whether or not Villa stay up.
Once the defense has stopped leaking goals, Garde must find a solution for the lack of goals. Without Benteke in the ranks, Villa have only Agbonlahor, Kozak and new signings Jordan Ayew, Adama Traore and Rudy Gestede to lead their lines. Between them only five goals have been scored with Gestede leading the way with three and Ayew closely behind with the other two. With nine weeks until the January transfer window, Garde cannot afford to wait until then to find a prized striker as Villa’s season could be all but over by then. The new boss must find a way to reignite his strikers and get them back on the right track and quickly, starting on Sunday against league leaders Manchester City. The heartwarming thing for Villa fans is that Garde has history of doing just that, turning Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis into scoring machines during his time at Lyon. He did so by playing the pair together with one dropping back into the hole between the midfield and the attack and pulling a central defender with him. Gestede and Ayew could operate in a similar fashion with the latter dropping off to give the 6ft 4in Gestede more freedom.
Garde knows that he has little time to turn things around and will be hoping to quickly stabilize the ship before tossing the deadwood overboard when January comes. He will be given funds to make the team his own but the Frenchman knows that in order to strengthen the way he wants, he will need to sell before he can buy further. He may also raid the club’s youth team for players including promoting the talented trio of Andre Green, Leiws Kinsella and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy to the first team. For Garde, the challenge starts today as the new coach tries to pick up the pieces of what has been yet another disappointing season. He will be hoping to build his own legacy at Villa much like his mentor Arsene Wenger did at Arsenal. There is a lot of work to be done but the Frenchman is confident that he can finally get Aston Villa back onto steadier ground.