Opposition Q&A – Aston Villa

This week I spoke with Aston Villa fan and writer Crippy Cooke (@Crippy4Villa) to get his thoughts ahead of our Monday night clash at Loftus Road…

How pleased are you with Villa’s decent start this term?

I was happy prior to our meeting against Arsenal, but playing against opposition boasting significant possession has sent us crashing back down to earth. Nevertheless, I still consider our start to be impressive, considering how difficult the fixture list has been.

We’ve been far from entertaining, but our impressive defensive start four games in had meant it would take a single goal to earn us a result. That’s now changed somewhat due to injuries at the heart of the backline.

But our season won’t be defined with games against the Premier League elite. It’s Monday’s clash against QPR that is make or break for Lambert in the eyes of many impatient supporters.


Any thoughts on why QPR have struggled so far?

Queen’s Park Rangers have the fourth highest average age in the league this season, and the Hoops have a genuine deficiency of quality in the defence.

New-boy Rio Ferdinand looks past his best, while Richard Dunne can no longer turn in consistent performances every week like he could in the second tier last season.

Creativity has been a huge issue, as the wide men have not been supplying the bullets for Charlie Austin.

Last season’s 19-goal man hardly needs much of a chance to get on the score sheet either, shown from his incredible goal against Southampton, but with Matt Phillips, Eduardo Vargas and Junior Hoilett creating just six chances between them this season, it’s clear where Rangers’ problems lie.

Paul Lambert 1
Source: QSide / Creative Commons

Almost 2¬Ω years into his tenure as Villa manager, what are your views on Paul Lambert?

Paul Lambert took on one of the hardest jobs back in 2012, and has since had to deal with a slashed budget, forced exiles of experienced Premier League talent, wholesale changes having to be made to the side in his debut season, and inheriting a team who finished dangerously close to the drop the campaign previous.

Considering Lambert has stayed resilient to keep his job amid all the pressure and criticism is incredible. Owner Randy Lerner has been keen to reward him with a long-term deal as a result, and it’s clear Lambert does have what it takes to turn us around.

But there’s still an issue with our home form, with us having lost 19 home games in the last two seasons. And results in the domestic cups against lower league opposition has been a real disappointment too. The biggest problem is that our side costs a fraction of the majority of teams we come up against, so our lack of technical quality means we’re forced to be industrious.

There have been backroom distractions with two members of our coaching staff being suspended for bullying too, but Lambert has managed to avoid the situation spiralling out of control, so he certainly deserves credit.

Our form in the whole of 2013 will be Lambert’s legacy, with us picking up 11 wins and 10 draws (43 points) in 36 games. He’s proven what he can do when the team starts to click.


How far are you away from a team which can challenge the upper reaches of the Premier League?

Quite a distance away. Our dream start after four games led to fans expecting too much too soon from the side. I fear the lack of depth in our team will mean we will suffer a blip in form around the Christmas period when fixtures pile up. It’s been consistent over the last two campaigns, with the winter games seeing our form fall apart.

We have a selection of players good enough to play for sides in the upper reaches of the Premier League – Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke – but collectively as a team we would need an overhaul in the midfield before top-half finishes become a realistic objective.

A higher bottom-half finish this season would be considered improvement.


How do you think Lambert will set up the Villa side on Monday? Who is the Villa player to watch and why?

I think Lambert will opt for a 4-5-1 lineup, typically packing the midfield in Fabian Delph’s absence.

Brad Guzan will start in goal, but his form has been poor, while our defence will be Aly Cissokho, Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker (doubtful) and Alan Hutton.

In the midfield, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Westwood and Kieran Richardson/Carlos Sanchez will be the middle of the park.

Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann are likely to be the three-pronged attack, reprising their partnership from the last two seasons.

Our player to watch will be right-back Alan Hutton, as his penchant for getting forward could prove deadly against a QPR team soft on the left-hand side.


What do you make of QPR manager Harry Redknapp?

His reputation has taken a big hit from the tail-end of his last Tottenham season back in 2012, the indifferent Championship campaign with Queen’s Park Rangers in 2013/14, and how they’ve started this season.

He may be keen to highlight that his motivation to manage is as high as ever, but it’s clear he’s still finding the remedy with his Rangers side, and his cobbling together of the team on deadline day shows he wasn’t fully prepared.

His failure to address the deficiency of creativity is a real worry for QPR supporters, and it’s hardly a surprise they are among the lowest scorers in the Premier League.

How a manager can go from being in charge of a side competing against Real Madrid in the Champions League, to now be managing a relegation-threatened club is beyond me.

How is his style and approach to management seen by Villa fans?

Some Aston Villa fans wanted him to replace Lambert in the past, but with Redknapp sharing similarities to our former manager Martin O’Neill, many don’t like him.

The way Redknapp spends money on a host of players always leads to the same problem of the squad failing to gel, and it’s something we’ve been forced to put up with ourselves in the last couple of seasons.

We’re not expecting Queen’s Park Rangers to boast the lion’s share of possession, but we know how attacking they will try to be when they have the ball. Redknapp only knows one gear in his management style which is often cataclysmic.


Looking from the outside, what do you make of the issues at QPR just now?

Harry Redknapp typically plays down the lack of a contract being offered, but he knows he needs results to get the club back on his side. He’s always been outspoken and honest, but it does nothing to appease the supporters when the club aren’t producing on the pitch.

His post-match comments to his players will certainly get a reaction, but I don’t think it’s the right practice to make it obviously to the public who he blames for his side conceding a last minute winner.

Redknapp was once regarded as one of the best English man-managers in the game, but I don’t see how that is the case.

In particular how do you see this week’s public spat between Harry Redknapp and Adel Taarabt?

Laughable, to be honest. It’s never wise to make such incidents so public as it can have an adverse effect on the players. When being so outspoken about certain individuals, it paints a picture of pressure mounting on the manager, and respect starting to diminish between the squad.

Supporters know all about Adel Taarabt, but what they are questioning how he’s lasted at the club so long if he’s as bad as Redknapp continues to make out. It reflects badly on the club and owner Tony Fernandes that the Moroccan is still there, especially considering his form rose when on loan with AC Milan last season.


For many years “Deadly” Doug Ellis ruled over the Villa boardroom, and of course Randy Lerner has been in the hot seat for the last eight years but is now rumoured to be looking to sell. How do you see this playing out?

Poorly. We’ve been up for sale for around five months now, and there’s been little interest. This has led Lerner to reinvest in transfers to make us a more attractive proposition for potential buyers, but from the outside looking in there really isn’t much that any investor would want with us currently.

It’s likely that we’re going to lose at least two of our three most influential players for free next summer (Fabian Delph & Ron Vlaar), and we’ve been relegation battlers for the past three seasons, so there’s little potential shining through that a rich investor would consider worth gambling on – especially if Lerner wants more than ¬£200M for the club’s sale.


Which current QPR player/s do you rate or admire, if any? What about QPR players of the past?

I’ve long been a fan of Bobby Zamora, as there are few players who play their role as perfectly as he does. He showcased that against Liverpool in Rangers’ last game, and he will have a place in the heart of the supporters for the goal he scored to seal QPR’s promotion to the Premier League.

Zamora’s first-touch, link-up play, and simplicity in possession make him such a useful cog in attack. He doesn’t score many goals, but he’s a very unselfish player, and leads by example. The one flaw is that he offers little industry and pace, and he does need a strike-partner to play alongside, so you’re automatically sacrificing bodies from the midfield to accommodate for the veteran.


Which three teams do you tip for the drop this season and why? Score and prediction for Monday Night?

I feel Burnley will be the first-team relegated this season, with fellow newly-promoted sides Leicester City and Queen’s Park Rangers joining them. Burnley and QPR have struggled for goals this season, and have picked up just one victory between them so far. While Leicester City have started the season well, I think their squad will struggle when the games take their toll of the players. When Leonardo Ulloa’s goals dry up, I question whether Jamie Vardy and David Nugent are really good enough to keep the Foxes up.

As for Burnley, they have deficiencies in every position that I don’t think any manager could fix. They are typically gritty at Turf Moor, but have struggled to break down Premier League sides, while having signed a host of below-par players not good enough for the top flight,

Redknapp will spend in January in a bid to keep QPR above the drop zone, but I feel the Hoops are a side that need a mass overhaul before they will be a mainstay in the Premier League. It’s not about signing talented individuals, it’s about building a team with one ethos, and Rangers don’t have that.

Ahead of our clash against the Hoops on Monday, I’ve got to plump for a Villa win at Loftus Road. Queens Park Rangers 1-2 Aston Villa.


Thanks once again to Crippy (@Crippy4Villa) for taking the time out to speak to us this week.