2009-10 Player Review

Momentous Season

And so another season draws to a close this weekend, and similar to the rest of the 21st century, Aston Villa’s final league game is largely an irrelevant affair. In May 2004, The Villains took on Manchester United in their 38th fixture in a bid to win the last remaining Uefa Cup spot in a match which would end the campaign in heartbreaking failure. We fell at the last hurdle, we came up short, and we faltered. And as surely as David O’Leary’s first year in charge concluded in a disappointing anticlimax, the 2009-10 season follows the same unsuccessful pattern as the boys “ran out of steam”, “looked jaded” and “over-performed”.

But in 2010, an “unsuccessful season” involves clinching that previously coveted Uefa Cup (now Europa League) position weeks ahead of the league’s finishing fixture, and not to mention a novel assault, a serious challenge, on the domestic cup competitions.

However, to be patronisingly pigeonholed as overachievers suggests that we fluked our league position, that it was a one off. Whereas, on the contrary, we are about to secure 6th place for the 3rd year in a row with a higher points tally each year in this ever increasing standard of the Premier League. We have sustained a realistic Champions League fight for 37 games. And we have in no way over-performed: Our position consistently reflects the talent of our team (a team which unfortunately is still slightly shy of deserving top 4 entry).

Some would question whether or not a trophyless season can be deemed a success. But as I’ve said before: from 16th place to genuine Champions League hopefuls; for 10 years we’ve waited to dream of cup glory but we’re finally beginning to wake up; and in actually bringing home the Peace Cup, we have every reason to label this magical season, a success story.

Sometimes, the beauty is in the attempt… but unfortunately, in the past 10 years, we have been unable to even celebrate an attempt.

So it is with restored pride that I want to recap on every player who contributed to our big push this year, and hopefully establish the actual cause of our relative success and failings.

I analyzed the players in relative proportions to each individual’s contribution, not over the scale of a full season where most players didn’t feature. Whatever players were allowed to give to the team this year, that’s what I judged them on.

 

1. Brad Friedel

League: 37 appearances

FA Cup: 3 appearances

LC: 1 appearance

What words can be deemed worthy of Brad Friedel’s input to our success? After being sold down the river by a perilous defence at Stamford Bridge, the resulting 7 conceded goals saw our Premier League’s best defensive record vaporise into hot air. But a closer look at what is still a magnificent ‘goals against’ tally and Brad’s 15 clean sheets (one off the leading 16) is testament that our number 1 has a direct and massive influence on our results.

Season Rating: 9/10

2. Luke Young

League: 14 (1) appearances

FA Cup: 3 appearances

LC: 1 appearance

I must say, I was shocked at his lack of involvement this year. A steadfast of the team last year, Young adopted a left sided role and still proved his merits. I expected big things from him this season but after a few average performances and a poorly timed short term injury, I think he was harshly frozen out of the side. I stubbornly believe that he could have offered so much more for us down the right wing this year, and I’d also like to keep him about next season (if not for a chance in the first XI, as a highly competent replacement).

Season Rating: 5/10

4. Steve Sidwell

League: 12 (13) appearances

FA Cup: 1 (3) appearances

LC: 0 (3)

A tough one… Done well at the start of the year (but how effective is “well” in centre midfield). ‘Steve Sidwell’ looks like a good name to have in the squad alright, but we rarely use him. Looking at his dynamic play, it’s such a pity that he can’t finish like Frank Lampard because he constantly gets himself in good positions and times his runs to perfection. But then again, wouldn’t it be nice if Heskey was more like Rooney… Sidwell suffers from a lack of awareness but would fit perfectly into a 5 man midfield. Probably our most natural box-to-box player, I think it’s definitely worth keeping the 27 year old around.

Season Rating: 6/10

 

5. Richard Dunne

League: 34 appearances, 3 goals

FA Cup: 4 appearances

LC: 5 appearances

Arise, King Richard. Bought for almost £20m cheaper than Joleon Lesscott, you have to wonder who some of these people are that are managing Premier League clubs today. Watching him pick up man of the match each week for the Republic of Ireland, I was slightly less enthused about Richard Dunne as a club footballer – until I seen him in the claret and blue. A serious, serious defender, Dickey Dunne is surprisingly light on his feet and an actual good ball player. HOWEVER, despite his obvious impact on the team and indeed his probably merited inclusion in the Premier League Team of the Year, Richard Dunne is suspect. At least on one occasion every game; the Irish man produces a heart-in-the-mouth moment, a wobbler. Indecision is the last thing you want to see in a centre back and when a player in such a tender position is liable to make mistakes, it is dangerous. Sometimes, we get away with it and Dunne prevails with yet another 10 out of 10 performance and a clean sheet to boast. On another day, clangers get chastised (like in the League Cup Final for instance – probably our biggest game of the year). Fortunate he may have been, less of Dunne’s blunders went unpunished at Villa than at City, and trying not to downplay the influence of Richard’s talent and experience I will refer to O’Neill’s comparison of our current number 5 with previous greats such as Martin Laursen and Paul McGrath.

Season Rating: 8/10

6. Stewart Downing

League: 22 (2) appearances, 2 goals

FA Cup: 6 appearances

LC: 4 appearances, 1 goal

For me, the surprise package of the year. Maybe most fans weren’t taken aback by the left footed World Cup hopeful, but I wasn’t aware that Downing was the player he is. A technical marvel at times, Stewart’s command of every pass he makes leaves little to be desired. Admittedly, I thought of Downing as a full back’s dream: Predictable, one sided, one footed – “just let me kick the ball into the box please”… I was wrong. In his assured, inventive attack, fleet-footed shots and quick-moving feet, Downing is a threat all over the pitch. Having missed out on pre-season and a chunk of the campaign, he had to be nursed back to full fitness and I believe that a fully-fit, sharp, 27 year old Downing in the season ahead will be a sight to behold (and I think he is capable of sharing the goal burden with some of our best). Obviously a fantastic set piece taker in the bargain, our imaginative number 6 has adapted to the discipline of the system and works back tirelessly for the cause.

Season Rating: 8/10

7. Ashley Young

League: 36 appearances, 5 goals

FA Cup: 6 appearances, 2 goals

LC: 5 appearances, 2 goals

What a signing! Ashley Young is without doubt, a dangerous, dangerous player. O’Neill has only used the number 7 on the bench 3 times in his 4 seasons here (2 of those after he completed his January signing in 2006 – and just one the following season in a League Cup match we were struggling in). If Young is fit (he always is), he plays. He is too valuable not to. The first name on every team sheet, Ashley has missed just 3 matches in as many seasons. He is unique in that he doesn’t take on the full back an awful lot, but at the same time, he can destroy them. Being so quick over 5 yards, you don’t know what he is going to do next and with his exquisite ability to cross the ball from deep, Young is becoming more of an accomplished winger each year. Criticized by some for not living up to his incredibly high standards of previous years, Young has been in the form of his life since February and has still directly contributed to 21% of Villa’s league goals this year (that’s over a fifth of our goals for someone who has been “out of form”). One of only two squad players to have scored in every competition, I put this down as another fine season in the development of our most treasured asset.

Season Rating: 8/10

8. James MilnerLeague: 35 appearances, 7 goals

FA Cup: 4 (1) appearances

LC: 6 appearances, 4 goals

Where did that season come from eh? Even before he was moved to the centre, Milner had shown plenty of signs of his maturity and that he was improving the ever-increasing quality of player he is. But then… we move him inside and the rest is history. No longer waiting to be brought into games, Jamesy has become the heartbeat of Aston Villa and his will to get forward (insured by his ability to cover back) drives the team forward with energy and exuberance. Directly liable for 37% of The Villains’ league goals this season, how can anyone begrudge Milner of a shot in the England first XI? Reminiscent of Gareth Barry in that he is the one player who can best cope in the heat of battle against the top clubs, James Milner is surely the success story of this season’s success story.

Season Rating: 10/10

* Just a thought: Why on earth does our number 9 jersey reside with Marlon Harewood?? An iconic number on any team, the goalscorer’s rig was recently graced by worthy warriors such as Savo Milosevic and Dean Saunders – but now is occupied by the “hit-man” who dawned the starting XI just once in his 3 seasons at Villa Park…

10. John Carew      

            League: 21 (11) appearances, 10 goals

            FA Cup: 3 (2) appearances, 6 goals

            LC: 1 (2) appearance

John Carew… Just the mention of his name puts a smile on my face. At 30 though, he unfortunately looks like he has lost half a yard of pace – but did this stop the lap-dancing guru from taking his chance after losing out to Emile Heskey? No way. Having performed consistently at the start of the year, he wasn’t setting the world alight but he was still big, bad John. Then after calls from yours truly at the beginning of March to have our superstar reinstated at the expense of the flailing Heskey, Carew showed us what we were missing with a hat-trick at Reading, and the Norweigian never looked back. JC (just noticing that these are the same initials as Jesus Christ… coincidence?) was absolutely deadly in our run in and demonstrated why he is our most experienced player. Maybe suspect to inconsistency, his talent is something which should overlap any doubts about our number 10. Should have been played more.

Season Rating: 8/10

      11. Gabriel Agbonlahor

            League: 34 (1) appearances, 13 goals

            FA Cup: 2 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 6 appearances, 2 goals

I love Gabby… I really do! And it’s a genuine privilege to watch the future England star grow each season. Another trustworthy name to see on the team sheet every week (every season), Villa suffered a rapid dip in form in conjunction with Agbonlahor’s brief injury spell. As soon as he was missing – Villa were missing. We had no “outman”, we lacked pace and we missed his genuine goal scoring threat. He has turned himself into a real key man for his local club and although still reliable to fluff the odd one-on-one, has improved his goal record every year. As a difficult aerial threat and as strong as any other forward, the number 11 is quickly becoming an accomplished striker. And if he could hit all the penalties he won for us this year (in some real big games), he might’ve got some of the outside praise he deserved (but it would be ridiculous to expect a forward to be able to hit a penalty!). But almost 40% of our goals this year came from either an Agbonlahor assist, an Agbonlahor penalty won, or from an Agbonlahor finish. He’s an important player.

Season Rating: 9/10

      12. Marc Albrighton

            League: 0 (3) appearances

            FA Cup: 1 appearance

            LC: 0 (1) appearance

I know he’s still only 20, but I expected more from him this year: he didn’t do anything wrong, but he didn’t do much that got me excited either. I had heard so much about him and was promised so many great things and they may very well come to fruition, but I was inpatient and expected them this year. He does look like he’s got a bit of a first touch and that he wants to make something happen, and although he featured in just 3 league games, O’Neill introduced him at times when we needed a change (It wasn’t as if we were strolling to victory when he was subbed on) – a huge leap of faith from his manager and thus, he has my upmost confidence.

Season Rating: 4/10

      14. Nathan Delfouneso 

            League: 0 (8) appearances, 1 goals

            FA Cup: 2 (1) appearances, 2 goals

            LC: 0 (1) appearances

Coming along nicely. Just turned 19 but has that strut of self-assurance about him. Not to be confused with overconfidence, the England under 21 just has belief in his own talent that he can do a job for our first team – and it’s refreshing to see in at least one our strikers! He’s direct, with a bit of pace to add and has already been finding the goal. And I know MON isn’t keeping him on the books for no reason. Watch this space.

Season Rating: 6/10

      15. Cutis Davies

            League: 2 appearances, 1 goal

            FA Cup: 0 (1) appearances

The forgotten man. I was bitterly disappointed that Davies picked up such a damaging injury so early in the season – not only for Aston Villa’s sake, but because he would definitely have been a better World Cup candidate than Matthew Upson or Joleon Lesscot. Davies is our best defender and after a terrific 34 league games last year, I was really looking forward to watching the 25 year old mature into an international player (something which he can do this coming year). Looked integral in our early season fixtures and Europa League clashes, but suffered awful misfortune. But hey, a goal every 2 games for a centre back is certainly something to shout about.

Season Rating: 6/10

      16. Fabian Delph

            League: 4 (4) appearances

            FA Cup: 4 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 1 (1) appearance

Excited about this signing. Got off on the wrong foot with a poor performance in our first league game (one of many poor performers that day), but has steadily picked up with some solid displays combined with some stirring marauds forward. I wasn’t too impressed by his petulance at being substituted one game but hopefully we’re just breeding an inexperienced winner.

Season Rating: 6/10

      18. Emile Heskey

            League: 16 (14) appearances, 3 goals

            FA Cup: 3 (1) appearances

            LC: 5 appearances, 2 goals

Heskey, Heskey, Heskey… (sighs). It would be too easy for me to sit here and slate him; to scrutinize his awful performance; to point out his one goal in 10 game ratio. It would be too simple to allow my hatred for his appalling input to our season to take over. I actually like Emile! I do. And I really wanted him to perform. But he has failed in epic proportions, in every department. Demonstrating a good touch at times, and the odd good pass has been little consolation to his non-existent contribution to our success. He needs a drastic improvement quickly, but at 31; the first bus out of Aston might be the best option.

Season Rating: 3/10

      19. Stylian Petrov

            League: 36 appearances

            FA Cup: 3 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 6 appearances

I think he was the right choice for captain. He’s been in the team the longest out of the current squad and has built a relationship with the manager and his methods. Outstanding last year, but unfortunately failed to reproduce that and was somewhat living in the shadow of midfield partner, James Milner. However, as Aston Villa (few as they may have been) enjoyed spells of possession and spells of control over opposition, Petrov along with Milly stood toe-to-toe with any team in the country; and of course we’ll not forget his goal which dragged us from the trenches and into a replay with Chrystal Palace. Nevertheless, that was his only goal of the season and never really looked threatening throughout. Still a tireless worker, I just feel that the soon-to-be 31 year old may have his best years behind him.

Season Rating: 6/10

      20. Nigel Reo Coker

            League: 6 (4) appearances

            FA Cup: 1 appearance

            LC: 1 appearance

Almost 26, the former West Ham captain is used less and less as he approaches the pinnacle of his physical abilities. I also thought, in the absence of Gareth Barry, that the Croydon-born chap would be used much more this year, and I firmly believed when we first signed him that he would be more effective than he has been. Like Sidwell, fits much better in a 5 man midfield (he actually shines in there), but playing second string to Delph, you can’t help but fear for Reo Coker’s Villa career. Probably lost out more than he should have after alleged confrontation with the gaffer, but I’m sure he and generations of Villa fans will never forget the Peace Cup winning skipper. For that, he is a Villa legend.

Season Rating: 4/10

     22. Brad Guzan

            FA Cup: 3 appearances

            League Cup: 5 appearances

Like Delfouneso, Guzan is coming along nicely. Massively unfortunate having to play back up to one of the greatest Premier League goalkeepers ever and indeed, the most injury-free stopper, but Brad Jr has shone well for us in domestic knockouts, and is getting more games because of our extended runs. Solely accredited with our penalty shootout victory over Sunderland in the League Cup, at just 25, Guzan is fast being moulded in the likeness of his compatriot. Victim of a few nerves in our League Cup semi (the club’s biggest game in 10 years), the USA number 2 will for sure one day replace Friedel.

Season Rating: 7/10

      23. Habib Beye

            League: 5 (1) appearances

            FA Cup: 2 appearances

            LC: 1 appearance

Strange, strange signing. Apparently he was a good player in France football… but so too was Eric Djemba-Djemba. I don’t know what Beye was offering us or what he could provide to squad with (maybe it was for the sole sake of having more defenders) and he’s such an uninspiring player that I’ll not bother discussing it any further.

Season Rating: 3/10

      24. Carlos Cuellar

            League: 35 appearances, 2 goals

            FA Cup: 4 appearances, 1 goal

            LC: 6 appearances

Still his solid self, great defender. Right back? Nope. Played a few good games for us in the centre this year but got drawn the short straw to accommodate James Collins. Admittedly, performed steadily in some games on the wing and always gave his all and tried to get forward. But for me, he’s just too much of a natural centre back to be trying to attack the flank and marking a lightning quick winger. On the other hand, provided thankful safety defending set pieces and proved dangerous in the opposition box.

Season Rating: 6/10

      25. Stephen Warnock

            League: 29 appearances

            FA Cup: 6 appearances

            LC: 5 appearances, 1 goal

Great addition to the team. With Bouma’s injury and Shorey’s ineffectiveness, the Merseysider provided genuine class at left back. Assured at the back and a handful going forward, he has gave Capello a lot to think about ahead of his squad selection. Warnock’s actually faster than I presumed and is without doubt merited as a top 6 full back.

Season Rating: 8/10

      29. James Collins

League: 25 (1) appearances, 1 goal

FA Cup: 5 appearances, 1 goal

LC: 5 appearances

Another one of MON’s shrewd acquisitions, Collins admirably formed a formidable partnership with Dunner at the heart of our defence and it is no coincidence that we secured such a limited goals conceded margin with the Welsh man on board. A real lion heart warrior, it’s comforting to see such a committed player wearing the Villa badge with pride. Every game is a mission that wont be surrendered, and what he lacks in pace and rashness, he makes up in passion and determination.

Season Rating 8/10

      47. Ciaran Clark

            League: 1 appearance

Was called upon in the midst of a defensive crisis and slotted in competently against Fulham, producing a steady, solid performance at centre back and ensuring he finished his season with a 100% clean sheet record.

Season Rating: 6/10

Big game player

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