R24Shirt1So, the 2015/16 season has officially started at Villa Park, and let’s hope the claret and blue can actually inspire some excitement or intrigue in their fans in this virtual version of last season. I’ve finished the month of August, so it’s now time to update you on how the month has gone, and how we’ve started the Premier League season. Villa started the real 15/16 season with one win in ten games. Hopefully we can better that.

It won’t be easy going though, as our first four fixtures of the league season are hardly ‘gimme’s’ to get us going. Manchester City away, Arsenal home, Chelsea away, and Liverpool away at Anfield. Honestly, I’d have been happy with any points at all from those fixtures. However, I knew that we really needed to try and get some points on the board early. The last thing we want is to be left behind in the relegation zone within the first few games. It was also time to test the counter attacking 4-4-2 against the kind of teams it was designed to work against, so I was a little unsure how we’d fare in the first month of the season. I also had FC Twente ‘interested’ in Agbonlahor and his £55k a week contract, but I wasn’t hopeful of much.

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So, we opened up against Man City away at the Etihad and recorded our first points of the season, holding City to a 0-0 draw. However, this result isn’t as positive as it initially looked, with Kompany getting himself sent off within the first ten minutes for scything down Jordan Ayew with a two footed challenge. City were also without Aguero and playing Bony upfront. Unfortunately we failed to take advantage of this and couldn’t get any breakthrough, and in reality, didn’t show much sign of achieving it anyway. So a point, but a fairly poor performance. Still, if you’d offered me a point at the Etihad before the game, I’d have bitten your hand off.

We then came back down to earth with a 2-0 battering against Arsenal at Villa Park, and in reality Arsenal could have scored 4 or 5. Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right flank and Gnabry from AMC absolutely tore us to shreds, and it was terrifying how easily they were able to bypass our midfield constantly outnumbering us 3 vs. 2 in the centre of the park. No matter how good you are, that’s tough, and my central midfielders aren’t that good anyway. I was also seeing very little from our strikers Ayew and Falcinelli as a result of the sheer amount of rearguard action we were forced into. In general, things just didn’t seem to be clicking as I’d hoped. At this point, the only bright spot was Grealish out on the left flank.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 11.48.31With the midfield in mind, I made a switch for the next match against Chelsea (perhaps something I should have considered tactically anyway), moving to a midfield trio in the centre of the park and playing a 4-1-4-1 with an Anchorman in defensive midfield, and really reigning in the attacking roles in the squad.

This meant a move to one striker, which hopefully would allow Ayew (who is now the first choice) to flourish, with Falcinelli working well as his backup, and a potential substitute should Ayew be having an off game. The team’s still terrible, but this should at least serve us better in games where we are clearly outmatched – which is most games.

Those of you that have been following this blog for a while will recognise that it is very similar to the 4-1-4-1 I used in the early parts of the TSV Munchen save earlier on FM16 – a tactic I probably shouldn’t have moved away from.

Anyway, this is what I went into the Chelsea game with, and although we lost 1-0, the performance was a lot better, and we really restricted Chelsea, who scored through a Pedro tap in from a Hazard solo run. When the opposition is that much better than you individually, sometimes there’s only so much you can do. Ciaran Clark is not going to stop Eden Hazard. We then continued with the 4-1-4-1 in the League Cup against Sheffield United, and comfortably beat them 2-0 with both goals scored by Jordan Ayew, whose performances were clearly starting to improve playing up top on his own as a CF-S. What I will say however, is that if we go out of the League Cup quite early, I won’t be overly disappointed.

Next up was Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at Anfield and Coutinho, Firmino, Benteke, Clyne et al. I kept faith with the 4-1-4-1 system after its good performances against Chelsea and Sheffield and it absolutely paid off, as we defeated Liverpool 3-2, and only our shocking defending led to those 2 goals from Liverpool. Jordan Ayew was absolutely outstanding upfront – clearly finding his form, scoring one lovely team goal and assisting another – as was Carles Gil out on the right flank, scoring two lovely goals, one from the edge of the box that went straight into the corner. We had 14 shots on target to Liverpool’s 4, and in reality we should have won by a much more comfortable margin. Again, it was our defenders that really let us down, something I’m going to have consider moving forward.

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Ayew finishes off a wonderful move to put us 3-1 ahead at Anfield.

The transfer deadline came and went without FC Twente making any offer at all for Agbonlahor, and although I’d rather be shot of him, I really do want to keep things stable and consistent for the time being before I start to bring in the slow progression in the playing staff that I’m looking for. I’m already on the lookout for improvements in areas where I feel we’re weak – which at the moment appears to be centre defence and central midfield. Jordan Veretout, my best central midfielder has gone down with a twisted knee and will be out for 3 weeks, and I don’t have anyone that’s as good as him to replace him. Ashley Westwood looks like he’ll have to step up to fill the Frenchman’s boots. Gary Gardner is another possibility, but he’s currently on loan at Nottingham Forest.

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So, until the end of next month, that’s all I can update you on. We end August 12th in the Premier League, jumping up from 20th going into the Liverpool game. Still, 4 points from our first 4 league games – when you consider who those games were against – is a very solid return, and hopefully we can build on this, and continue to pick up points and make sure that relegation isn’t a possibility this season. Next month, we face Newcastle, Palace, Spurs and Leicester. Well, that’s easier.. in theory. Thank you for reading again, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section, or you can contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey).

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