Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Alan Green: Spurs to the four, but not sure about Villa

Aaron Lennon's pace has proved to be a valuable asset for Tottenham Hotpsur this season

For the second Saturday in succession I had a close-up look at the two of the ‘pretenders’ to a Champions League place for next season. I left Villa Park feeling pretty dismissive of one and not entirely convinced by the other.

Certainly, Tottenham deserved to draw the game at the very least. Apart from odd, brief spells, they were the better side throughout. They were expansive in their approach and grasped every opportunity to attack their opponents.

The nine goal rout of the previous Sunday, however, was never remotely likely to be repeated.

Against Wigan, particularly in the second-half, everything Spurs went for came off. That didn’t happen on Saturday night because a) Villa, Richard Dunne and Brad Friedel especially, defended very well and b) Redknapp’s team was wasteful in the final third of the pitch.

I like Aaron Lennon. Until Theo Walcott regains full fitness, Lennon should be the first choice on England’s right flank — certainly ahead of David Beckham, but, sadly, his delivery remains inconsistent. His electrifying speed is almost a problem. He’s so quick to get past defenders and cross the ball even strikers such as Jermain Defoe — no slouch himself — struggles to get there in time.

Further, whether Wilson Palacios has been an excellent buy for the centre of midfield, he needs better than Tom Huddlestone alongside him against the best teams. I was really taken with the wide performance of Niko Kranjcar. When Luca Modric returns from injury, why not move his Croatian colleague into the middle?

Spurs are definitely improving, but still a fair distance from being the finished article. I’m beginning to wonder if Aston Villa will EVER get there.

Perhaps because they have so much pace to call on in forward positions, Villa, frustratingly, seem happy to play on the counter-attack — even at home.

When they’d typically taken the lead following a set piece, they sat back and invited Spurs to come at them. That was before half-time in front of their own fans and it got far worse in the second-half.

After the interval, Martin O’Neill made sure they were frequently 10 of his players behind the ball. Now perhaps that’s a compliment to Spurs’ increased ranking in the Premier League, but it doesn’t say much about Villa’s self confidence and it struck me, as a neutral, as very negative.

What is the point of having players like Ashley Young and James Milner when they spend most of their time as auxiliary full-backs?

I’ve spent a fair part of the last few seasons decrying the football played by teams under the tutelage of Sam Allardyce. Paul Robinson, the Blackburn and England goalkeeper, suddenly seems devoted to kicking the ball as long and as high as possible. That’s what ‘Big Sam’ delivers.

Yet O’Neill’s teams — think Leicester City, Celtic as well as Villa — are arguably as guilty. Martin likes big, strong elevens. If you’re a Villa fan, like most supporters, you may not care how your team ‘plays’, only that it delivers the right result. Others may beg to differ.

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