Poor defence Aston Villa's downfall against Sunderland
New year, same old problems. The inquest into Villa's persistent and consistent failures, which will end in relegation from the Premier League and possibly well before the final weeks of the season, is under way. The 3-1 defeat at Sunderland on Saturday highlighted, yet again, the defensive incompetency which has plagued the team for virtually the entire season.
True, Villa are hardly scoring goals for fun at the other end -- just 16 so far, a league low -- but their defensive frailties mean they are invariably a goal behind before half-time in matches. Just as against Norwich in the club's previous fixture, Villa started relatively well and seemed to have their opponents worried. But when Patrick van Aanholt was afforded yards of space and was practically invited to shoot on 30 minutes, Sam Allardyce's team were ahead and Villa, as has so often been the case, had to chase the game.
Carles Gil's equaliser was superb, worthy of a better stage. Yet Remi Garde's team threw the game away. Jermain Defoe profited from another large gap in the Villa backline to score a vital second, and Sunderland's third was the result of defending so amateurish that you'd be hard pushed to find a more poorly conceded goal in any league, anywhere. From Leandro Bacuna's terrible throw-in, to Brad Guzan's awful attempted pass and then the collective blunders from Sunderland's own throw, it was comical.
The mistakes at Villa run deep, over a number of years, and a number of individuals must take responsibility for the club's current position. But with this group of players making so many basic errors, week in, week out, it's little wonder Villa find themselves bottom of the league, with just eight points from 20 games, and braced for playing in the Championship in 2016-17.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Brad Guzan, 4 -- Should have been replaced in the summer. He wasn't, and now Villa are counting the cost of the decision to keep him as their No.1. Beaten at his near post by Defoe for the crucial second goal before making a horribly misplaced pass in the shambolic build-up to Sunderland's third.
DF Alan Hutton, 5 -- So slow to close down Van Aanholt when the Sunderland player was allowed time and space to shoot, and score via a big deflection. Injured his hamstring late on and was substituted.
DF Micah Richards, 4 -- Richards is discovering that athleticism cannot always make up for weaknesses in concentration and positioning. The Villa captain was unlucky in deflecting Van Aanholt's shot past Guzan, but then he went walkabout for Sunderland's second, completely losing Defoe. The switch to centre-back is not working and he'd be more comfortable reverting to right-back, where he has spent the majority of his career.
DF Joleon Lescott, 5 -- Entitled to feel aggrieved by Defoe's first, having run across to cover Richards and then ushered the striker towards the near post, only to see his shot fly in. Should have been stronger and cleared the danger for Sunderland's third.
DF Aly Cissokho, 6 -- Recalled from a loan spell at Porto, Cissokho was brought straight back into the team for his first Villa appearance in 11 months. The team's best defender, though that's not saying a lot.
MF Leandro Bacuna, 6 -- Restored to his preferred midfield role with Cissokho's return at left-back, and in place of unavailable duo Carlos Sanchez and Ashley Westwood. A reasonable display overshadowed by his amateurish injury time throw in, which went directly to an opponent and allowed Sunderland to counter and ultimately score.
MF Jordan Veretout, 6 -- The match might have had a different outcome had Veretout's first half shot not been turned away by Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Passing a little patchy; not one of his best performances.
MF Idrissa Gana, 7 -- One of Villa's better players, the midfielder made the second most tackles in the game -- behind Sunderland's Yann M'Vila -- but did switch off for the last goal, failing to track Ola Toivonen.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
MF Carles Gil, 8 -- Gets a rating this high purely for the quality of his goal, volleyed brilliantly into the net; the cross was deep and it was a difficult ball to hit that well. The strike was one of the bright points of a very poor season. As usual, Gil's pass completion was very high.
MF Jack Grealish, 5 -- A first start since Nov. 21 but a subdued performance from Grealish. Substituted before the hour.
FW Rudy Gestede, 6 -- Typically won several aerial challenges and managed three shots, one of which was on target. No great impact though.
MF Adama Traore, 6 -- On for Grealish in the 57th minute. Created Gil's equaliser with a stunning burst of pace and cross but taken off towards the end with a foot injury.
FW Libor Kozak, NR -- Replaced Hutton on 75 minutes. The Czech striker's first league appearance of the season. Thrown on to help find a second equaliser but couldn't provide one.
MF Scott Sinclair, NR -- On for Traore one minute from time. A late unplanned sub to allow Traore to come off.
Kevin Hughes covered Premier League football at Match magazine and was later deputy editor of Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @KevHughesie.