What a few weeks it’s been for Manchester United! 6 points from a possible 6 against Chelsea and Arsenal as well as Champions League qualification.
This weekend we visit Villa Park where we hope we the good times continue and we leave still top of the league and another 3 points in the bag. Ahead of the game I spoke to Aston Villa fan James Quigley about the match, Lambert, McCleish and THAT Macheda goal.
You can follow James on Twitter here (I strongly advise you do so!)
Thanks to James for his time
What are your thoughts on your start to the season and what are your initial thoughts on Paul Lambert?
It has been a slow start in terms of results but it is certainly not all bad. Lambert has already got us playing much better football than we have for a few years. His transfer policy is also a nice change from over-priced British players. He has brought in players that are honoured to play for the club and you can see that on the pitch. Whether the players are good enough, time will tell, but if we can survive this year I feel we will go from strength to strength.
My main worry is our tendency to collapse in games. At Southampton we were fairly comfortable at 1-0 up, as soon as they equalised we fell apart and lost 4-1 in a game that was very even for 60 minutes. At Spurs we were drawing 0-0 after an hour and we should have gone one up, by 65 minute we were 2-0 down. I think this comes from the amount of effort the players are putting in, but it’s no use when we aren’t winning games. The win against Sunderland and our ex boss as well as a place in the Quarter Final of the cup has certainly helped the feeling amongst Villa fans. I heard someone sum it up perfectly recently. Last season we were waiting for it go wrong, this season we are waiting for it go right.
Do you think Alex McCleish has been unfairly criticised when a lot of your problems were down to the players or do you think he deserved to be vilified in the way he was?
First and foremost it was an awful appointment by Randy Lerner. I am a big fan of Lerner as a chairman, but I am not sure what he was thinking with that one. McLeish was never going to work out. The protest from some fans was downright embarrassing and it was a minority of fans, but McLeish was always in a losing battle. The style of football didn’t help. Tottenham away was probably in the worst five games I’ve seen as a Villa fan (McLeish played Alan Hutton on the right side of midfield in order to combat the threat of Bale, this was usually used as an example of McLeish’s tactical ineptitude).
The way he was treated was unfair, I was at the Norwich game when the Villa fans sang “One Paul Lambert” which was out of order, but I was delighted when he was sacked. I have alot of time for McLeish, he had the balls to give the job a go, he seemed honoured to have the job and hasn’t said a bad word about the club since. The issue was he had turned the fans like I have never known. Players like Charles N’Zogbia and Stephen Ireland were almost given hero’s welcomes after being openly subordinate to McLeish. The fact is McLeish is more unpopular with some Villa fans than Martin O’Neill who walked out on the club days before the season started and David O’Leary maybe the worst manager we’ve had in recent years and who was more than happy to blame the fans for the teams bad performances. This is probably unfair on McLeish, who wasn’t quite upto the job, but the job certainly wasn’t made easy for him.
What have you made of your new signings so far?
Hit and Miss really. Ron Vlaar looks an accomplished defender, very good on the ball and skilful, he does sometimes try and overplay it and I am waiting for him to be tackled on the edge of the box, but overall he looks good.
Matt Lowton came from League 1 and hasn’t looked out of place in the premier league. He is very good defensively, I had reservations over his distribution but he put in a great cross for the winning goal at Sunderland last week.
Joe Bennett is still a little hard to judge. I have heard some fans be quite critical of him, but I think we look a better side with him in it. Unfortunately recurring problems with a cut on his knee, similar to the one suffered by Wayne Rooney and a sending off against Norwich has meant he hasn’t finished many games yet
Karim El Ahmadi started the season well, he keeps the ball well and looks quite composed on the ball, unfortunately he isn’t the tough tackling midfielder some fans thought he was when he signed so can sometimes look a little weak in midfield.
Ashley Westwood started against Sunderland and alongside Barry Bannan in midfield looked more than comfortable.
Brett Holman is widely considered as the best thing Alex McLeish did for the club. The winger is one of the hardest working players I have ever seen on a football pitch, how he continues to run for 90 minutes I will never know. He is also fairly tidy on the ball and looks like he will chip in with a few goals too.
The most high profile is Christian Benteke. It took me about 10 minutes of his debut to figure him out. He is only 21 and very raw. On a bad day, he will be highly frustrating. On a good day he will be absolutely unplayable. He isn’t the greatest of footballers, but the fact that he is a regular in a very Belgian National team. He is big, strong, quick and has already scored four goals for the club.
How far do you think the team is from what you would like to see? Obviously, im not talking about going out and signing Messi but how many changes do you think are needed?
Is Paul Lambert the right manager for you long term or is it still too early to tell?
I am 100% confident that he is the right manager for Villa. I think the majority of Villa fans feel the same and there is an excitement about Villa Park despite the poor results so far (one of the positives of the awful season last year has been the excitement and positivity that has followed this year). Lambert has shown what he wants from the side and the players are obviously enjoying playing for him. The team celebrations that followed the win at Sunderland may have seemed small time for one away win, but it showed exactly how close a team unit we are building. He has shown he will take no nonsense with Darren Bent and I have no arguments with Lambert’s stance on that. I don’t think any Villa fans thought this would be an easy season and Lambert has never said otherwise, I think once we get this season out the way, providing we stay up we will go on to build a very good side. We have a young team as it is and the likes of Clark, Bennett, Lowton, Westwood, Bannan and Weimann are only going to get better and could be part of a strong side for years to come.
Onto the game, who do you think will win and what will the score be?
I don’t know why, and I will probably be embarrassed come 8 o clock Saturday night, but I have a sneaky feeling Villa might get something. Maybe even a win. Heart says 2-1 Villa. Head says 2-0 United, no doubt with one of them coming from Ashley Young.
What is your favourite memory from this fixture?
I presume this is a joke? I’ve only attended one game where Villa have beaten United. It was a League Cup tie, it finished 3-0 and David Healy played up front for United so I don’t think that counts. I suppose it would have to be 1-0 win at Old Trafford with Gabby scoring only goal. I do remember the 3-1 win on the opening day on the 95/96 season which prompted the famous “You’ll win nothing with kids” comment from Alan Hansen. I also remember watching the 3-1 win in the League Cup Final in 1994 on TV.
The truth is this fixture holds some of my unhappiest memories as a football fan.
The 3-2 defeat (after leading 2-1) at Old Trafford when Macheda scored the winner was bad, the 2-2 draw at Villa Park (after being 2-0 up) when Macheda (again) and Vidic both scored in the last five minutes was equally bad.
The League Cup final was horrible, United deserved to win the game, but I still feel cheated after Phil Dowds decision not to send off Nemanja Vidic after 6 minutes.
My worst memory in football is one all United fans will remember. The FA Cup 3rdRound tie at Villa Park, Villa were 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go. United brought on Van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer on. We all know what happened then. It says a lot for Gary Neville’s punditry that I don’t hate him. I never thought I would forgive him for running the length of the pitch calling United fans onto the pitch when United got the winner. I cried with frustration after that game and I will never ever forget that game as long as I live.
Another memory I have of this fixture is one of two goals against Villa I have ever stood up and applauded. Paul Scholes volley straight from the edge of the box, directly from a corner was one of the best goals I have ever seen live. As unhappy as I was to see us concede it was one of those goals that was simply breathtaking to see live.
Where will you cause United the most problems?
Benteke’s unpredictability, height and strength and Agbonlahor’s pace will be the biggest problems for you defence. The level of Villa’s work rate should make things tricky for United, particularly if the likes of Weimann and Holman are playing.
Which United players will cause you the most problems?
All of them? Obviously Rooney and Van Persie will cause problems for every side and coming up against a defence that conceded 4 to Southampton won’t be giving them sleepless nights. I thought Young was disappointing in both games against Villa last season and so he is due a good game against us. He certainly won’t get a good reception at Villa Park this year after his antics at Old Trafford last year. Valencia and Nani are always dangerous. I don’t think you can concentrate on any player too much, as there are just so many quality players for United. At least we know Macheda won’t be playing this time.
Where will you finish this season?
I think we’ll finish a comfortable 14th place. I think alot of Villa fans would just take us surviving at this point, but I think there are 5 or 6 teams that are worse than us and as the season goes on that will show. Add the League Cup to that and it will be a very productive season.
Where will United finish this season?
I think United will win it. They still haven’t really got going yet, but look stronger than City this year. I also think United’s attacking options are a lot stronger than Chelsea and that will show. United have the strikers to dig them out of a hole, the game against Braga being the perfect example. Chelsea are having to rely heavily on Torres which could cost them in the end.