Some Perspective on Saturday's Unpleasantness

Posted by Aaron

It is tempting to look at the score from yesterday's match and fall into despair. Losing by six goals is never going to be an especially pleasant experience, but losing by six goals to a team you've previously beaten in a match with Champions League implications is far, far worse. I was not naive enough to expect victory coming into the match, but I saw it as at least a possibility and to have things turn out the way they did was beyond a disappointment.

In the end though, things did turn out that way and there's little you can do but move forward. What's important is that one takes whatever lessons such an event offers and take them into account in the most rational manner possible. There has been much hand wringing about the blogosphere since the end of the match; is Aston Villa a side that has simply over-performed all season? Is a change at the top in order? Are we doomed to an existence of high expectations only to be rewarded with mid-table finishes? One would think that rather than being on the receiving end of an admittedly humbling thrashing from an admittedly superior squad on their home turf that Armageddon were upon us. In that spirit, I feel that some perspective is in order.

I watched every minute of the match, and it was beyond clear to me that once Chelsea went ahead 3-1 that it was an entirely different Villa that were on display. To that point in the proceedings I felt that we'd performed rather admirably; Chelsea might have led, but Villa had been well in things, menacing the opposition's goal with regularity, defending fiercely and save a questionable penalty dead-even with the home side. I felt quite good about things going into the half, and quite honestly felt that we were likely to take a point back to Birmingham.

This is not how things turned out, to be certain. But it is important to be reasonable about what happened. This was not an instance of a far superior team wiping the mat with their opposition. This was an example of what happens to a very young team when the odds are stacked against them. Aston Villa fell apart after that third goal, and such a thing is inexcusable. These are well-compensated professional footballers, and we are right to expect better. But their lapses were not those of the hopelessly overmatched or those of a team that had ceased to care, and this is an important distinction to make if you wish to have an accurate picture of the likely outlook of the team going forward.

The Villa we saw from 3-1 onward were disorganized, harried, panicking and sloppy. This is not the Villa we have seen these past eight months. They saw their chance to grab fourth place fading away and their reaction to the situation was less than desirable. Were this a team made up of experienced and fully mature players, it would most certainly be cause for great alarm. But it is not. This is a team with a very young core who desperately want to accomplish great things, and when confronted with the reality that their opportunity to do so was slipping from their grasp, they lost sight of their game plan and things spiraled downward. You could say many uncharitable things about yesterday's performance, but you would be hard-pressed to say that it looked at any point like Villa had given up or stopped caring.

The bottom line is this; coming into yesterday's match, most reasonable people would have felt quite good about the season to that point and been accepting of the fact that victory was unlikely. If you believe that the young core of this team will mature as the vast majority of talented players do, you should believe that the level of professionalism will likewise increase and that lapses in composure as seen in the second half of yesterday's game will be less frequent. Had we lost 3-1 I would have treated that as an acceptable (though still unpleasant) result. We fell apart, yes, but we fell apart in a method that was quite uncharacteristic, we never stopped going and goal #7 looked every bit as painful to the team as goal #2.

These sorts of things tell you what a team is made of. If we come out the rest of the way and appear demoralized, listless and off-form, I'll be worried. That would be indicative of the concerns about over-performance being somewhat justified. I have confidence that things won't turn out this way.

This is a team with a tremendous amount of talent, a tremendous manager and a tremendous lack of experience. They were rattled on Saturday and they paid for it dearly. It was not at all fun to watch, but it should not have changed your opinions about the future of this team. With some time between things, I've come to feel that the difference between 3-1 and 7-1 is irrelevant. Be upset, yes, but be optimistic. And always, always always, be proud to be a Villan.

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