Did you know we're over a quarter of the way through the season? Snuck up on you, didn't it? That 3-0 win over West Ham has been overshadowed by our club's recent run of drudgery. I suppose no one promised us that Gerard Houllier would have us playing beautiful football, but I can't say I expected us to be this...well, boring. If nothing else, Houllier has at least given us a few off-the-field distractions, castigating Stephen Ireland and John Carew for their poor form over recent weeks. Let me add that I think he's got a decent point, because both players have performed well below their potential. However, I've become a bit disillusioned by Houllier. If you remember, I'm pretty sure I was one of the only ones on here who was even remotely excited about getting Houllier. I'll admit, I was swayed by his history with the French youth system and the simple fact that I was scared of the club experimenting with Kevin MacDonald, an inexperienced manager who had just presided over a pathetic blowout against Newcastle and yet another drop out of the Europa League at the first hurdle. And while I still believe Houllier was probably the best choice for the job, I've dropped the thought that he'd carry us up to a new level in his first season. So what am I looking to see this season?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, if we're not getting any entertainment on the pitch, we've got to find it somewhere else. Houllier's feud with Carew is great value for this, because Carew's not terribly important to Aston Villa's future and he has been really bad all season. So, to a certain degree, you and I can live vicariously through Houllier as he says the things we've been saying since he skied that penalty against Newcastle United. However, if you're like me, you also like to spend a certain amount of time consumed in worry. For me, the big fear with Houllier is that he'll turn on a player who's actually worth something.
Who do I mean when I say that? Well, the two most important players for Aston Villa (in my opinion) are Ashley Young and Brad Friedel. Young edges Friedel because of his youth, and because he doesn't have a logical replacement. Speaking of youth, Houllier also has to be sure to keep the kids happy. Albrighton, Bannan, Delfouneso, et al. could start demanding more and more playing time, and who knows whether or not Houllier will handle that well. His work in France should indicate that he knows how to handle young talent, but who knows whether or not that will translate.
Finally, I've got to include Stephen Ireland. I really hope Houllier doesn't completely ruin Ireland (if Ireland hasn't already ruined himself), because he really can be the missing piece of the puzzle for Villa's success. When he played to his potential at Manchester City, he could turn games around, to a degree that only Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor at their best can match. It's just a matter of unlocking the ability, and he's shown over the years that he needs to be handled with caution.
So what do I expect out of Aston Villa over the coming weeks? Well, I still don't expect a great deal of wins. I think a mid-table finish is really the best we can hope for, considering the circumstances at the beginning of the season*. I'm not really holding out hope for a cup run either. For lack of a better term (since it's not quite a "rebuilding year"), let's call this a year of incubation. A year for a new manager to acclimatise properly, a year for young talent to get some quality playing time in meaningless matches, and a year where we can finally finish stronger than we started. And then...who knows?
*Speaking of which, does anyone bristle when they hear Martin O'Neill's name mentioned when people talk about managerial vacancies? It turns out I'm still really bitter about how he left, to the point where I'm much more angry at him for leaving than I am about Milner's move to Manchester City.