You know what was neat about the 2014-15 season for Aston Villa?
Aside from Christian Benteke still being Christian Benteke at the end of last season, the brightest spot from that campaign came in defence, where Jores Okore and Ciaran Clark started to develop what looked like it could move into a great partnership at centre back.
In 17 matches the duo started together, they surrendered just 22 goals — five of which came in one swoop against Arsenal. That worked out to an average of 1.29 conceded per game, and 1.06 when you remove that outlier against the Gunners. Hell, when the duo started, Villa conceded more than one goal just four times — a defensive record that was better than any centre back pairing in B6 in quite some time. They only kept three clean sheets, but by and large, Clark and Okore weren’t making a living out of throwing games away for the Claret and Blues, and it would’ve been interesting to see how the season ended with the then-injured Clark in the XI alongside Okore.
With Benteke, Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverly leaving, a lot the things that worked well for Villa walked out the door, desperately needing replaced. But both Okore and Clark were back this term, and while Okore missed the start of the season through injury, it shouldn’t have necessitated buying a season-long replacement.
But that’s where Tim Sherwood and Villa went wrong. Rather than bringing in a free transfer and an experienced player to help in the final third, the Claret and Blues decided an overhaul of the centre back position was needed, importing a fullback, Micah Richards, and a guy West Bromwich Albion didn’t want any more, Joleon Lescott, to lead the defense.
Is it any wonder Villa have conceded 66 goals in 34 matches — an average of 1.94 per game — after such a ridiculous move?
Richards and Lescott from pretty early on have proven detrimental to the club’s success this season, and even when one of them has been paired with Clark or Okore, things haven’t particularly gone that great.
But before discounting Clark or Okore for subpar seasons, consider how many times Villa have given up goals through miscommunication — I’ve seen enough goals scored by guys going unmarked or poorly marked — and how important it is for centre backs to have good chemistry between the two of them.
And you’d have thought someone would’ve been smart enough to, I don’t know, at least give the two a chance to play together in the Premier League once this season, right?
Nah. The only two times the duo have seen the pitch together where when Clark made 90th-minute substitutions in wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich City. Aside from that? They haven’t played together.
So riddle me this: You have something good, productive and strong going for you, and in a summer where so many things actually needed to be replaced, you wasted your time and wage money on a couple players at the only position you were actually strong.
Consider actually, you know, signing a real right back, so we wouldn’t have had to witness the aberration that is a platoon of Alan Hutton and Leandro Bacuna at the position? Or remember how Emmanuel Adebayor wouldn’t come to Villa? Maybe the cash spend unnecessarily on Lescott could’ve been funneled there?*
* Disclaimer: I don’t actually think Adebayor would have kept Villa up, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t wish now we’d have gotten the chance to see that.
And regardless of the actual players coming in, you get the point. Villa lost a lot last season from a squad that, quite frankly, wasn’t that good.
But they opted to channel resources and energy into trying to fix the one thing that wasn’t broken.
And at the end of the day, I fear they‘ve ruined the chances of Clark and Okore working together as a solid partnership at Villa Park once more. Okore could move on at the end of the season, and even if he does, there’s the distinct possibility that one or both of them have been broken by this trainwreck of a season.
If Villa were smart, they’d go into next year willing to let these two re-develop that strong chemistry and defensive prowess that helped Villa, you know, actually look competent in defence. Get rid of Lescott and Richards however you must, and don’t worry too much about bringing in a new starter to compete at centre back. Let Okore and Clark run the show, bring Nathan Baker back as the first choice off the bench and maybe bolster things with a depth signing who can push — but not usurp — Okore and Clark.
But Villa aren’t smart. So they’ll probably blow whatever money the club has this summer on more dumb things — like hindering the development of the defensive future of this club.
To never — not once — start that duo in the Premier League this season is nothing short of gross incompetence from both Tim Sherwood, who "upgraded" a position that didn’t need it, and Rémi Garde, who sat on a fit Clark and fit Okore for the majority of his time, only playing them together for more than a couple minutes at Wycombe Wanderers.
When you’re this dumb, you deserve everything that’s coming to you, Villa.