Aston Villa got themselves back to winning ways on Saturday, but as they look to embark on a winning run, they must first get past Sunderland. Which, on form, should be easy.
But come Tuesday night, there’s an added challenge, as Sunderland have a new manager, in Chris Coleman.
Coleman, who, of course, recently guided the Wales national team to a semi-final finish at the European Championships last summer.
From the highs of Europe to the, well, lows of Sunderland, it certainly is an odd career move. Especially as he talked of moving to a club on the continent once his contract with Wales was up. Heck, had he waited just a couple of weeks, it’s not inconceivable to think that the Swansea or West Brom jobs might have been up for grabs. It’s genuinely baffling.
The question is, should Villa be worried about what Coleman brings to the table?
And you know what? I don’t think that we should.
I mean absolutely no disrespect to Coleman, who guided my national team to their most successful campaign ever. But honestly, I think people are now over estimating his managerial abilities. Let’s not forget that he was a fairly mediocre manager before the Wales job, and even that started pretty dismally. At one point, he was one game away from the chop, having lost to Serbia 6-1. He turned it around, but even in a successful couple of years, the flaws were there.
So how did it work with Wales, and why can’t he replicate it with Sunderland?
Together stronger was the slogan that got Wales to the semi-finals. Unity, belief in one another, and a sense of national pride were instilled in the squad by Coleman. And honestly, Wales triumphed because they believed that they could. That’s what led to the fairytale journey of last summer. But unfortunately for Coleman, I don’t think he can instil the same sort of belief in Sunderland.
Sure, just like with Wales, he joins Sunderland at a time when morale is at rock bottom. But he has just a couple of days to work with before the Villa game, which is surely an insufficient amount of time to turn things around. I also don’t see what can be said to start the turnaround. What do the Sunderland players have to play for? Survival, of course, but there are but a few players in that side who seem to have fire in their bellies. Do they care that much about a club that they have no huge ties to?
Then there’s tactics. Wales definitely got it right during Coleman’s tenure. Playing Hal Robson-Kanu against Belgium was a masterstroke (Jason Denayer still has nightmares I’m lead to believe), and debuting Ben Woodburn when he did saved their World Cup Qualifying campaign. But the tactical genius behind the Wales side wasn’t Coleman, but rather his assistant manager, Osian Roberts. He’s the one that deserves a lot of the credit for getting Wales to play the way that they do. Personally, I hope Roberts gets the nod for the Wales job now. Without him beside Coleman, I’m not nearly as concerned about the threat that Sunderland might pose.
Of course, this being Coleman’s first game in charge likely changes things. New managers often seem to get a honeymoon period of sorts, in which they achieve early success before settling in to proceedings. Now, this doesn’t always happen – looking at you Remi Garde – but it’s definitely something to consider. It won’t necessarily be the easiest game for Aston Villa to prepare for either. New manager likely means new play style too. And an unknown one at that. This makes it somewhat difficult for Villa to prepare for it. With the short gap in between the QPR game and this, it doesn’t give Villa much time to prepare. But luckily, the short gap gives Sunderland little time to implement a new game plan too.
To summarise, the new manager shouldn’t make a difference heading into this one. Chris Coleman is a good, but not great manager, but his Sunderland side are genuinely really poor. Aston Villa rightfully go into this one as favourites, and unless they grossly underperform, or Steve Bruce gets his tactics completely wrong, Villa take home the W, regardless of whoever sits in the opposition dugout.