LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Emmanuel Adebayor of Spurs scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at White Hart Lane on November 21, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
In every single respect, this was the worst showing of the season. Alex McLeish opted to make dealing with Gareth Bale such a priority that he radically shifted the team's tactical approach to that aim, conveniently ignoring the fact that Spurs have very talented attacking players at pretty much every other position. Also: it didn't work. Bale had the run of things pretty much all evening, setting up both of Spurs' goals and coming close to setting up a few others and scoring a few himself. Villa set out to play abhorrently cynical football and they did it very poorly. If not for some terrible finishing from Emmanuel Adebayor, this easily could have been 4-0 or 5-0.
There's no real point in trying to analyze Villa's tactical approach in the attacking phase, because there wasn't one. The only objective this team had was "prevent Spurs from scoring a ton" and they only managed to accomplish it thanks to pure dumb luck. The few chances Villa did somehow end up with were completely wasted and there's absolutely no point in playing a pure poacher like Darren Bent when you're starting Alan Hutton and Emile Heskey on the wing; might as well have made it six defenders instead. Gabby Agbonlahor had another good game and he worked his hardest, but with absolutely no support in the attack it was largely wasted effort. Most damningly, even as Villa fell behind in the run of play and eventually on the scoreboard, where was seemingly little interest in changing their approach. McLeish brought on Barry Bannan for Carlos Cuellar with less than half an hour remaining, and though he provided a mild spark the team's approach didn't really change all that much. McLeish wouldn't use another substitution until the 90th minute, when he brought on Fabian Delph for an injured Chris Herd.
And that, right there, is this game in a nutshell. Alex McLeish never had any plans to even attempt to win this game. Damage limitation was first and foremost, and from a practical standpoint that's completely understandable at the outset. But when you're down 2-0 and your cynical approach is blowing up in your face, you have to do something different. You don't just sit there with your thumb up your nether regions while Charles N'Zogbia and Andreas Weimann are available. You don't put that much of a defensive lineup on the pitch and leave Marc Albrighton out of the team altogether. You sure as shit don't start Alan Hutton as a winger.
This is the kind of thing we're going to be dealing with all winter long. If today is any indication McLeish has already admitted defeat to four of Villa's next seven opponents. What in the hell is the point of even watching the United match? That goes double for the trip to Stamford Bridge. Against teams outside of the top 6, it will be better. McLeish has shown that he knows what entertaining football looks like, he's just not going to use it unless he's absolutely convinced his team is going to win.And since there's no way any team playing anything like the style of football we saw today is ever going to beat anyone, we're looking forward to seeing vaguely positive football from Aston Villa what, three or four times before February?
It's absurd. Losing 7-1 sucks, but it doesn't suck any worse than losing 2-0 in that fashion. I want to feel like I'm not wasting my time for longer than five minutes. I want to know that no matter how my team starts out playing they're going to become more positive once they fall behind. I don't feel that way now. I feel like Alex McLeish is hiding behind a sheen of pragmatism when in reality he's terrified of getting embarrassed.
Well Alex, too damned late. You got embarrassed tonight, and so did all of your players. This shit is wearing thin.