MANCHESTER ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Jean Makoun of Aston Villa is challenged by Nani of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford on February 1 2011 in Manchester England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
If we're going to end our undefeated run, it might as well be against the best team in the league. One that, as it is constantly noted, is working on quite the undefeated run of their own. It's an odd thing to say that an undefeated team is finally hitting its stride, but Manchester United looked absolutely excellent against Aston Villa on Tuesday night. That impression is likely due to Wayne Rooney scoring an impressive brace, confidently finishing off two excellent passes (from Van der Sar and Nani respectively) while looking more and more like the world-class player that everyone thought he was before he dropped off a cliff last spring. If it wasn't clear before that the title was United's to lose, it must be now. Their star player is finally showing that his ability hasn't left him completely, and their only challenger has just been hit by an injury to their top scorer.
So if nothing else, this was an opportunity to measure Villa's recent progress against one of the best clubs in Europe at the moment. And, when I think about it, we weren't found too terribly lacking. Granted, we lost 3-1, so obviously there is a substantial difference in quality between the two sides. However, the newly revamped Villa squad looked pretty good next to United on paper. We could have used Agbonlahor as a starter, especially seeing as he was the difference in this fixture last year. Jean Makoun (or as I'd like to call him, the Cameroonian Xavi) was very impressive, as illustrated by Dan of Aston Villa Central. He will be a key figure in Houllier's continuing transformation of Aston Villa, playing the ball competently on the ground and not giving possession away. Darren Bent got another goal, which is a trend I won't have any trouble getting used to. Villa hasn't had a reliable striker since Juan Pablo Angel was banging them in back in 2003-04, and before that you have to look back to the mid-90s and Dwight Yorke.
The one aspect of our team that was found completely lacking last night was in defence. I'll exempt Rip van Friedel, who made some impressive saves despite shipping three goals and being older than Moses. However - and you can write this in stone (get it? It's a Moses joke) - I'm done trusting Richard Dunne. Him and Collins managed to fool a lot of us over the last couple games, doing their best impression of a competent centre back partnership, but in a matter of minutes, Dunne was back to making the sort of head-scratchingly stupid errors that were his calling card for so much of this season.
Wayne Rooney wasn't the only United player to make Villa defenders look foolish, Nani exposed Ciaran Clark's weakness at a position that he's not yet familiar with, making United's second goal look easy. One last thing I noticed, just to include all four of our backline, is that Kyle Walker has a difficult time stifling his attacking intent. There were more than a few occasions where I found myself wondering why Walker was so far forward, only to see him peg back when United took back possession.
But, hands down, the most glaring weak spot was Dunne. His lack of quality was put in stark relief when compared with Nemanja Vidic. United's imperious centre back is massively underrated, and deserves as much credit as anyone for his club's undefeated run. It's hard to look past Nasri, Bale, and Van der Vaart when talking about the best players in the Premier League, but Vidic is forcing his way into that conversation. Especially when he scores goals like the one he got tonight. Richard Dunne would fall down trying to do that.
What I want to hear from you, the reader, is your ideal Villa back line. I'll give you a few options in the poll below, but I'll let you know mine first. I have to trust Houllier that Warnock is not a reliable choice at left back, and reluctantly choose Ciaran Clark. It's unfortunate, because I think he could start challenging for minutes in the centre, where he's more comfortable, but he's our best option on the left. Kyle Walker is the clear choice on the right, and hopefully he learns how to stay back and defend occasionally (because God knows we can't trust Albrighton to take care of business on that side.) In the centre, I'm going with the partnership I had thought we all agreed was best. James Collins isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but he doesn't scare me like Dunne does. And in the other slot, I'd go with the forgotten man, Carlos Cuellar. But that's just me. What do you think?
What is your preferred Aston Villa defence?
Ciaran Clark/Richard Dunne/ James Collins/Kyle Walker (6 votes)
Stephen Warnock/Richard Dunne/James Collins/Kyle Walker (2 votes)
Stephen Warnock/Richard Dunne/James Collins/Carlos Cuellar (4 votes)
Stephen Warnock/Carlos Cuellar/James Collins/Kyle Walker (1 vote)
Ciaran Clark/Carlos Cuellar/ James Collins/Kyle Walker (19 votes)
Other (feel free to share in the comments.) (8 votes)
40 total votes