Of all the things I dislike Sir Alex for, his recommendation of No-Sir is at the tippy-top of the list. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
An Aston Villa team once again comprised largely of youngsters put together a decent effort against presumed Champions Manchester United at Old Trafford, but the home side's huge advantage in quality was evident in the 4-0 scoreline. The game was likely decided as early as the 7th minute when Ashley Young was
tragically shot in the back of the knee "fouled" in the area by Ciaran Clark, leading to a penalty that was easily converted by Wayne Rooney. Though Villa were solid in many phases, they never much looked like a threat to score and United were always going to be good for at least one more. In the end it turned out to be another three, though it's only fair to point out that their final two came deep into the game when Villa had shifted their approach to all-out attack. It wasn't a pleasant afternoon, but there was little call for Villa to feel ashamed; they just ran into a far superior team that managed to execute when necessary.
Tactically, Villa showed a great deal more attacking endeavor than they in the earlier fixture at Villa Park, and though it didn't end up paying off in terms of goals it's excellent to see Alex McLeish giving his young players the opportunity to express themselves. I've obviously no insight into McLeish's thinking, but it would certainly appear as though he's made some rational assessments of his team's likelihood of picking up favorable results and using games like today's as an opportunity to get a sense of what he has in some of his less experienced players. If that is the case, it's sound management and a good opportunity to throw the youngsters into the fire at a time when the stakes aren't especially high. Today was a bit of a mixed bag; Barry Bannan and Gary Gardner have had better performances, but Eric Lichaj, Andread Weimann and Samir Carruthers (admittedly in a limited role) continued to do a lot of positive things. Nathan Baker is still unconvincing, but he's also a defender and his development taking a bit longer is to be expected.
This is still a club that has some glaring needs that will (hopefully) be addressed during the summer transfer window, but it's better to make those decisions after there's been ample opportunity to assess the development of the entire squad. From my perspective, it's becoming increasingly clear that Gary Gardner is not quite ready to be a full-time player on a good Premier League team. Barry Bannan has some major strengths and when put in a position to succeed can be a very good footballer at this level, but he also has some pretty obvious limitations that must be balanced out at other positions in the squad. Nathan Baker has some promise, but he shouldn't be counted on as much more than emergency depth at this point (which, to be fair, he isn't.) Samir Carruthers hasn't played enough for me to form an informed opinion, but I like a great deal of what I see. And finally, Eric Lichaj is the best fullback on the team, and it's not particularly close.
And if you've noticed that this recap is far more about specific young players than the game itself, there's a reason for that; the most interesting thing that happened in this game was Young's dive. United scored three other pretty unspectacular goals, Ciaran Clark got a nasty bump on the head that led to his being withdrawn and Gabby Agbonlahor continued to be everywhere at once while somehow managing to not do much of anything. But none of those things are interesting (or, with all due respect to Clark, because I'm sure he has a thumping headache.) They're unlikely to matter in the long run, and even if you think Villa are doomed to relegation (especially in that case) you can't have expected anything other than a loss here. And so I watched the kids, and I wrote about the kids, because at this point there isn't much else that I feel like paying attention to.
In positive news, the weekend's other results were largely positive for Villa; the Bolton game continues to look pretty huge, but given the way Spurs are playing at the moment there's no reason to think that points can't be had from any of the remaining games. This one kind of sucked, but there are five left; unless pretty much everything that can go wrong does, in a little over a month we can put this season behind us and get back to being hopeful again.