92 clubs favourite players – Aston Villa – Gabriel Agbonlahor

The second of the 92 clubs I am going to choose my favourite player from is Aston Villa and they have been a solid team in the Premier League for a long time and have even qualified for Europe on several occasions.

The player I have chosen is someone that has been at the club through some tough times and also some good times and that man is Gabriel Agbonlahor. He has played for Villa under six different managers and has the achievement to have scored under every single one of them. This includes Kevin MacDonald, David O’Leary, Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish, Martin O’Neill and now Paul Lambert. It was under O’Neill that he really started to show his potential by scoring 49 goals in 175 games and helping them to good finishes in the league. This season so far the goals haven’t been flowing for him but in his first five Premier League games he has assisted four goals and shown that he has had to adapt his game over the years from a central striker to a winger and he is still a massive threat to every team.
Agbonlahor]
It did take him a few years to adapt to the new role after an impressive start to his career as a striker. In his first four full seasons at the club he scored double figures in all of these in the Premier League and now has 63 goals in the league all together and will be hoping that he can get into the elite group of players that has scored 100 goals in the Premier League in the coming years. Last year he returned to goal scoring form by getting 12 goals in all competitions and by linking up with Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann he will get more opportunities to score and assist goals.

Personally I think Agbonlahor should have been given more chances in the England set up, he does have three caps and performed quite well in all of the games particularly in a win against Germany where he had a goal disallowed and caused real problems with his pace. Recently England have been struggling to find consistent wingers and front men which is why I cannot believe he hasn’t even been called up recently. His form is certainly better than Ashley Young and adds a lot more going forward than James Milner. Plus he has a lot more experience than Andros Townsend and Raheem Sterling and is still only 26 so he has a lot to offer.

He came through the Villa youth team so obviously the fans are going to like him a lot but something else that makes them love him is the fact that he has a brilliant record against one of their nearest rivals Birmingham City. Scoring four times in seven games in the Midlands Derby is a very good record and his performances have helped his side beat their rivals in five of the seven games you know the fans will have a lot of respect for your talents.

Who is your favourite player at Aston Villa? Does Agbonlahor deserve another chance on the international stage? Can Paul Lambert get the best out of Agbonlahor?

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Manchester United have won the Premier League

Manchester United have won their 20th title with four games still to play and could finish the season on 96 points.

It has been a very good season for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and one that will be remembered, especially after last season’s heartbreaking ending. They clearly didn’t want a repeat of that this year and have only lost four games all season as well as having a much better goal difference than their closest rivals which was once again Manchester City. At times earlier in the season there were questions about their defence but in recent weeks it has tightened up brilliantly which has taken the pressure off their attacking players.

One of these attacking players is Robin Van Persie who in my opinion has been the difference this season from last year. It is not only his goals that has made him such a good signing but his movement and his ability on the ball, he drags defenders out of position giving other players opportunities to score and even when he was on a goal scoring drought, he was still playing pretty well. 28 goals in all competitions is a great return and he will be hoping to hit 30 before the season is out. The other two main strikers have also chipped in with goals and Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will have profited from playing alongside the former Arsenal man. Although there may be a few concerns with Rooney as it is the first time he is not the main man for a long time. Another slight concern might be the goal scoring return of Danny Welbeck but he has played on the wing at times this season and some of his appearances have been off the bench. In my opinion though he is certainly good enough to be the fourth choice striker.

It has been quite a strange season for the clubs midfielders though as none of the attacking ones have really stood out for prolonged periods of time. Nani, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia just haven’t quite been at their best this season and will be hoping they get another chance to impress next season because I am a little worried about the future of some of these at the club. However, Michael Carrick, whether rightly or wrongly has been included in the PFA Player of the Year nominations, has had a fantastic season and just proved why he should have more England caps than he does.

Yet again the defence has been good at times but there have also been mistakes in their defence that have not quite cost them but made a few games more difficult than they should have been. Rafael at right back looks very promising and in a few years could be considered the best in the world, as long as he improves his defending slightly. However, these days it seems more important to be able to attack from full back than to actually defend so he is ok in that respect. Also David De Gea deserves a mention because everyone was jumping on his mistakes but when he was keeping clean sheet after clean sheet nobody was praising him. He is another that will get better and I don’t think people consider his age when criticising him. He is only young (especially for a goalkeeper) and will make mistakes but he has bounced back from every one of them.

Player of the day- Andrea Pirlo and would the Italian get in the Spain team?

England have crashed out of yet another tournament after losing in a penalty shootout against Italy, however they were massively outplayed by their opponents.

The Italians deserve their place in the semi finals and they will give Germany a better game than England would have so at least it will be a good game to watch. It is disappointing that England have gone out on a personal level but to be fair to the players and Roy Hodgson nobody really expected us to win the group so that should be seen as a massive achievement. But, onto the game and it was all Italy and they had numerous chances to win the game and had a lot of attempts on Joe Hart’s goal. Mario Balotelli was threatening in behind with his pace and was almost through one on one but was blocked out by John Terry. The game finished 0-0 and in extra time the pattern of the game didn’t change and the Italians poured more and more men forward with Antonio Nocerino having a goal disallowed just before it went to the dreaded penalty shootouts. Italy won 4-2 with Ashley Young and Ashley Cole missing. I enjoyed the Italian penalties actually as they mostly showed their composure and showed the English how it was done. Balotelli’s was brilliant as no keeper would have saved and Andrea Pirlo’s well it is difficult to describe it as he was under so much pressure and he had took it like he didn’t have a care in the world and it wasn’t in front of millions of people around the world.

Man of the match- Andrea Pirlo- The Italian midfielder is my player of the tournament as he has just been fantastic, every time he gets the ball he produces something special, his through ball to Balotelli was outstanding and his awareness was incredible. He picked up the ball near his own box and casually chipped the ball through right into the path of Balotelli who just couldn’t take the chance. He could have got man of the match just for his penalty but his passing is in my opinion unrivalled as not many players can drop in deep and play little one twos then play a cross field pass with so much accuracy. A lot of people will argue that Spain’s midfielders are better because they have a better passing average but Pirlo dictates a game by himself whereas Xavi and Xabi Alonso etc do it more as a partnership. That is just my opinion and I think if he was Spanish he would get into their first 11.

Has Pirlo been the best player at Euro 2012?

Players of the day- Yohan Cabaye and Andriy Shevchenko

England kicked off their European Championship campaign against France and co-hosts Ukraine took on Sweden in Group D.

The England fans were not the most optimistic before the game but afterwards they should be quietly confident they can beat both Ukraine and Sweden to qualify for the knockout stages. France had more of the ball and looked the more threatening but on the counter attack Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck caused problems for the French defence. Joleon Lescott scored the opening goal from a fantastic Steven Gerrard free kick and this capped off an impressive first 30 minutes for the team. James Milner had went close after rounding the keeper but he could not finish but after the goal France took control. Samir Nasri grabbed an equaliser with a long range effort which Joe Hart arguably could have done better with. The second half was all France and Karim Benzema had two efforts from distance that needed saving.

Man of the match- Yohan Cabaye- The Newcastle midfielder ran the show and has added another couple of million pound to his price tag after such an impressive performance. He may not have stood out to some people as he didn’t take players on or get into really threatening positions but he kept the ball for his team and stopped countless counter attacks. He completed 43 of his 46 passes which is impressive by anyone’s standards and he certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Spain side with his intelligent passes. He was unlucky not to score when his volley was just deflected wide but he was also lucky to escape without a booking as he did commit quite a few fouls.

Cabaye scored four goals in his first season in England

Co-hosts Ukraine are now top of the group after beating Sweden 2-1 and looking very impressive, they kept the ball brilliantly and very imaginative in some of their play. Wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko were impressive and they tried to take on their fullbacks and put crosses into the box. But it was Sweden who opened the scoring with a goal from the inconsistent Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He finished off a move he started, and it looked as though they would go on and win the game comfortably but Ukraine had other ideas. Two headers from Andriy Shevchenko changed the game around and it left Sweden desperate to find equaliser towards the end with Olof Mellberg and Johan Elmander missing very good chances.

Man of the match- Andriy Shevchenko- He was already a national hero and now he will be considered a god in his homeland. The striker showed his fantastic ability and his movement was second to none in the tournament so far, the way he got away from Mellberg for his first was wonderful and getting in at the near post was genius from the former Chelsea man. His best days may be past him but he showed that if he is given a chance he will put it away, so France and England need to make sure they don’t give him a sniff.

Shevchenko has scored 48 goals for Ukraine

Manchester United and Manchester City crash out of the Europa League

Both Manchester clubs crashed out of the Europa League after being beaten by Sporting Lisbon and Athletic Bilbao.

Where to start? Manchester United were beaten both home and away by Bilbao and deservedly so, not at any point especially in the second leg did they look like they were going to go through. Bilbao, to put it simply were fantastic and didn’t give the United players a moments peace when they were in possession. Fernando Llorente looked like the best striker on the pitch over the two legs and scored some wonderful goals including a lovely first time volley in the second leg. He showed up the United front players even if Wayne Rooney did grab some goals himself, Llorente had the movement and the finishing ability which is attracting attention from bigger clubs and judging him on these two performances he can play well under pressure and in big games so I think a lot of clubs will be sniffing around him in the next transfer window.

So United failed and I believe that Alex Ferguson got it wrong in the second leg because he knew that his team needed to score twice to go through and this was if they kept a clean sheet which was never going to happen. He played a hardworking side and committed side but it did not seem likely that the team he selected would be good enough to win the game never mind qualify. He went with only one striker in Rooney and left Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck on the bench, while playing Ryan Giggs and Ashley Young in the wide positions. It seemed like Fergie was scared of this Bilbao side, why not go out and attack them, try and grab an early goal and see if they could deal with the pressure. But, no instead it seemed like he just wanted his side to stay in the game for as long as possible and then nick a couple of goals on the counter.

Maybe they will prefer being out so they can focus on the Premier League and Manchester City in the first half of their game seemed to take their eye off the ball because they were 2-0 down at halftime and losing 3-0 on aggregate. Losing the first leg was acceptable as it was away and Portugal can be difficult to go to but being 2-0 down at home is not something you see often from a team that wants to win trophies. In their defence they picked up in the second half and actually won the game on the night with goals from Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli which shows that Roberto Mancini did want to win the trophy and did not accept what he saw in the first half and let his players know what he thought of them at halftime. They were unfortunate to go out on away goals but they only have themselves to blame.

Both teams now only have the Premier League to focus on and that will be a fascinating race but it is a frustrating time for English teams in Europe with every team now out apart from Chelsea. This is a missed opportunity especially for Alex Ferguson as this is the only trophy he hasn’t won as manager of United so he probably wanted to see his team perform better. It is now up to Chelsea to win a European trophy this season.

Will Aston Villa get relegated from the Premier League?

Aston Villa may be getting dragged into a relegation battle this season with some of their star players underperforming and now the news that Darren Bent will be out for three months has made the possibility of relegation a lot more likely.

They are not a one man team but who will score the amount of goals Bent does, Gabriel Agbonlahor for all his pace and directness does not quite have the ability to reach the same levels as Bent. However, I have been impressed with him this season but five goals isn’t exactly prolific. Saying that though he has hit double figures in three seasons so far in his career with his best being 13 goals, he will need to get somewhere near this target this season if Villa are going to stay up.

Emile Heskey has never been prolific in his career and does not seem to be favoured by Alex McLeish anyway so he may be overlooked. Whenever I have seen him play this season he has been on the left wing which he has done a few times over the years but you cannot get the best out of him from that position. Everyone always says that Heskey makes his strike partner look better and score more goals and maybe he will be able to help Agbonlahor grab the goals as well as him chipping in with a few himself.

With Robbie Keane’s loan spell ending, this injury could not have came at a worse time and they will no option but bring Nathan Delfouneso back to the club and push him straight into the first team. He is only a young player but he has certainly showed some promise when he has came off the bench in the last few years and maybe now is his time to step up and show everyone that he is a Premier League quality striker. If he can also grab a few goals between now and the end of the season he could be a hero to the Villa fans as they are in need of one at the moment.

The midfield will have to step it up also as they can get goals but have struggled to so far this season. Charles N’Zogbia can score goals from out wide and has done so on many occasions for former clubs Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United. He only has one goal so far for the club and this is quite remarkable as he hit 10 goals in all competitions last season in arguably a weaker side. Marc Albrighton on the other side should be adding more goals to his game as he is a very good player and likes to get himself into attacking positions but in his defence he hasn’t always been first choice. I believe though that this injury could be a blessing in disguise for Stephen Ireland as he really needs to get his career back on track, he has struggled for years and maybe now with the pressure on, he may get back to the form he showed at Manchester City when he was one of the best attacking midfielders in the Premier League and.

I do not believe Villa will go down but the Premier League does throw up a few surprises and with the fans still not taking to McLeish very well, it all adds up to a very difficult end to the season. Maybe it is down to the manager that they are struggling because at times he can be far too negative and doesn’t allow his players to express themselves and this could be part of the reason why there flair players from last year, like Ashley Young and Stewart Downing left. It could also be why players like N’Zogbia have underperformed.

How serious are Manchester United and Manchester City going to take the Europa League?

It may have been easy for the two Manchester clubs to not take the Europa League seriously so the draw has actually helped the competition with two very exciting ties which wouldn’t have looked out of place the Champions League. Two tricky away ties were up first for the teams with United playing Ajax and City playing Porto so this was a great opportunity to see whether the managers believed this competition was worthwhile or not.

Let us first start with United, (because there game was first not because of preference) they picked quite a strong team but also took the opportunity to give a few players an opportunity to get minutes under their belt after recovering from injury. Tom Cleverley and Fabio started and these two were probably the only two that could have been replaced by better players but nevertheless they have enough experience to be put in the side in a big European game. When Patrice Evra was left in Manchester, I was a little worried Alex Ferguson was not taking it seriously but his reasoning was acceptable enough as it had been a tough week for the French left back with the whole Suarez saga. His pre match press conferences also confirmed that he wants to win this competition now he is in it as it is the only one he has not won as United manager and we all recognise Fergie does not accept defeat against any team in any competition. So, he started Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez up front and it worked well with Hernandez scoring the second goal and ultimately putting the tie to bed. As previous stated, it was an opportunity to give players with fitness doubts a game and Ashley Young was one of these and he played quite well and opened the scoring which will give him confidence for the remainder of the season.

Now, onto City and they probably had a more difficult tie against Porto as the Portuguese team have been in fantastic form and very rarely lose at home in any competition. When Varela opened the scoring for Porto, the City fans must have thought it may be difficult to get back into it but the players themselves showed that they are ready to compete and even though it’s not where they want to be, they still want to win as much silverware as they can this season. An own goal got them back in the game but in fairness they had deserved it as they had created quite a few opportunities. They went onto win the game with Sergio Aguero grabbing the winner from off the bench. This shows that Mancini wanted to rest him but had enough respect to have him on the bench to bring on if he was needed. A draw would have been a good result, but obviously the manager wanted more and this is why he brought on Aguero and this shows that he also wants to win the competitions.

I believe it is a good thing both Manchester clubs are in the Europa League because they will want to outdo each other and get further than the other. If only one of them had dropped into the tournament then I think they may have decided to focus on the Premier League more and forgot about Europe this season. Now, the Europa League will also gain more attention than it usually does which can only be a good thing for UEFA.

Young guns save Arsene Wenger and Arsenal

When you go 2-0 down at home, you look towards your experienced players to get you back into the game but not at Arsenal, although Robin Van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott all played in part in rescuing the game, all the plaudits should go to a young Englishman and a Young Welshman.

Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain may have saved Arsene Wenger’s job and kept Arsenal in the FA Cup because they both played brilliantly in the second half to get Arsenal a victory that looked very unlikely at halftime. I have been praising Ramsey all season as one of Arsenal’s best players this season and if it wasn’t for the incredible form of Van Persie he would have easily won the Player of the Year trophy at the club. He plays with football in the right way always wanting the ball to feet and most of the time plays it simple and just gives it to a teammate but he also has the quality to unlock defences with his driving runs and precise through balls. The Welsh captain has so much energy and covers the whole pitch in a game, he is a proper box to box midfielder and although he may not be the best at defending he is always prepared to get back and help out his defence. The goal that got Arsenal back into the game was from the penalty spot which Ramsey won after a clumsy challenge from Villa centre back Richard Dunne who was lucky to stay on the pitch. However, it was fortunate that Dunne flung himself into the tackle because Ramsey had taken a loose touch and the ball was trickling through to the goalkeeper.

On the wing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain impressed me yet again after a good performance against Manchester United. His willingness to take players on and commit defenders shows that he is not scared of taking on the Premier League and maybe Wenger waited too long to put him into the action as Andrei Arshavin has had a horrendous season. In my opinion he has an outside chance of making Fabio Capello’s squad for the Euro 2012 because he would give England some additional pace and seems quite powerful especially for someone quite young. Although the problem is he will have to get past Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Adam Johnson just to have a chance of getting in the squad. In my opinion he actually looks better than Walcott, it would be fantastic to see them in a straight race as they both have exceptional pace but I believe that Oxlade Chamberlain may possess a better final ball and in time will create more chances for teammates and score more goals.

Yes Van Persie needed to stay calm and composed to score the two penalties and Walcott did show some great skill for his goal even though it did just end up deflecting off him but the two young guns deserve more praise as even in the first half they looked the best players on the pitch. Wenger deserves credit too as his team talk must have inspired his troops and maybe even Thierry Henry had a role to play in the dressing room. This is the type of heart and desire Arsenal fans were expecting all season and they have got to hope that the players show this type of commitment for the rest of the season so they can end their long run without a trophy