First Team 20/01/2020

Team News: Aston Villa

By Kevin Affleck

Danny Welbeck is edging ever closer to a return to action, with Head Coach Nigel Pearson at the stage where he is comfortable enough to say “we'll have to wait and see” if the England striker is in the mix for a key game at Aston Villa on Tuesday night.

Welbeck has been out of action since the game at Tottenham Hotspur in October with a hamstring injury that required surgery, but he's been back in full training for at least a week or so and has really impressed Pearson with his condition. 

“Danny is getting closer and closer,” said the Head Coach. “Out of all of them [the injured players], he would be the one nearest to being ready for selection. We'll have have to wait and see [if he's involved] at Villa Park.”

The return of Welbeck would offset the absence of Ismaïla Sarr who will miss the game tomorrow night with the leg injury that forced him off against Tottenham at the weekend.

“We are still waiting to see what the extent of it is,” said Pearson. “I can't give anything other than that. He is not going to be available for tomorrow's game. I really don't know [what the injury is], but whatever it is, we'll deal with it. There is no point getting ahead of myself... but he's clearly been such a positive player for us. After tomorrow's game, it's FA Cup weekend again and hopefully we'll have him available for the next Premier League game.”

Kiko Femenía, Will Hughes, Tom Cleverley, Daryl Janmaat and Sebastian Prödl are also still unavailable, but Pearson remains excited about their respective returns at various points as it demonstrates the depth of the squad he has inherited.

“Kiko is still making progress and we'll see how he goes,” said the Head Coach. “Tom Cleverley is back out on the grass, which is good. Will will hopefully be back for Everton. He's close now. Both Prödl and Janmaat are still not at the stage where we can start speculating when they'll be rejoining the group. There is progress in some areas and it's frustrating for some players who are not at the stage where we can reintroduce them to the group. I'm confident of the availability of some players relatively soon. During the course of the season you come to terms with the fact that, at any given time, players are not going to be available, but it's something very positive for us that we have players coming back. They'll be great.”

With international players on the cusp of a return, Pearson is not advocating major surgery to the squad this month.

“I don't rule anything out, but we are pretty happy with the squad we already have,” said the Head Coach. “I'm really pleased with the players we have. It's not about freshening it up – what's important is trying to improve the squad. I don't see any need to freshen it up as the players we have are very committed and motivated to do the job that presents itself.

“We still have a lot of games and it's going to be a difficult task, but it's about dealing with the demands and pressures as they fluctuate. The players we have are not only ready to accept the challenge, but ready to take it on. It's not about spending time changing a squad we are happy with.”

First Team 20/01/2020

Shakespeare: “We Have Really Endorsed The Team Ethic”

By Kevin Affleck

Craig Shakespeare was delighted the team kept another clean sheet on Saturday, believing their resoluteness in defence is providing the bedrock for their climb up the table.

The shut-out they achieved against Tottenham Hotspur, who reached the Champions League final last season, was their eighth of the campaign, a remarkable number for a team that has spent much of it in the bottom three. Indeed, only runaway league leaders Liverpool have achieved more, which suggests the Hornets are doing something right defensively.

“They [Tottenham] have some very good attacking players, some real firepower,” Shakespeare said on Added Time. “I like to give credit to us as a team. I thought we were outstanding defensively again. That's another clean sheet and it's important we build on that. We have attacking players that can create, that can win the game. If we are solid at the back it allows you to go forward and win the game.”

The clean sheets have arrived with different personnel at the back, whether it be Kiko Femenía or Daryl Janmaat or Adrian Mariappa at right-back, José Holebas, Femenía or Adam Masina at left-back or Christian Kabasele or Craig Dawson partnering Craig Cathcart at the heart of the defence. It shows the strength in the depth, the robustness of the team structure and the collective will to keep the ball out of Ben Foster's net.

“It's a good starting point,” said Shakespeare. “The basics are very important and that's to defend well. Then, if you can, implement the attacking side, where we have got the players. Since we have come in, we have really endorsed the team ethic. It's vital everyone buys into that. We've tried to get over [the message] that the team ethic is more important than the individual. As an individual you need to complement the ethic.”

Ignacio Pussetto clearly got the memo, the new signing making a remarkable goal-line clearance from Erik Lamela in injury-time to preserve a vital point.

“We are hoping he only has to clear the ball off the line occasionally,” joked Shakespeare. “We are looking at him further forward, really, and hopefully he gets his chances. He's had a whirlwind few days, really. He looks a very likeable lad and has mixed in really well. He's getting to know the players and let's see what's he's capable of.”

Everyone knows what Troy Deeney is capable of as his track record at this place speaks for itself. Shakespeare said there was no blame apportioned to Deeney on Saturday for what was only his sixth penalty miss in ten years at this club.

“Penalties are massive opportunities to win the game,” said the Assistant Coach. “But Troy didn't let it affect his performance. I thought he was immense throughout the 90 minutes. He was fine [afterwards]. You tend to get players apologise for missing penalties but, for me, there is no reason to apologise. He has won us numerous points this season. He practises them during the week and his quality and success rate was really high. You have to give the goalkeeper a bit of credit.”