Moving on from our look at Everton's continuing decline and descent to the relegation zone, we turn to another challenger; Aston Villa.
Only 3 points from Tottenham in 3rd (assuming that Arsenal will leapfrog them with their games in hand), it seems things aren't going too badly for the Villains, and they're not. They're not going wonderfully either.
There are many positives to look at; the signing of Dunne was a shrewd move by Martin O'Neill. Costing only £6 million from moneybags City (another challenger for 4th) he has proven to be the rock Villa were lacking in the centre of the defence following the departure of Mellberg. The games against Chelsea & Tottenham a great example of how they are now able to soak up a greater amount of pressure before breaking quickly.
Using both Young and Milner they are a team who drive play down the wings delivering passes and crosses to Agbonlahor and Carew, the former putting away 8 goals thus far. Milner has been in outstanding form this season earning a justified callup to England's B-Team experiment against Brazil. His workrate has never been in question, but he has worked on his final ball and is looking terrific.
Young too has often promised much, and has yet to deliver on that promise. He only has to look as far as North London to Lennon to see the kind of progress he could be making, and as David Pleat points out he still has a tendency to retreat into his shell. Petrov is a terrific player and of great importance to this Villa side, but it is at the point of this midfield that I have questions.
In the summer Martin O'neill captured the signing Stewart Downing; a player long since linked to the likes of Spurs and Manchester United amongst others. A slow player, he perhaps one of the best crossers of the ball in the England team. So he bought as a left winger right?
What if though he was bought to play as the point of a midfield diamond? What if he was bought to play across the front of the midfield, allowing all 3 of Milner, Agbonlahor and Downing to drift into channels pulling defenders out of position wreaking havoc. Perhaps MON had initially thought of playing Milner in the middle yet his performances have been so consistent that the idea of playing Downing in the middle isn't so crazy after all.
Sidwell was brought to fill this role, playing a similar role for Reading before being groomed to substitute Lampard at Chelsea. Mourinho may have seen something in the player, although as a free transfer it's tough to tell. Sidwell however is far too shy to play this role, he is a decent passer and tackler (and is a great striker of the ball) yet seems to be afraid to continue his runs into the box. Downing is a much more attacking minded player who won't have a problem ending up in the box.
There is also the chance of forming a Ronaldo/Giggs partnership with the 2 wide players, something which really would add a different dimension to their game.
Either way, Villa fans should look forward to his debut in claret and blue, it may the Downing of a new era.