Posts Tagged ‘Eric Lichaj’

On Michael Bradley & Aston Villa

Timothy Abraham

The Shin Guardian had the occasion to interact last week with Aston Villa beat reporter Timothy Abraham who writes for Birmingham’s Express & Star. Abraham gives us an unvarnished, untarnished by American lens view on the goings on inside Villa Park. TSG is thankful to have Abraham’s thoughts here as we respect he’s an on-staff writer for the Express & Star.

Follow Tim on Twitter here.

(Editor’s Note: This TSG piece on Michael Bradley–vetted by Abraham–is a requisite read beforehand.)

Will it soon be a walk in the Park or from it?

TSG: You mentioned Michael Bradley is struggling with game speed. Do you think this is due to lack of game time or is it something different?

Timothy Abraham: Some players do take time to adjust to the pace of English football and I think this is evident in Michael’s case. In his fleeting appearances for the first team he has been caught in possession too easily sometimes and his passing has been found wanting. It is in stark contrast with Jean Makoun – who joined Villa from Lyon in the January transfer window – and has looked at home in English football straight away.

TSG: You mentioned that Michael Bradley won’t likely be resigned by Villa next year. Is he still Premiership material?

Timothy Abraham: The jury is out at the moment. I don’t think Michael’s situation has been helped by Villa having struggled at the bottom of the Premier League for most of the season. With the exception of Jean Makoun Villa manager Gerard Houllier has gone for players who are tried and tested in English football. If Villa are able to pull clear of the relegation battle in the next few matches then Michael might get a run of games towards the end of the season and given a chance to stake his claim to remain at Villa.

TSG: Will Michael Bradley’s situation be impacted at all by Nigel Reo Coker’s? Will Reo Coker resign with Villa? If not, if Bradley an option?

Reo-Coker...

Timothy Abraham: Nigel Reo-Coker’s future is up in the air at the moment. His Villa career looked over when Martin O’Neill was in charge but he has been reinvigorated under Gerard Houllier. The problem for Reo-Coker is that he is probably not quite good enough for the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea etc so that leaves him with very few options. I think Villa is about his level but my inclination is to say that he is seeking a big contract and with under pressure to cut the wage bill he will not get the kind of deal he is after and will leave the club. I guess there is a chance Michael Bradley could be a replacement but with the kind of money that Borussia Monchengladbach want for him, and with a surplus of midfielders at Villa I think a deal is unlikely.

TSG:  About other Americans: Brad Friedel’s club standing? Will Eric Lichaj ever see the light of day at Villa? Or even Brad Guzan?

I want to work....there...

Timothy Abraham: I expect Brad Friedel will be offered a new deal although he may well have to accept that he will not be first choice next season as Villa look to sign a keeper for the future. Eric Lichaj has done well at Leeds and, with the exception of a couple of mistakes in a game against Manchester City on a day when no-one from Villa covered themselves in glory, when he came in he did well.

I’m not sure he’s quite in the class of on-loan Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker and with Lichaj being 22 I suspect he may move on sooner rather than later. The same probably applies to Brad Guzan.

TSG: What’s the general perception of Houllier’s reign thus far?

Timothy Abraham: The reviews on Gerard Houllier’s short tenure have been mixed. His development of young talent and commitment to play more aesthetically pleasing football than previous manager Martin O’Neill have been appluaded by a lot of fans.

However, there have been some PR gaffes which has alienated sections of the fanbase. Not least his comments after the defeat against Liverpool (although they were taken out of context) and in particular the decision to field a weakened side in the FA Cup against Manchester City which really angered supporters. Houllier has perhaps been guilty of trying to change too much at Villa at once when he should have waited until the summer to make sweeping changes.

 

American Fullback in Brum: Eric Lichaj

Eric Lichaj...

If only we had asked the right question at the beginning of the interview. That question: “Eric, are you a fan of interviews?”

Because, the conclusion of our conversation with Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj went something like this, “Anything we missed Eric? Any questions we should have asked?”

Eric’s reply?

“Nothing really. I don’t really do a lot of interviews. I’m not a big fan of them.”

Lichaj’s roommate with the 88′s at the Bradentown Academy in Florida where the Aston Villa rightback spent time in his teens, Preston Zimmerman, confirmed it with us, “You might as well consider the interview a success if you were able to get anything out of him at all…haha.”

So that explains Eric’s direct, curbed, but still accommodating responses.

TSG spoke with Eric via a speakerphone in the media office at Villa the day after last week’s Sunderland game and after an early morning workout at “The Barn,” the name of the Villa training complex.

We meandered through a whole host of questions with Eric during the exchange, trying at multiple points to crowbar out just a little more detail.

Eric, for his part, seemed slightly bemused by the interview and called it himself at the end when he said, “Look, I’m just a regular guy.”

In fact that’s the just impression we got in speaking with him. A regular, fuss-less, quietly confident guy, who is solely focused on moving forward in a very black-and-white way…see goal, attain goal.

For American fans, Lichaj’s no-nonsence demanor seems like a perfect component to Bob Bradley’s squad. All the better for the American fullback in Birmingham who looks to have a leg up on the rightback role in Rio De Janiero in a little less than four years.

Now, we launch into our Eric Lichaj conversation. And a huge thanks to the media team at Aston Villa for working us in.

TSG: Bit of a tough stretch for Villa here, what’s the mood around the team?

Eric: Well, it lifted a little when we got a good result against Chelsea. But yesterday, we lost 1-nil versus Sunderland.

Our hopes are still high though and we think we’re going to start getting some points.

TSG: You recently began starting…what was it like getting out there with the first unit for the first time against West Brom?

Eric: I had already played a couple of games with the League Cup so it wasn’t anything big. I just looked at as I have to do my job because we were in a bad spot [Luke Young out injured].

TSG: Is it easier subbing in for you or easier when you’re with the starting team?

Eric: Pretty sure every player would say it’s easier starting than coming on as a sub.

Because you come on in the 2nd half you have to get used to the pace of the game pretty quickly. You have to warm-up on the sideline and that’s not really a proper-warm.

Lichaj: Rarely Baled out...

TSG: Now you knew we were going to ask you about going up against Gareth Bale. You did a more than admirable job in defense of him. How’d you prepare for Bale and that game?

Eric: I didn’t really prepare any specific way. Before the game I had some of the guys who played against him before give me advice. Obviously Carlos [Cuellar] was covering me whenever I slipped up and that was good.

It was good to shut him down and I did a decent job, but we still lost the game. So not really that sweet I guess.

TSG: Right. What was some of the advice you received about defending Bale?

Eric: The guys were just telling me about how quick he is. I always ask what for what foot they use and what moves he does where.

Also some stuff on “when he does this, he likes to go down the line.”

I think I handled it pretty well.

Bailing out Balotelli and then some against City...

TSG: Agreed. However, the follow-up game against Manchester City was more challenging.

You played a different type of winger going up against Silva, Johnson and even against the striker Balotelli a few times. Was that difficult?

Eric: I really wasn’t use to playing a full game. Two games in a few days on short rest was tough. I’m not using that as an excuse though; I just had a bad game.

TSG: How do you rebound from a game like that. Do you go talk to the coach? Do you prepare any differently?

Eric: Oh no. It’s just keep working hard and putting it behind me. Everyone makes mistakes.

I made a mistake in the beginning of the game. I just have to keep working hard and keep doing what I do.

TSG: Do you prepare differently for each type of forward you encounter during the season?

Eric: I don’t prepare any differently. Usually I find out which is their dominant foot, how quick they are and whether they like to cut inside or not.

Just little things like that and I take it from there.

TSG: What were your goals heading into this year and how’s the progress in attaining them? Are they within your reach?

Continue reading

Notes: Lichaj’s Start, Gooch, Celtic(s), Stu, More

Lichaj...doing some serious clubbing too....(photo credit: Matt Mathai)

The Big Nasty, Eric Lichaj, acquitted himself well in a 2-1 Aston Villa loss to Tottenham Hotspur going up against one of the best wingers in the Prem on Sunday, Gareth Bale.

You can ballpoint it that Lichaj is at least second on the rightback depth chart for 2014 at this point and likely 2011 as well (despite some folks at ESPN suggesting Jonathan Spector already has the starting 2014 spot locked-up. In our best Discovery Channel voice, when you don’t do your research….critics attack.)

Villa faithful give Lichaj MOTM.

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• Rumor: Calling this a rumor right now. A friend’s email to us out of Mexico suggests Benny Feilhaber will sign for Cruz Azul this week. Not a “report” until there is another confirmed source.

• While Freddie Ljundberg might head to Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, word is the US star of the 2010 Milk Cup, Adrian Ruelas is set to sign with the storied franchise come the January transfer window. Again, we need confirmation here before this is more than a rumor.

• Multiple reports have Oguchi Onyewu FC Twente-bound in Jan. Not surprising given Twente’s Michel Preud’homme coached Gooch at Standard Leige less than two years ago.

• Stu Holden went 90, again, as Bolton beat-up on West Brom, 2-nil. We chatted with the great tactical writer Jonathan Wilson last week, who had this to say about Holden’s game.

• Arsenal v. Chelsea, Monday….excellent.

• Edson Buddle now linked with Sheffied United as well as Birmingham….getting interesting…

• A little more like it here. At least if Manchester City is going to overpay for player they might as well go young and home grown and create some flexibility. Man City through the acquisitions of Milner, Adam Johnson, Joe Hart and more doing a great job of stockpiling young Brits. Now word comes Mancini wants Andy Carroll.

Bob Bradley Calls 18 For RSA Friendly

Can’t help but think of the parallels between Bob Bradley and Tom Coughlin this morning as the roster is unveiled.

Bob Bradley and coaches

The braintrust....

After the 2007 season, the Giants head coach was bashed both by player (Tiki Barber) and the media as being too strict in his coaching and failing to change with the times (most specifically, a hard core displine-focused game and practice methodolgy and an inability to connect with his players).

Much like Coughlin, Bradley has gotten another shot this year after seemingly being passed over (before re-signed) for the national team role.

While I’m not sure Bradley has “changed” all the appreciably much in his first few months under his new contract (just like Coughlin only moved a little bit, I think with today’s roster there is an acknowledgement that fresh game planning and player selection is important to having success in his second term.

In the October friendlies, you got a look at a 4-3-3 with new players deployed in new roles.

With today’s annoucement you’re seeing a departure from Bradley’s reliance exclusively on veterans and his long standing notion of introducing younger players during a longer camp as oppose to one off friendly. Most specifically, you’re seeing Bradley change his thinking on the striker role.

Like a Bull out of hell....

Whereas 2006-2010 saw Bradley continue to focus on veterans in the role that would adhere to the system and only play a “youngster” (Charlie Davies, Robbie Findley) when their ability hits him over the head–yes I just used Findley and ability in the same sentence.

Today’s perhaps most exciting call-up is that of New York Red Bulls tyke Juan Agudelo who had only flashed ability during the MLS regular season before issuing some fine technical ability in the Red Bulls playoff series loss to San Jose.

But not only Agudelo, Bradley went for youth with KC forward Teal Bunbury who one time was considered all but lost to his Canadian heritage.

Kudos to Bradley for taking a shot on a youngsters up top.

The roster:

G: Brad Guzan, Dominic Cervi

DEF: Tim Ream, Clarence Goodson, Gale Agbossoumonde, Jonathan Bornstein, Nat Borchers, Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Spector

MID: Mix Diskerud, Ale Bedoya, Robbie Rogers, Logan Pause, Eddie Gaven, Brian Carroll

STR: Robbie Findley, Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo

Other notes:

• Look all I’m saying is that Tim Ream played leftback in college and Bob Bradley has a history of playing defenders in positions other than the ones they play for their clubs.

• Can’t wait to see where Mix Diskerud fits in and plays. I’ve watched him a play a handful of game on the interior for his club team Stabæk and I think he’s got the ability to play both inside and out.

• Interestingly selection of Agbossumunde here, if only because Bob Bradley insistence on using more veteran types (Jimmy Conrad) at centerback. Where will the ‘Boss play?

• Your captain for the clash? Either Jonathan Bornstein or Jonathan Spector in our mind. Likely Bornstein who sported the armband last January during the Honduras friendly.

• You can count on Teal Bunbury getting in the game. In fact with just 18 named you can count on all players getting some run. One, the friendly doesn’t matter. Two, you don’t take a player all the way to South Africa and then not play them.

• Interesting that there is no Justin Braun on this list. Don’t understand that one.

That Lichaj Could Have Played For Poland?

Update: Quality from TSG friend and Chicago Fire reporter Sam Stejskal who clarifies Lichaj’s interest in the U.S. versus Poland and how the Poland invite transpired. Thanks Sam.

Still begs the question from USSF how it got that far for a player who is a member of the 18 in the arguably the top league in the world and and at a top-8 club to boot.

———

Unfortunately Aston Villa has been downright Sunil Gulati-like in giving us access to Eric Lichaj. We’ll get him at some point.

 

Chicago bound...thankfully...

 

That said, I saw this piece today on the BBC about Lichaj being called up simulataneously by the US and Poland and thought I would put a question out for discussion.

That question?

Should I be the least bit concerned that: a player from US Soccer House’s backyard, who came up through the US’s Bradentown academy, and signed a contract at a top-seven EPL side was even a doubt to play for the US or worse could easily have been snatched away?

I can understand this completely if Lichaj told US Soccer something akin to, “I’m not sure who I want to play for yet.” (However, didn’t he get trained at Bradentown?)

I do understand that Lichaj visited Chicago camp last year as a “guest,” but with the dearth of top Euro league players on the US senior side, I guess I have to ask is, “How could USSF come close to losing him?”

Maybe I’m paranoid…and hopefully we’ll get that interview soon.

Scouting Report: Eric Lichaj vs. Rapid Vienna

Thought I would add a little color to Eric Lichaj’s performance today for those that haven’t seen him.

Lichaj played effectively

Aston Villa played Rapid Vienna in the Europa Cup qualifiers to a 1-1 draw today. The Villians were using a makeshift backline with both Carlos Cuellar and Richard Dunne unavailable, the Villa backline went: Beye, Warnock, Davies, Lichaj.

So they were a little unorganized from time-to-time. Here are the bullets:

• Moved the ball well for a hockey assist on Villa’s 1st goal.

• Got beat to the spot, Chad Marshall-style (wrong hip) on the Vienna goal though his man didn’t get a head on the ball…but his mark did disrupt Brad Guzan enough to see the ball skirt through on a long service into the box.

Before this Lichaj had committed some fouls and lost his man some (Marvell Wynne-style), but certainly settled down as the game went on.

• You could tell that Lichaj–should he stay with the 1st team and play in the Premiership–will need some time to adjust to the speed.

A few times Lichaj came up on a defender expecting to win a challenge and arrived more than a tad late. Just adjustment to pace of game there.

• Villa played through Lichaj quite a bit on the right and he pushed on quite aggressively. Was not spectacular with the ball at his feet, but showed a propensity to have a first step or move and beat defenders. Yes, Yanks’ fans, an American defender who actually took on the defense.

More importantly, on the plays where Lichaj’s attack wasn’t an outright success, he wasn’t frequently dispossessed only re-routed. I consider that a very important skill in attacking defenders.

• We didn’t get to see any of Lichaj’s famed throw-in ability. At the Poland camp, maybe we can have a throw-off between Gooch and Lichaj, US Soccer?

• You can see the potential for Lichaj to play midfield if tasked, the Villa official site has listed him as an outside back of central defender. If he’s playing central defense, he’s obviously more in the realm of a DeMerit or Cannavaro chaser-type, as oppose to a stay at home Nesta/Gooch-type.

• If I was mixing up today’s Lichaj Cocktail, it would go something like this: 2 parts Steve Cherundolo (for his shiftiness with the ball, good horizontal offensive movement), 1 part–gulp I hate making this comparison–Gary Neville (for his tracking back and hard in-your-face tackling especially after he lost the ball.)

• Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (the performance showcased his talent, but also showed that he’s got a little bit of climb to being a EPL first team defender)

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• Lest we not respect Brad Guzan, the American keeper looked exceedingly sharp today and showcased amazing athletic ability in making some saves and coming out on the ball. Rating: 7 out of 10 for Guzan.

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