'King Carlos' leaps to Houllier's defence

After only three wins in his 12 Premier League matches, and rumblings of dressing-room disquiet, Gérard Houllier's modus operandi is finally getting through to the Aston Villa squad. That is the view of the defender he likens to Jamie Carragher, Carlos Cuellar, who looks likely to be one of the beneficiaries of the former Liverpool manager's resolve to put his stamp on the club.

Cuellar was selected ahead of Richard Dunne at centre-back in Villa's last game, the defeat of West Bromwich Albion, after being deployed largely as back-up in that position or at right-back since Martin O'Neill paid Rangers £7.8m for him in 2008. A commanding display looks set to earn another start at home to Tottenham today, when he hopes to see further evidence that Houllier's changes are having the desired effect.

Asked whether the players were beginning to understand what the new manager expected of them, the Spaniard known to the Holte End as "King Carlos" replied: "Yes. You need to know what he wants and he needs to know what his side is. It is new for everybody: the style of football, the training. Everything has changed, but now, after three and a half months, we know him, he knows us and the team is coming up. I went through two or three managerial changes in Spain. It's always good because it gives an opportunity to people who weren't playing before, and they get more confidence and focus in their job."

Cuellar, 29, has established himself as something of a talisman for Houllier as the Frenchman struggles with mediocre results and the fall-out from Dunne's alleged bust-up with assistant manager Gary McAllister. He started in four of the five League and cup victories of the new era. Strong in the air and in the tackle, he is intelligent enough to realise his limitations, with a resilience borne of having worked his way up from semi-professional football in Spain.

It is to this combination of qualities – often overlooked as O'Neill favoured the partnerships of Curtis Davies and Martin Laursen in Cuellar's first year and Dunne and James Collins in his second – that Villa have turned in the quest for defensive cohesion. Last season they conceded just 39 goals in 38 fixtures. This time, unsettled by O'Neill's resignation five days before the big kick-off and by initial resistance to Houllier's approach, they have already leaked 28 in 17 games.

Acknowledging the need to kick-start Villa – after three successive sixth-place finishes they lie sixth from bottom – Cuellar described the holiday fixtures as "a big moment". With trips to Manchester City and Chelsea after Spurs' visit, it could scarcely be bigger. "We're looking forward to pushing up again and to trying to get into the top six."

Such a position, which is the territory occupied by Harry Redknapp's Champions' League challengers, looks fanciful for Villa, but Cuellar added: "It's tight. If you win three in a row you can get in the top four. Apart from one player [James Milner] we've got the same team that came sixth last season, and we've got two or three really good young players who have come in. They've helped us a lot."

Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark, Eric Lichaj and Jonathan Hogg have broken into a team many fans felt was set in stone under O'Neill. Cuellar has the same priority as these fresh faces. "If I have the opportunity to play more, my performance and my level will come up."

Today should afford another chance as a first-choice centre-back alongside Collins. "It'll be a hard game because Spurs are playing so well," he said. "But we're at home, we're confident and can beat them."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum