Now that an incredible summer of activity is (almost) behind us, Villa are focusing on Spurs and the real business of staying up. I don’t mean to be under-enthusiastic, but obviously that’s job one. However. To make that happen, Villa have to play to win. Fortunately, that’s the way Dean Smith likes to go about his business.

That philosophy was echoed by Christian Purslow in a Q&A with supporters during the preseason, where he said quite simply, “We won’t be going to Man City and playing for a draw.” I’ve got a recording, but that’s the gist even if I might’ve gotten a word wrong. As you might imagine, there was lots of cheering. So I think we all know this is the way the club is now oriented. We saw it last season, and we’ll see it this season.

Necessary Steps
The extreme summer makeover, as we also all know, was going to happen whether we were promoted or not. The only difference is that promotion meant we had a lot more money to spend, and can still call Grealish one of our own. The team is resilient, fit, younger, more athletic and skillful, and this was probably always going to happen, as well, all things considered.

As to our final placing in the Championship, we know what that was all about, and the comments about the stability at Norwich and Sheffield tend to neglect that if this were Villa’s side last season, it’s a good bet we’d have run away with the league. The real question will be whether we can score the necessary number of goals. We know Villa will play for 90 minutes and play to win, but we’ll soon find out where the goals are really going to come from.

And coming off an unbeaten preseason with a credible 16-goal tally, I like to think Villa will keep improving as all the players get well and truly settled, and supporters will be looking to the Leipzig win as evidence that we’re ready to meet the challenge of staying up.

As for Leipzig, I didn’t get to see the entire match. Finally found a good stream, but it was just after the half, and too late to really comment on the game as a whole. From what I can tell cobbling it all together, it was a good enough win, but it could’ve gone either way. Leipzig often looked formidable going forward, and we looked a bit scrambled at the back at times. Were it not for Heaton, well, it could’ve gone differently.

What stood out is that we had a top-level keeper doing what keepers are supposed to do—keep you in the match when the opponent is creating good chances. We, in turn, took ours from set pieces, while missing a couple others. We weathered the various periods of pressure in a physical game, took the equalizer in stride, and took advantage of our fitness and Leipzig’s quest for a late equalizer to seal the win. We didn’t lose our nerve or will. All strong positives. Those same attributes should also get us draws from losing positions.

But there’ll be enough for Deano & Co. to focus on this week to keep the players firmly grounded. They’ll have confidence and a point to prove in North London, but I doubt anyone will be letting them get carried away as they prepare. Spurs will be a different animal.

A Framework with Continued Evolution
Regardless of who starts this weekend, we know the side is going to change. Whether it’s Marvelous or Luiz, we’re going to have rather different options to anchor the midfield, and, if all goes according to plan, it should toughen us up a fair bit. Dunno if we’ll see Marvelous debut against Spurs, but if we’re getting overrun, well, he might well get drafted into action. Right now, I’m betting on Jack, John, and Conor to be on the field for the opening kick.

It seems we can also still hope for one or two more signings before Thursday, with Said Benrahma links lingering, at least, as others pop up. But having missed out on Maupay, there’s still that striker question. Given Smith’s history with Maupay, I’m wondering, like a lot of others, whether he doesn’t have a different player in mind. Seems a bit odd that we’d have lost out to Brighton for his signature if Smith really wanted him. Could also be that we’re close to our spending cap, and the papers seem to think we disagree with Brentford’s valuations. So it might’ve been a case of Maupay or Benrahma, which means the fourth wide man might’ve been more of a priority.

Which makes a degree of sense, as you’d like to head into the campaign with four quality wingers, players who are really just wide forwards in a 4-3-3. And Smith’s looking for goals from these players as much as assists. He’s also looking for goals from McGinn and Grealish. In short, a single striker isn’t the sole focus, and we don’t start out playing 4-4-2. Goals throughout the side are much harder to defend against, and Deano loves a late midfield run into the box. But. If Wesley goes down or doesn’t catch fire, can Davis or Kodjia really do much better? The links suggesting Hogan may be nearing some kind of loan exit could hint at a late move on our part.

When we see substitutions, I’m guessing most weeks it’ll involve swapping out one or two of these four(?) wide men, and perhaps changing out the holding midfielder. We could also see someone like Trezeguet or Jota taking over for Wesley in the middle. Or joining up alongside him in a more central position. But as it stands, there’s already a lot of fluidity amongst the front and middle three. And of course, there’s always Kodjia or Davis to come in and try to make a difference.

At the back, it’s looking increasingly likely that Guilbert, Engels, Mings, and Targett are going to get the nod as the preferred starters. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see exactly the same XI start at Spurs as at Leipzig, depending on El Ghazi’s knock. But as Nakamba, Luiz, Trezeguet and whomever else might arrive get integrated and brought up to match speed, well, like I said, we know things will evolve.

Anyway that’s what I’m taking away from a solid preseason. A framework starting XI is in place with plenty of room for evolution. It wasn’t the toughest slate you’ll see, but the opposition grew in quality as Smith pulled the side together. And we didn’t look out of place against a CL team to wrap things up. It seems a sensible progression in hindsight.

It will all be quite a bit different Saturday as Spurs will most certainly be looking to get off to a running start at home against a rebuilt promotion side. They’ve certainly faced a higher quality of opponent over the summer and over the last three years. But I’ve a feeling we’ll give them a game, because under Dean Smith we can generally expect to give everyone a game. But we’ll get into the details of that in a couple days.

Over to you.

Comments 47

  1. Cheers, H&V.

    It’ll be interesting for Conor. I do think he’ll get supplanted as a starter (as he was by Whelan) for the very reason you suggest. Just not sure when that’ll happen. I’d have thought this weekend might be a bit too early for Nakamba, but you never know—wouldn’t surprise me if he’s had a good couple of weeks.

  2. Nice one JC, on the valid points as usual.

    What I like about Heaton (as well as his brilliant reaction saves) is his effortless control of high balls into the area. Against Leipzig, he was taking them out of the air well beyond his 6 yard box, something he did when I first saw him at VP playing for Burnley. Also interesting to note that the Burnley blogs are questioning his sale. Their fans say he kept them in the PL single handed last season.

  3. Thanks, Plug.

    Heaton does look very comfortable and commanding back there already. That should turn out to be a really good buy. If we stay up, I’m hoping he’s not the reason, but since staying up is all that matters, I’d certainly take it.

  4. I can see Marvelous as a box to box mid rather than a DF, & could cover for SJM.
    Apart from that we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, as neither he nor Luiz have had the same pre season as the rest, but the proof will be in the pudding on Saturday.
    Trezeguet has had longer to get up to speed.
    Marvelous may be on the bench imo.

  5. Thanks JC, Defo think we will see some late ins and outs, and I defo think that we will be seeing goals from the the front 5 supplemented by the CB’s and maybe even the odd FB and DM goal. Wesley to me looks like someone that can play on the break and play hold up. I think Smith intends to attack no doubt but if you cannot due to pressure then winning the ball in front of our Defence and turning that into an attack through wes or trez or Jota or even Guilbert is on.

    I have thought for a long time that last seasons games plan is not typical Smith, more of a Smith/Bruce cross with endless crosses to the no9 no surprise really. So far we have seen far more interchange around the box and goals from those moves, have we scored any headers? What we haven’t seen is sharp counters, more patient build up and possession, due I think to our Missing Quaterback DM’s a role Conor just doesn’t suit fpr me.

    Both Marvellous and Luis as Ian G pointed out are far more than DM’s although both are good at that too, both can dribble and pass but their ability to break up play or intercept and counter will be crucial. Marvellous could well play having played on Sunday.

  6. MK,

    Think we’ve had one, against Minnesota?

    Agreed, seemed like a hybrid last year, and we’re still not terribly incisive/quick on the counter. I think Jack has a little to do with that, still seems to hesitate a bit on trying that long pass for the advanced runner to latch onto. McGinn’s goal against RBZ was getting close to that kind of move, if I remember correctly.

    As always, never sure what instructions are given unless someone says it in an interview or something, but could also be the case that Deano doesn’t like charging forward to give it away cheaply. We do, as you say, seem to get upfield quickly, then look to work it a bit more, maybe keep our shape and avoid getting stretched.

    I’m sure Dean wouldn’t mind seeing goals from two or three passes covering the length of the pitch, though. What we’ve seen from the training videos seems to suggest a lot of close-quarters passing and interplay, but it’s just snippets. Could be we haven’t had the right kind of forward.

    And again, agreed, Luiz and Marvelous are not just going to be doing a Whelan.

  7. Thanks, JG. Good to see you.

    Don’t disagree…Think it’s just a matter of cohesion and fitness at this particular moment. I’d expect we’ll see him at some point in the match, regardless of how it’s going.

    But kind of harsh on Conor, after scoring twice against Leipzig, to be replaced from the off, but we might very well need a much more physical and aggressive element to start if Deano thinks he’s ready to go.

    I have to say, after riding the bench when Whelan was favored, and penning a new deal amidst all the speculation about new midfielders (that eventually came true), I have a lot of respect for Hourihane. Will be a horses for courses player, maybe a super-sub kind of guy, but he really does just get on with it. Never pouts or grouses. I like him.

  8. JG
    I want to see him play before I would probably agree, though there seems a lot of possibilities, which is encouraging.
    DS seems to have also got players in with a number of formation & ways of playing in mind.
    We’ll be using the squad for sure

  9. IanG…

    I’ve heard the complaint before. The color will be part of the site theme, but I would *think* it’s something I can change. And I don’t believe anyone will mind. I’ll give it a whirl.

  10. Hogan off to Stoke on loan, Tishbola, still only 24, could be off to Kilmarnock after Sunderland fell through, Davis is staying and not going anywhere, after 6 clubs wanted him on loan.

    McGinn has signed a new 5 year deal!!

    Scott Carson (now at Derby) off on loan to Manchester City!!

    Benramah and a striker still on the cards today……


    Still canoot get an avatar to load..

  11. apparently no more signings. gutted. very short up front and options from the bench.

    Cant be we have fallen at the last hurdle.

    Let Hogan and green go too. strange after such a competent window

  12. H&V,

    Yeah, I’m a little worried/disappointed about the winger and striker situation. Sounds like a striker deal might still be on the cards right up to the last minute. Benrahma…Well, seems like we just don’t want to pay £25m. Wondering if we have a clause to call Green back, if needed. Or whether we’re willing to risk playing Kodjia out there.

    Sounds a bit greedy to say after all we’ve spent, but I am a little worried about the goals.

  13. john

    I don’t think its greedy mate. its just necessary. wes aint going to play every game. will loose form. relying on kodjer and davis to step up. its a massive risk for me and the difference between mid table safety and relegation battle.

  14. Heroes,

    We are a team under construction. So far, the foundations have been laid and they are strong enough to withstand the earthquake that is the PL. By the end of this season, the team will be more mature and still very young. Then we can start tweaking it to move to the next level.

    This season has all the hallmarks of Ron Saunders for me.

  15. Haha, Plug.

    Yes, we will be attacking, and here’s hoping the goals are coming from all over.

    Deano says we’re done, so I guess we stand pat until January.

  16. 35m for iwobi,Carroll back at Newcastle shows not much talent out there
    Super transfer window most of Bruce’s buys gone as well,
    Look at city sane out long term only have 2 strikers and look at amount games they play

  17. So we have released the Viking by mutual consent. Thor, we wish you all the best for your future and thank you for your contributions whilst with us. This fan never thought you let us down when played in your established position.

  18. Plug,
    I am with you on the Viking, as I liked him, committed, strong, and willing to put in a shift. I am happy with Davis and Kodija, and think that t6hey will step up to the plate, but did we miss a trick with Danny Welbeck, also interesting to see Danny Drinkwater snapped up just before the deadline.

    I am sure that Dean is happy with his recruitment, but just wonder a little about the amount of untried foreign nationals that we have signed. However, it should be a big improvement on the Sherwood season, when we did a similar thing, as this time it is because of the manager, rather than it being given no choice.

    Hopefully, the standard is of a much higher quality this time, and the players are already inegrating with the squad.

    The most important recruit this time is Tom Heaton, whereas before, we let our best keeper go to Spurs, and had to make do with his understudy Brad Guzan. We also have Jed for back-up, and a very strong defensive line in front of Heaton, although I still have to be convinced on Guilbert’s defensive qualities, but with Mings, Konsa and Engels to provide him with cover, he may be ok, or will El Mohamady still be considered?
    The mid field should be totally amazing and be the heart of this new team with some very speedyand tricky players in front of them.

    Good luck to Dean and the team, bring on the Spurs and let us show them that we mean business, now we are back in the Premiership.

  19. bjanson was terrible. says a lot we had to pay him up to leave.

    Im getting nervous. Think we will play attacking and hopefully spread the goals around.

    BUT lets look at it withought rose tinted glasses. Jota had a pretty bad season in the championship for blues.

    Targett was back up left back at saints. luiz, marvellous, trezuguet, wes id never even heard of let alone see play!

  20. I think we were all surprised we didn’t sign a new striker yesterday. However, we could still sign Sturridge on a free transfer but I guess his wage demands would be astronomical. His goal ratio is good so I believe he is worth a punt.

    Tomorrow will be a true test at Spurs. They have spent £54M on Tanguy Ddombele and a similar fee on Giovani Lo Celso – which kinda puts our spending on 12 players into perspective. Spurs have a quality international player in every position.

    However, we have a great coach in Dean Smith and it is not his style to buy players who are the finished article. We have made some astute signings in – Luiz – Trezeguet – Nakamba – Heaton – Jota and we welcome back Mings and AEG.

    There will be a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Wesley to get the goals required. Did we need to spend big money on Konsa (i do wish him well)? I cannot help but feel we would have been better off investing the money in a forward player to help support Wesley and Kodja.

    I am really looking forward to seeing how Jack and Mcginn perform on the big stage – those guys are awesome together. Dean Smith plays attractive attacking football, it will be interesting to see if he deploys the same tactics at Spurs on Saturday evening.

    It is going to be an occasion to saviour.

    Come on you Villa boys.

  21. Plug, PP…

    Agreed on BB. Thought he was a bit hard done by over the years, but I can see why the choices were made. As you say, when played in the right spot, and given a run, he did pretty well. Came up with goals, always ran like a terrier box-to-box, didn’t shirk.

  22. Just watched a preview of the new season and our first game. Felt the hairs on my arms stand up with an excitement I haven’t felt for the start of a season since Martin O’Neil first joined us

  23. Can’t wait, got my fantasy team sorted with a couple of Villa in there, it was a right struggle, couldn’t pick any spurs on principle and ended up playing Wes more as a sentimental choice than a brain one although I think he will do ok. Rest of the season is going to see every Fantasy game against Villa with me praying Salah etc get no points and therefore neither will I 🙂

  24. Norwich let 4 in in the first half, their intro to the Premiership.
    But they got it together in the 2nd half & scored the only goal.
    They aren’t a bad team, more young & inexperienced.
    Class told, but I feel positive about tomorrow, & we have better technical players.
    May our travelling support rev it up, & remind the spuds who we are.

  25. JG. I had a similar thought . . . . slightly nervous of us playing an expansive game against the top teams but then one of the things we liked about Dean Smith is his confidence in his players and belief that we can compete with anyone.
    I’ll admit that I’d given up on our season with 12 games to go and was advocating him giving the youngsters more playing time to prepare them for this season in the championship. . . . . happily he had more faith than that, and instilled it in the players too . . . . and now we await our first game back in the Premiership!

  26. Watching Leeds Forest and wishing Uncle Albert good luck!

    I’d forgotten how much I dislike Bamford but seeing him now it all came flooding back . . . . an odious human being.

  27. Not worried, going out to win covers an awful lot, for instance it doesn’t mean going out with your pants down. Norwich last season conceded 4 less than us and scored some 90 odd. Think back to how cr*p we actually were for most of the season at the back? certainly if we had played with Smiths defence he bolstered in Jan all season things would of been very different, maybe even a top two position.

    The team has to be drilled in how to react to pressure, from first press up top to midfield press to in front of our area, like an orderly retreat. We then launch our own attacks.

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