Villa are now 0-2 to start life back in the Premier League, and some are starting to worry a bit following the home defeat to Bournemouth. But to be fair, there are more who aren’t. Who’s right? Maybe everyone. Fact is, whatever the optimism everyone felt during the Summer of Spending, Villa were always facing a tough test.

Consequently, I’ve only ever set my sights on Villa simply staying up. Apart from Norwich and Sheffield, everyone else in the league has had more time to adapt (and Norwich and Sheffield had much less change necessary). Doesn’t mean these sides are all brilliant, just that they’ve been there. So, we’ve got Wesley learning the ropes. El Ghazi and others finding that what worked a league down isn’t necessarily going to come off the same in the top flight. Targett’s seen some action, Guilbert none at this level. Trezeguet and Jota? All new to them. Super John and Bjorn, too. Jack was a very different young man on an ill-fated ship last time he was here. Elmo and Taylor? Well, that’s why they’ve been in.

And where do Villa sit after these two defeats? 17th. Up next? Ninth-placed Everton, who’ve scored just the one goal versus Villa’s two, but taken four points from a 0-0 draw against Palace, and a 1-0 win over Watford. They’ve simply kept clean sheets.

Now, I do all the clicks, see what folks are saying in the media. Most aren’t as astute as the Lifers, though they do a good job in places imitating the innate intelligence I’m fortunate enough to peruse every day. Call that a suck-up, if you like.

(However, I will put in a good word for Ash Preece at the Birmingham Mail/Live. Spent some time with him in Minnesota, and he’s Villa through and through, including the tattoo. Covering Villa is a dream job for him, and I’ve had a lot of time for his columns. Plus, he’s a really nice and genuine guy.)

Anyway. So what’s been said? First, there’s Grealish, trailing only Kevin De Bruyne in key passes so far this season, according to Who Scored. Then there’s those calling for Guilbert and Targett to start. Darren Bent thinks Conor’s been hard done by, though admits that Luiz’s goal indicates Smith made the right choice. So, Darren Bent. Anwar? Well, what I said above. Trezeguet has been finding chances, just needs to convert. Jack should take a couple more shots per game.

I’ve been watching every game I can, which is a bit revelatory because I swore off the PL while Villa were down. What am I seeing?

Well, Villa seem a touch hesitant, overall. Winning the ball back, and really committing to that, is everything. And Villa have been lacking that little bit of assuredness, the footing, if you will, to be truly intense in grabbing hold of the game. Doesn’t mean it’ll always come off, just that I’ve not seen it as much as I did since Deano took over. But even with full confidence, all sorts of clubs can find themselves outplayed in stretches.

Villa have played hard, make no mistake. And have often been on the front foot. But the way they’ve been able to play (press, establish control, work the ball, stretch the opponent and create lots of chances) is simply more difficult to pull off now. At the same time, I’m seeing all sorts of world-class players elsewhere misplace passes, overcook crosses, get caught in possession, dribble into cul-de-sacs, have through-balls cut out, get denied at the last second, and squander clear chances. It’s not just Villa. It’s life in the Premier League. Mainly what I’m saying is that, going forward, Villa will have learn how to impose themselves.

Bottom line, I think that’s what we’re seeing: the adjustment from being able to do that almost at will. Bjorn Engels admits the intensity is surprising, never a moment to switch off.

The point? No reason to panic, I’ve seen the same elsewhere. So what should Dean do in response?

Despite Luiz’s error (Trezeguet’s square pass didn’t mean Luiz had to let it run), I’d give him a run because that’s what we need in the middle. I liked seeing Jack further forward, and Luiz otherwise looked comfortable. His goal spoke for itself. Elmo and Taylor have worked their socks off—and haven’t been terrible by any means—but they don’t offer much in attack, and I’m not really sure that Guilbert or Targett would be any more of a liability defensively. Guilbert offers pace and a high work rate, and in the preseason, at least, better service than what we’ve seen from Elmo so far. Targett offers more strength and size, younger legs, and no worse service than Taylor. As has been pointed out, Guilbert’s pace covers Jota’s relative ‘lack’ thereof. Targett, I’m betting, will help create more chances than Taylor.

You could say Luiz’s error points to Hourihane. You could also say set pieces point to Hourihane. But given what I’ve seen so far, Conor’s one we bring off the bench more often than not, and Marvelous can’t get match-fit and integrated soon enough. The tougher we are in the middle, the better. Remember, we won 10 with Conor largely supplanted by Whelan, and Whelan is no Luiz, physically. Luiz does not yet have Whelan’s understanding, but has a lot more in his locker to help make up for it. His response Saturday was encouraging.

And I can’t say I disagree when people talk about getting Luiz and Nakamba on the pitch at the same time. I can certainly see that to close out games, if nothing else.

Wesley? Well, he’s obviously adjusting. But that little bit he worked just in and outside the box late on Saturday afternoon tells me he’s got the raw talent. We just aren’t linking up well with him, and probably need to find him quicker. I think he’s learning and has the mental toughness.

This remains my only regret of the window, not getting in a smaller striker who’ll either poach or run at defenders from the gap between lines and make them play off. Wes is going to have to get wise, and we’re going to have to get wise to him—not leave him so isolated. But as I’ve said before, there are others who’ve had chances they could and perhaps should’ve converted.

The other thing I’m seeing so far is dead balls. Spurs grabbed an equalizer off a corner to gain a draw they didn’t really deserve against City (because City could’ve easily had four or six on another day). Villa so far have failed to score off a set piece despite having a number of them, and haven’t really threatened much. That’s not to be negative (ie, long-ball-and-set-piece tactics). It’s just reality that those goals count the same as any others, and with players like Mings, Wes, and Engels, we should be able to count on nicking goals that way.

Anyway. Stick with Luiz and let Jack stay further up. Press harder. Commit early and decisively. Give the new FBs a shot so the wingers have more threat to count on in the overlaps, pulling defenders and opening up space. Keep getting the wide men cutting in in the final third and find Wesley earlier. Stick with Mings and Engels. Simple.

Change in formation? I don’t doubt Deano will try it if he thinks it’ll work. He’s a pragmatic man, and I don’t think he’s particularly stubborn. At the same time, a manager has to have the courage of his convictions, and how far to take it can be a fine. So far, he’s been trying to get a combination of pace, strength (apart from Taylor/Targett), and experience on the pitch while Villa adjust and find their feet. He’s been looking for results and betting on understandings and cohesion. Can’t say I disagree, hasn’t been disastrous. Unlucky against Bournemouth, and a bit late making changes at Spurs. As some suggest, Smith might be waiting for the international break to truly tinker with things.

But I feel confident in saying that if Smith sticks and Villa don’t get at least a point from the Toffees, the calls for lineup changes will only get louder. We’ll soon see if Dean beats any of us to the punch.

Over to you.

Comments 61

  1. Thanks JC, thoughtful comments.

    I think we are still adjusting to the faster pace and thinking that goes on at this level. It will take another few games I’m sure before we see the best of this team. I’m not anxious about the lack of points because I’m expecting us to reach our potential in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, if we get anything out of tonight’s game, then I’ll be happy.


  2. I’d like to see a formation change. Unfortunately our wingers aren’t goood enough to play 433. I’d like to see a diamond, or go 4411. Play Mcginn right mid. Luiz and Marvelous sitting

  3. Thanks JC- my tuppence worth is that we are keeping at least one part of the team as steady as possible, I don’t agree that the other FB’s are better defenders particularly, Elmo and Taylor have not been the problem back there. Both have improved under Smith, they are not world beaters but Anwar knows Taylor and Elmo Trez. Language has a part to play too, can’t imagine Luis took it on himself to just leave the ball.

    Most of what ails us is the midfield, of course attacking FB’s can help but not when teams can waltz through us, adding in behind the FB’s probably won’t help. Our pressing is depressing at present and not done as a unit, until that improves can’t see the FB’s getting the full steam ahead, could be wrong .

    Support for Wes is sketchy and consists of McGinn busting a gut or Trez, can’t remember Anwar getting anywhere near him.

    I do think Dean Smith is hedging his bets somewhat and maybe a fit marv and pushing Grealish into the front three would help, with I could weld Conors left leg to Jack because I don’t see an easy way to get his average of 20 goal involvement into the team unless Jack moves up.

    Everton are not prolific so far on the goal front so far so thats one blessing, I think Wes will give them trouble tonight and get me some points in fantasy.

  4. forgot to mention Taylor broke Colemans leg in an international, if the both play could be an interesting game for both, alternatively Smith might shift Taylor out the way.

  5. Excellent summary and leader JC.

    Have to agree with most of your comments MK, and think that Dean’s intention will be to push Jack into the frontline to provide some goal power, in much the same way that Pep has done with Sterling, and then he can build a strong midfield with from Conor, Luiz, McGinn, Marvellous and maybe even Lansbury, as it seems El Ghazi is just not cutting it at the moment.
    He then has Wesley, Kodija, Davis, Jota and Trezeguet to choose from to join Jack in the attack.


    Just for old times sake from Saturday…

    The Good

    Douglas Luiz’s wonder goal!

    The Bad

    Tom Heaton’s clumsy penalty give away.

    The Ugly
    Billings failing to receive a second yellow for his awful tackes.

  6. One consideration for tonight on selection, Everton are arguably very strong on the wings and FB department, more than the other two teams we have faced so far.

  7. Good comments jc as usual
    Me I cannot understand why 2 fb are still playing neither looked good either defensively or attacking in championship so no way can they improve in pl
    Likewise el ghazi for me to hit and miss
    Would love to see this side tonight
    Heaton target guilbert engell mings Luis Conor mcginn
    Jack trez
    Xmas tree formation old stylè

  8. JG- the answer has to be because the manager see’s it that way, DS can’t go from knowing what he’s doing because we are winning to being a complete idiot for not seeing the obvious can he? Going on pre-season we all thought Jota was a shoe in and he looks anything but because teams don’t allow us to play to his strengths. Like it or not Elmo and Taylor have more prem experience than anyone in the team and we have already seen the mistakes made by us.

    Hang in there I’m sure they will get a start soon

  9. Plug,

    Yes, definitely a period of adjustment, and I think they’re probably all a bit surprised how early and decisive a lot of defenders and midfielders are at coming for a ball.

  10. Frem, PP…

    All interesting thoughts on formation and player selection. I have to confess that I really don’t have a nailed-on idea what things *should* look like. But that’s probably because we actually have options now and competition.

    As people are wisely saying, can take a little bit for things to shake out.

  11. And PP, thanks for the GB&U…much more concise than me!

    Like I say, it’s been a week. If I don’t do something right after, I really can get swept away.

  12. MK,

    Agreed, Deano’s gone for experience and stability at FB, and like I say, I can’t argue with him. Also agreed, don’t think Elmo and Taylor have been defensive liabilities. More the case that Guilbert and Targett probably offer more going forward. As you say, double-edged sword, and can they do the job defending.

    On the pressing (ie, the hesitancy), I’m curious if it’s somewhat by design. That doesn’t seem to be Smith’s way, so I assume it comes down to players hedging their bets a bit. Wesley doesn’t close down like Tammy (though he is fast), and Trez, Jota have to get on the same page as John and Jack, as well. So, maybe a mixture.

    But this is why I think a decisive DM with a range of passing and some physicality/ball-winning ability is crucial. Luiz for now, and we just don’t know what Marvelous will offer, yet. The highlight reel shows a lot of full-blooded challenges, speed and strength. Hoping that’s what he can bring in the PL.

    Have always liked Conor, and of course it’s just two games, but if we do need to make a change, he’s at least one with proven scoring and dead-ball ability. Just not really a ball winner or carrier, per se. But he gives his all, presses, tracks back. You can’t fault him for anything.

  13. Starting XI:

    Heaton, Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor, Luiz, Grealish, McGinn, Jota, Trezeguet, Wesley.

    So, Frederic takes his bow, and Anwar gets the pull. Wonder if Jota will link up better with Wesley.

  14. JC- wonder if Jota will last ten mins 🙂 Guilbert better be good defending as he has Richarlson and Digne coming at him. Its crucial we keep the ball tonight or it could be a long one.

  15. MK,

    Ha…something for everyone, indeed. Guilbert has pace and is dogged. We’ll soon see. I do think it’s about the service, but like you say, he’s got to hold up the other way.

  16. Wesley finds his feet, becomes man of the match, and Villa have their first win. Congratulations to Dean and the team….Look out Villa has arrived in the Premier League…!!!

  17. Three points is where I figured they would be after 3.
    Those last 20 min are hard on the nerves. Some good play but a bit more possession would be nice.

    Good to get that first one.

  18. Got to be happy with that, just think when Taylor’s dropped we will win every match 4-0 🙂

    could not not fault them for effort tonight and some stuff was very nice on the break. Thought luis played well without actually being noticed. Thought McGinn played a way more measured game tonight that allowed others to play if that doesn’t sound daft.

  19. Just what we needed. Congrats to Dean & Co. indeed.

    Lifts a bit of pressure, and now it’s playing football versus breaking streaks, getting off the mark, etc.

  20. Huge 3 points. Get of the mark

    We got lucky with the chances they missed but did ok generally. Far from great still

    Jota and guilbert were good going forward.

    Still a lot of work to do. Mcginn and jack couldn’t get near there midfield. 433 is to open against better teams. Need to go 4231, put marvelous alongside Luiz

    The bench and wingers worry me massively. Still lack quality of the bench. I hope when Kodj is back we have Davis, Kodj and the winger on the bench. Take Lansbury and Hourihane away, put marvelous on

    Targett needs to start

  21. Great atmosphere at VP last night…being there didcstop me posting though 🙂

    Lots of positives, left side is still a concern

    A happy 3 points bank holiday…hope you all have a good one

  22. What a night. When a rammed Villa Park detonates, there is no experience like it. The new players now understand.

    We had some luck this time that we didn’t get last game. But Jack’s quick free kick for the first goal shows our thinking is getting up to speed. Guilbert was magnificent at RB. He was on to that quick free kick from Jack in a flash. If we can bring the Toffees to a sticky end, then we can do the same to plenty of other teams. I’m well and truly stoked for the weekend.

  23. So Frem, your solution to Villa’s ‘problems’ is to add another DM, who has yet to play competitively in England, and cast aside players who have proven themselves in a villa shirt all because you and fans like you don’t have the patience to grant this team a learning curve?

    What I saw last night was a victory of creativity over jaded professionalism. Everton had chances but Villa were frequently only one pass or shooting decision from finishing off excellent attacking play.

    Villa’s best performance so far while still learning their trade at this level.

  24. A curious stat over the initial three games is the almost complete absence of corner kicks for villa. I suspect it’s the presence of so many true ball players in the team trying to hold onto possession and create opportunities centrally , rather than playing for set piece opportunities . very interesting start to the season on a number of different levels.

  25. Prox, at some point against the better teams, yes, we can’t play this midfield. Let’s be honest Everton midfield were all over ours and they missed 3 great chances.

    Luiz and Marvelous ( when ready) need to play together to make us more solid

  26. Prox- I think the fact we have played on the counter against spurs and Everton accounts for the lack of corners. Against Bournemouth we had ten and twenty shots. last night 7 shots so less deflections out etc but more accuracy with our shooting.

  27. Just had chance to watch game,glad to see Fred after shaxy start looking the part of fb ,please Smith release target gives us 2 good fb
    Engels looks immense ,as does big Wes, still slightly worried by our set up don’t know how Smith going to fit Jack trez jota/trez in one team
    And then super sub elgazi last night he was hit long may it last
    Nice to enjoy weekend football wise

  28. Huge relief that we got the win. Spurs were better than us, Bournemouth worse and we were just about on a par with Everton. At this very early stage that would suggest that we should survive and could be capable of a mid table finish.
    Delighted for Wesley after the criticism thatvwas starting to come his way.
    I like the way that Dean Smith is introducing the new players into the squad and am puzzled that some fans think they know better than our manager who he should be playing when we’ve not seen them in training and don’t know his game plans

  29. One of the big surprises is our apparent switch in playing style from last year, and even from pre-season. We seem to be taking more of a Ranieri, Leicester approach of long quick balls to a potent front man and quick breaks down the wings. It seems that he’s realised that we aren’t quite sharp enough to play it patiently out from the back and based on some of the goals we’ve conceded, you can see why he might have come to that conclusion.

  30. Paul Ince about Wesley last week:
    “I’m one of the biggest moaners in the world but at least I could play the game. He didn’t do anything but moan and fall on the floor. He needs to start doing a lot more and start playing football”

    Anything you’d like to add to those comments now Mr Ince?

  31. r0bb0,
    Ince is entitled to his opinion, and after the first game against Spurs, many were saying the same, but he has learned very quickly that the Premier league is a very different league to what he is used to. I am pleased to see that he has settled quickly and getting on with the game.

    Don’t understand the constant complaing about Taylor, who has been excelent so far. I saw Targett in pre season games, and he offered very little to say that he could be better. I am sure that if and when he comes up to the level Dean is looking for, he will play him, but he has to earn it first!!!

  32. My humble opinion is Mr Smith has built a side that can firstly defend but can quickly counter. He’s added pace to the side and guile. I think the players are also capable of playing possession based footy as we progress. I think DS has guessed correctly that our very fresh behind the ears side will not be dominating to many prem sides but could take points on the counter. I know his Brentford side was capable of both as they used both effectively against us. He’s well versed in being the underdog.

    Theres been lots of talk about giving it a go or playing to win but I don’t think he’s that naive, there are many ways of winning that are exciting. I think whatever our intended destination is style wise he won’t let it stop us winning in the interim.

  33. Mark . . . amen to that.

    Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me but it’s been good to see that we do have a plan b
    So was all the pre-season talk about us ‘going for it’ and ‘playing attacking football’ a smokescreen’ or is this just another form of attacking football?

  34. PP. you (and Paul ince) were right that Wesley was falling over and petulant in the first game and needed to change his attitude (and get more service from his teammates)
    Ince’s comments were more bitchy than they needed to be and it’d be nice if he now at least praised Wesley for following his advice

  35. PP. I can understand some people wanting to see Targett, as he did ok in pre-season, but Taylor has done well so far and probably doesn’t deserve to lose his place . . . . . unless Dean Smith has seen enough from Targett in training to think otherwise.
    Calling for Marvellous to play when we’ve seen bugger all of him playing with this squad or playing in Dean Smith’s style is the more perverse one.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if by Christmas, both of them are playing regularly for us but surely Dean Smith is in the best position to judge and we just don’t have enough information to be able to question him at the moment.

  36. Robbo exactly that, we are going out to win not see 38 draws out, in time we will get more expansive but watching Liverpool its a similar mix, we just don’t press as high or at times at all 🙂

    Targett looked ok pre-season but can’t remember any assists or shots? I do recall mings struggling against Leipzig though as they waltzed down his flank.

  37. What a great win, and an important one. I’m not buying into the cr*p that we were overrun in midfield- result is all that matters. Jota and Guilbert made a huge difference. El Ghazi was possessed when he came on. It was funny to see him push Jack out of the way for his goal…..something for Jack to learn there as he was waiting for the ball to come to him, vs El Ghazi went after the ball.

    Wesley was so much better. Interesting to hear DS say he had been watching Wesley for a long time. It shows that these guys know what they’re doing.

    Will be interested to see the lineup for Crewe on Tuesday. Jed, Konza, Targett, Guilbert, Conor, Lansbury, and Davis for sure.

    Anyone heard a review on Doyle-Hayes performances at Cheltenham?

  38. VillaMD- I think its more down to the way we are approaching the games and maybe that DS recognises we are unlikely to boss most teams just yet.
    We appear to be dropping off and offering a midfield press then dropping to our third to win the ball back and create space in behind teams.

  39. Engels was immense and blocked a certain goal on the line, we created quite a bit that just didn’t quite come off along with some excellent stuff that did.

  40. We are a work-in-progress, let’s give Deano a bit more time to settle on his various first 11s depending on the opposition, there are 105 points to play for.

    I was disappointed we shot ourselves in the foot so quickly v Bournemouth that it was a massive mountain to climb for a team to come back from and Spurs and Everton were more representative of what we can do, Spurs had the quality to punish us and Everton didn’t and we capitalised.

    While I’m not running away with myself, I’ve seen much to make me confident we can finish at least fourth from bottom.

  41. Interesting results from the other matches – Crystal Palace and Newcastle being the standouts, not only because of the opposition but them being our competition at the foot of the table (for now). SB gave a masterclass of parking the bus and then claims hes taught the critics a lesson, nice to see some things never change. At least Crystal Palace had the guts to go for it. Made me smile to see Benteke replacing Ayew though.

  42. Crewe are in the play off places of League 2. Just the sort of game previous regimes at Villa would use to throw us under the bus by picking the back up players. Due entirely to having a first 11 that was pretty poor and therefore by definition the second 11 were even worse.

    Tomorrow will be no different selection wise, but check out the likely team. Injuries permitting, Steer, Elmo, House, Konsa, Targett, Marvel, Hourihane, Lansbury, El Gassy, Codger and Davies. The bench will be interesting. I don’t fancy Crewe’s chances one bit.

  43. Nice to see 3 points on the board and big Wes get off the Mark. makes me feel 40 years younger all of sudden, so much like the Saunders days this squad Dean has put together. It was about that many years ago we all agreed to have the afternoon off from Erdington Tech and head up to Gresty Road to watch us in the old Milk Cup as it was back then. Great game and as I recall Pete the Greek got frog marched all round the pitch and out to the paddy wagon, though I cant remember what for, as there wasn’t any agro. Happy days all round for us old farts being reminded of why we are Villa thru n thru and for the younger lads who have been desperate to see a team of guys that look like they give a damn and play like they want to be here. Hope the game is on DZN tomorrow, just to finish off my weekend of recollecting.

  44. Go to agree with plug, should have a good chance to go further and I believe we have the folks in place to make it happen. The cup with three handles is better than nowt at all, and that’s how Saunders got us up and running all the way to the final defeat against Spurs where Pat Jennings was the main difference between us. Next visit to Wembley was better when we beat Norwich, Ray Graydon the difference that time.

  45. yeah id go fairly strong tonight. 5 games to the final? and everyone else will go second string.

    Great result v toffees. probably deserved a draw tbf but we worked hard and hopefully the result will give us confidence. If we can get back to back wins going into the int break would be amazing.

    bugger that toon and palace won away.

  46. H and V, Everton would have only deserved a draw if they put the ball in the net, the deserving aspect was nullified by our defenders and their wastefulness, sorry no charity from me, they only thing they deserved was a 1-0 scoreline over the 90 minutes, El Ghazi was the icing on the goal difference cake.

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