Villa’s second outing at home saw Wesley and Anwar El Ghazi open their Premier League accounts, and Villa get their first three points of the season in a 2-0 victory over visiting Everton. It was a big day for the club, as well as the loud, joyous crowd rocking Villa Park. We’ve waited a damn long time for Premier League win.

The Good
Obviously the win as much as the three points. Sounds silly, but ‘winning’ is something besides the points. Wesley getting off the mark. El Ghazi coming on to put an exclamation mark on proceedings after a poor outing against Bournemouth. He had a point to prove, and seems to come back better after getting pulled. Then there was Jota getting his first start and sliding through a sublime ball to put big Wes in. He really has a touch of quality, Jota, great awareness and calm on the ball. Frédéric Guilbert making his debut and adding a lot of speed, anticipation, and support, as well as a hard old-fashioned tackle toward the end. All of a sudden we were more balanced, with Jota and Guilbert offering as much threat down the right (which was evident in preseason) as we’ve gotten used to seeing down the left. Luiz had a quietly solid game, and seems to be growing into it fairly easily. A little bit of luck finally falling our way, perhaps, with the block and the woodwork. Jota works well with Wesley. (Wonder if he’ll get the start against Palace. It’s going to take a lot to keep up with Zaha.) Mings and Engels again looking solid at the back. A clean sheet. Fantastic scenes and atmosphere at Villa Park.

The Bad
As well as Mings defended, he was pinging a lot of errant long balls, but apparently by design. Well, the attempts, not the outcomes. Trezeguet didn’t have a great day, but kept at it. Can’t really think of much else, to be honest. We got sucked a bit too deep once again, which led to another nervy finish, especially after Iwobi and Kean came on for the Toffees, but we’ll get to that. Everton had three good chances, and will probably count themselves unlucky on two of them. But generally speaking, every team will have chances, and we took ours.

The Ugly
Walcott not even putting the ball on target. Beautiful.

Final Verdict
A lot of questions were answered on the day. Smith admitted in his post-match comments that the way Villa have been playing is deliberate. Which we might’ve concluded on our own having seen largely the same approach as at Spurs. But it was a little tough to tell since that’s not the way Smith has set out Villa’s stall. Before the game I said we looked hesitant. And I think there has been some of that, some dwelling, some adjusting, all the rest. But we’re also not pressing higher up the pitch on purpose. We’re playing the classic counterattacking game, inviting teams on, and giving ourselves room to play into. If we keep converting, it may well change the way teams approach us.

We’ve been more expansive at times, but at this level, there’s a lot talent. A lot of pace. A lot of athleticism. You can be full of all sorts of attacking intent, but you can quite easily get shredded in the process.

So, Smith talked about avoiding mistakes, getting it up and over quickly (part of Mings’ poor distribution, as he was trying to make a lot of long passes). He was pleased by how quick and threatening we looked on the counter, and by and large, I’d say we’re getting there.

Marco Silva was certainly implying in his comments after the game that Villa were parking the bus. But if teams want to play a high line, press and take the game to us, Dean’s more than willing to accommodate them. He didn’t buy four big CBs and two DMs for no reason.

It’s also clear he didn’t buy Wesley for no reason. Villa were very quick to pull that trigger, and it’s clear now this target was indicative of the way Smith planned to play, at least to being with. And on the day, Wesley started to look a multipurpose danger man, holding up the ball, getting others involved (see the play that led to El Ghazi’s goal), and finding himself with two excellent chances, one of which he took, cool as you like. He’s fast, strong, good on the ball, unselfish. A little more experience with the attention he’s receiving and I think he’ll really start to find his way.

Is this Deano failing to deliver on the organization’s attacking promise? I don’t think so. It’s an acknowledgment of reality. It’s development on the go, rather than a destination, and Smith’s no fool. As he said: “It will take time for us to compete with some of the established teams in this league.”

Villa need points. They need confidence. They need to buy time to adjust. So, take the standard text, play the highest-percentage game you can. Get settled, learn to defend, create and take your chances. The result, therefore, was big for another reason: It helps the players buy into the tactics and takes some pressure off.

The free-flowing Villa we’ve come to like is still there. There was a spell Saturday where I thought we might start taking Everton apart. But that wasn’t how it worked out. We didn’t get the second, and Everton settled back down. Against Bournemouth, there were longer periods where Villa were playing their game. I’ve seen it compared to Leicester. You could also look back to Chelsea in the Drogba days.

I also found Newcastle’s win illustrative. Whereas this style is Bruce’s stock in trade, it’s not Smith’s. The barcodes had five at the back, which helped negate Spurs’ wide play. They ventured forward on the break more conservatively than Villa, so they didn’t have Spurs really running at them, and pressed a little further out when packed in. Spurs were also having one of the their flat days. But credit to Newcastle for helping that along. Be rather curious to see if we ever see Smith take a page from Bruce’s book.

Anyway, the big thing is that the players are capable of taking on a Plan B, and seemed to learn a bit from their exuberance at Spurs. We also have to remember that at roughly £13m a player, our window was far from extravagant. There simply were a lot of holes to fill. In a world where £130m buys you a couple-three world-class players, spending an average of £13m to rebuild a squad to survive…Well, £130m was very much a case of assembling a squad to survive.

Going forward, Smith can start picking and choosing 1-3 positions of true need to splash cash on in a given window. We don’t know what January will bring, but if we stay up, the following summer will be interesting again.

So there’s that. Off the mark and a lot of positives.

Tonight’s game? Well… Given survival, I could very well see a B team being played. Davis up front, perhaps a debut for Marvelous. Maybe Luiz. Lansbury, Hourihane. Elmo and Targett. Don’t necessarily have a lot of options out wide, but maybe it’s El Ghazi and Trezeguet. Dunno. Doesn’t really matter—because apart from how Smith wants to approach it in terms of development and valuable minutes for a lot of players, it’s completely irrelevant to our survival.

Now of course a win is always a good thing, and if Smith makes a lot of changes, there’ll be a lot of players with something to prove. And really, the B team should handle things. But a cup tie’s a cup tie.

Over to you.

Comments 33

  1. JC, I can’t see Crewe living with us tonight whatever team Deano puts out. Our pace is up several notches from last season so I’m expecting us to give them a bit of a lesson. Famous last words I know, but that’s how confident I am.

    As for Spud at the Spuds, the single goal scored amounted to outrageous defending. Joelinton was given the wide open spaces in front of the keeper with nobody near him. My granny would have played him in. I can only imagine Poch’s language at half time.

  2. I’ve randomly been thinking back to players I remember when I was 10 or so. I remember them but I had no concept of how good or bad a player was

    The likes of Berson, Vassell, McCann. What were they like?

  3. Plug,

    Famous last words, indeed! But yeah, you’d like to think so.

    I really hope Marvelous gets to play, just so we can see him. As for the rest, curious to see whether Dean thinks a ‘starting’ XI needs more work together, or the normal week of rest and recovery.

  4. Frem,

    Yep, no room to change the wingers. Would think Davis gets a start. Steer. Not sure, thought I saw Hause was fit again, maybe not, but him and Konsa. Targett, for sure. Don’t think I’ll be worried if we don’t see Marvelous at some point at least, but if not, he must’ve been well behind the curve.

    So, midfield could be Conor, Lansbury and Marvelous.

  5. Frem, you are really turning up some skeletons in the closet. Matthieu Berson came from Nantes I think after they became champs in France. He was signed by David “when I was at Leeds” O’Leary. Total disaster for us and didn’t play more than a dozen games for us.

    Darius Vassell came through the youths and went on to play for England. His main attribute was speed and was known by fellow Holte Enders as thick and quick.

    Eric Djemba Djemba was also signed by O’Leary from Man Ure. Fergie knew what he was doing offloading him. When the fans got on his back he was reported in the press as saying that Aston Villa and their supporters didn’t appreciate his “silky skills”. In reality, we didn’t appreciate his schitt performances.

  6. Team:
    Steer, Elmohamady, Konsa, Hause, Targett, Nakamba, Hourihane, Lansbury, Jota, Davis, El Ghazi

    subs: Luiz, Grealish, Guilbert, Tshibola, Ramsey, Archer, Nyland (gk)

    I’m off to the radio generation gathering.
    Marvelous is playing & Tshola is a sub
    What position does Archer play? I’ve not been keeping an eye on the Reserves?

    Looking forward to some clarity from this.

  7. Well, overall, very underwhelming despite the scoreline. Credit to Crewe, playing us off the park there for a spell, but…

    I suppose we picked it up a bit there toward the end of the half, but still not very sharp.

    Conor’s got a point to prove. Maybe he’s our second striker.

  8. Grealish isn’t something else isn’t he

    We were actually very poor tonight despite the score. We were very slow and heavy in the first half. The centre backs didn’t fancy battling

    Good win though

    Lansbury is a baller

  9. Frem,

    Yeah, was a good little run-out for him, assist and a goal.

    But agree, we didn’t look great, don’t think Dean will be over the moon. Didn’t seem to want to expend the same energy as Crewe. If they’d made any of their good play count, could well have come back to haunt us. Very hard to get out of second gear when you’re not really wanting to.

    A little bit surprised some weren’t trying harder to stake a claim.

  10. Looks like Lansbury made the biggest claim with three assists, and especially his last one to Jack, who came on for his cameo spot.

    Nice to see Guilbert and Konsa get their debut goals, and Conor to score a brace. Targett still struggling and now injured!

  11. PP,

    Davis did take it well, and it was really good to see him get one. Needs the confidence. And he had a good game, overall.

    Lansbury’s assist on the backheel…That was quite a little ball. Jota had a nice one, as well. Guilbert adds a lot, but shame to see Targett get hurt. Wasn’t having the best game, as you say.

  12. We just beat Crew for giggles and s**ts by the looks… That would have been a banana skin not so long ago… The Everton win was massive. Confidence grows and the belief is there… We fear no-one… and we’re only going to get better… I’m on the verge of being quite excited by it all…

  13. twitter world has us down to of played very well?! What was marvellous like?


    Sat is the game for me if we win ill be excited. got to make up for the Bournemouth defeat and beat palace. Other teams near the bottom have hard games too so 3 points will have us nicely top half going into int break.

  14. H&V

    Marvelous was rather quiet to begin with, grew into the game. Was doing a lot of the simple things, as you’d expect, started playing more ambitious balls and imposed himself a bit more as time went on. Turned a defender out wide really neatly with a nutmeg. Doubt that comes off most Saturdays in the Prem, but he’s got good touch. Covered ground well, etc.

    Definitely seemed like he’s still finding his way, and will need to be more aggressive, but I think he’s got all that in him. Didn’t seem out of place in the side, wasn’t reckless or profligate. Almost seemed to be wanting to put in a reassuring, ‘error-free’ kind of performance.

  15. Hello folks, Agree with JC about Marv but thought he positioned himself well, looked more a DM than Luis to me, never looked flustered.

    Considering most of the side haven’t played a competitive match since last season I thought they played ok.

    One thought was that Jota got a game without Jack on the pitch and roamed as much central as wide, maybe a look see how he would get on? and late on Jack got a run which wasn’t really needed but again gave Smith a glimpse of him in a free role up front in front of the mid three, food for thought when we only have 3 wingers and we can’t play Conor with the mids we have?

  16. My observations from last night. It wasn’t a 1-6 game but was much closer than that. However, the travelling fans will tell you we battered them. And I ain’t going to argue.

    It also provided a comparison of squads because all Prem and Champs teams played their squad members. In the case of Palace, their squad team contained 7 internationals. Yet they got beat by Colchester, Naarwich’s squad got beat by Crawley. And Brighton’s squad got the winner against Bristol Rovers deep in injury time. This indicates to me that our squad is far superior to those mentioned. As such the team that Deano is building has the hallmarks of Ron Saunders teams, young and athletic. We’ve got a lot to look forward to.

  17. MK,

    Yeah, good observations, especially with Jota and Jack’s minutes. Know it was a tiring and beaten Crewe side by the time Jack came on, but quite a bit different to how we usually see him when he was running in and taking the shot for the goal. More like a Hourihane role, as you say.

    What was interesting was that we seemed to be stressing the quick counter moves throughout. Some sloppiness, over-anxiousness, etc., but Smith looks to be drilling this throughout the side. We did play out, and did have to work short passes to retain possession against a pretty relentless Crewe side (full credit), but we were also always looking to make those big sweeping moves up the pitch, and very much using Davis as we would’ve Wesley.

  18. Congratulations Tyro on your England call up. Villa has an England player again. Totally deserved. Mings at 20/25 mill. Maguire at 80 mill. It’s no contest.

  19. Will miss the match and won’t be about today got a 1st birthday party to attend and will be to full of cake, oh that and the mrs will have my guts if I didn’t go 🙁

    going for a villa win 3-1

  20. Line up:
    Heaton, Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor, Luiz, McGinn, Grealish, Trezeguet, Jota, Wesley.

    Subs: Steer, Lansbury, Hourihane, Konsa, El Ghazi, Elmohamady, Davi

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