I won’t say I’ve been putting this off, because I’ve been absolutely swamped of late. But things have been bubbling around, and I might just be ready to distill them. In pieces. So, a few thoughts four games in and sitting 18th.

Given a lot of time watching sports with all sorts of instant replays and official reviews, here’s what I know: Officials on the field just can’t see the game the same way a camera can. My basic rule of thumb is that when viewers can see what an official can’t, maybe the game should primarily be called by people who are watching the TV.

The problem doing this with football is that it’s such a fluid game. So we get Kevin “Friend” blowing for what he “thinks” is a dive instead of letting the play go on and seeing what happens. He didn’t play the advantage, or ‘disadvantage’ in this case, and therefore precluded the review from getting the right result. Frankly, though, how to get it right gives me a headache. Does the official raise his hand, but not blow, indicating an incident that should be reviewed within a certain time frame (five seconds, 10, 15?) if there’s not an immediate stoppage or natural conclusion to the passage of play?

I dunno. All I can say is that despite what happened in the previous 94 minutes, Villa were robbed of a goal and a point. They didn’t have to deserve it on the balance of play. They scored in the allotted time, and that’s all that matters. But Friend cocked it up and if Villa go down by a point, well, he’s certainly going to live in infamy.

Officiating’s a tough job, no doubt. Sport is fast, and before there were technological alternatives, there was simply no way round hoping that the good and bad calls (and the results) would balance out over a match or season. But now there are alternatives. We just have to embrace them to their full extent, or get really frustrated that humans remain the problem. And hell, it’s not even just “humans” getting it wrong. It’s that you simply can’t see things in all that action the way a camera can present them to you.

So you call the game from the booth. Or you don’t. Passages of play should be allowed to continue. It’s just up to what point that’s hard to determine. But Palace? All I can say is we were robbed.

That said, we struggled. And while we absolutely should have taken a point, in the end, we couldn’t cope with Palace’s pace. And it’s either been pace, strength, or both, that’s troubled our midfield so far.

In the early going, this has been the problem area. We’re getting shredded, for the most part.

It’s hardly a novel suggestion, but putting both Marvelous and Luiz in, and then having Jack, John, and Conor on top supporting Wes seems like it might be necessary. Douglas Luiz, while looking just fine, hasn’t really added any muscle or imposed himself yet.

I don’t know what you’d call it: a 4-2-3-1; 4-4-1-1…Doesn’t really matter to us as long as the players know what they’re supposed to be doing. Maybe it’s really a 4-3-2-1, given Super John’s style of play. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be Conor, as I think El Ghazi and Jota can do creative things with more support. AEG and Jack are a little tough together since Jack shades left, but AEG is the strongest and fastest of the three wingers. Maybe Jota/Trezeguet are up top with Jack to start, and SJM, Luiz and Marvelous give us more bodies in the middle. Jota seems to read Wes well, can maintain possession, and links up well with Guilbert.

Lots of permutations and pros and cons.

This would leave us more narrow in the attacking phase, for one. But since we’re playing on the counter a lot anyway, I don’t know that it really matters. Jota’s done some useful things, and Trezeguet has popped up in good spots. They both work hard. But since we need to plug up the middle more, and we’re already conceding a lot down the flanks, someone probably has to make way tactically. Jack and (fill in the blank…I’d say McGinn, but he’s going to be box-to-box no matter what) more permanently forward in and around Wes make a dangerous tip of the spear, and we’re just not possessing the ball enough to really bring the best out of Dean’s preferred 4-3-3. We’ve seen that Mings and Engels can handle pretty much all of what’s coming in from out wide.

For his part, Guilbert contributes pace, width, and a quality ball going forward. I’ve really got no idea about Targett, but I’m hoping he’s available again soon so we can see whether he does have anything to offer. Taylor’s done alright, and probably exceeded most everyone’s expectations, but we need more there. Trick is, looks like Targett will need a bit of a run to establish himself, and that might be a luxury Dean can’t afford just yet.

Overall, though, we have to be more combative in the middle. The game needs to be contested a bit further up the pitch. We’ve got talent, but, so far, I’m not sure we have the requisite athleticism throughout the side. Marvelous and Luiz should be able to raise that up a bit. It’s what we’ve got. Lansbury’s a good player, but he’s not quick. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that the Premier League is very fast.

Results So Far
Even though results are all that matter, we’ve been unlucky. Two self-inflicted wounds cost us against Bournemouth, and Kevin Friend took a point away from us against Palace. So we probably should have at least two more points on the board. Maybe four, if we don’t get off to such a nightmare start against the Cherries. But we don’t, so it’s been a rough start.

I’m not panicking yet, but midtable dreams seem a bit far-fetched at the moment. While I certainly back Deano to get it right, we’ve taken it on the chin so far, by and large. He’s been right to stick through to the break, at least, as it’s the only way the players will learn. Having seen his most recent comments, I’m not sure any adjustments are in the offing, but you never know. At least some of the attacking core has been working together over the break.

Everyone’s learning and adjusting. Haven’t seen any hanging heads, and we fought to the end against Palace. Playing a man down doesn’t help, and Deano remains defiant, saying that if Trezeguet hadn’t seen red, we’d have won. Anyway, we’ll learn something from how he sets us up against the Hammers. Early days yet, but we need to get some more points on the board.

Over to you.

Comments 53

  1. IanG- Charlie backed us to stay up so he has to 🙂

    JC- been through many scenarios in my head including jack on the wing/free role to incorporate conor. I think Marv might get the nod over Luis on Monday. For me Luis hasn’t turned out to be as good defensively as presumed yet, Marv I think is a different ball game. Might just be enough to take the pressure off of the others. Not saying he’s Kante but I have a feeling he will turn out to be Wheelan ++ for us. I think DS will try that before abandoning the formation.

    The other player I want to see is Kodjia, might turn out to be a waste of time but he has something different, just hasn’t been fit with no pre-season.

  2. It is a while since i last posted here but i am glad we are back in this division.
    Nice article well thought out here and i fully agree on the midfield. For me Nakamba has to come in and play alongside McGinn and Hourihane in the midfield. Push Grealish outwide or give him a free role.
    Wesley and AEG upfront as i feel the later has qualities to play as a striker. We have been annihilated in midfield battles so far this season and even the Everton win saw us with an average of 35 percent possesion.
    If we are to avoid relegation and get results we simply have to dominate the central zone.
    Nakamba,from what i have seen of him,can do a much better job than Luiz.
    I tend to watch continental football more than the EPL especially the time we have been in the Championship. For me alongside Guilbert they are the best signings the club have made this summer and i only hope Dean Smith wisens up and tinkers with the team before we are found out.

  3. Jesus MK a Whelan mark 2,watched run round the Aviva last Thursday night ,a ringside seat always behind play never want to see another his type of player in my team,I have nothing against im,Whelan seems a decent fellow ,first player to come over to applaud the fans,

  4. JC
    Good header as per norm
    On our un, friend if it was only the goal we were complaining about it would be bad enough but his entire performance was shocking as bad as ours
    We have to push jack further forward with 2 from 3 Luis marvellous and Conor behind him
    Also noticed Welsh fans giving taylor the same stick villa fans do in general,

  5. JG
    We certainly need some steel in the midfield to stop us being overrun.
    Jesus++ would be good.
    Well Taylor has been consistent in what he does lately, so why not the Welsh supporters.
    What was Hourehane doing at left back???

  6. I must say that it’s hard for a team to gel while the opposition is going round you.
    But if we can see it, then DS will see it in technicolour.
    I’m sure that it will get better.

  7. The best referees are the ones that don’t get noticed during a game. That though will never do for Kevin Fraud. He HAS to be centre of attention. It’s not just the dropped point that may come back and bite us. Palace gained 2 points from the cheat and we could be scrapping with them come the end of the season.

  8. JG- I don’t know about Wheelan mk2 but he certainly looks a more assured DM than Luis that will give us a platform like Wheelan did and the ++ is plus athleticism and energy 🙂

  9. I agree with comments on Luiz not being imposing. I’ve seen these comments all over the internet and maybe it’s an age and also moving to a new European country challenge.

    I think he needs to add agression and rough it about as he’s a big lad. If his DM game is just bringing the ball out and spraying passes, then as I wrote a month ago …give Konza a shot as DM as Luiz probably needs 3 months to harden his game. For DM we don’t need the box to box player that he believes he is. We need a tough guy that reads the game ahead of the back four.

    Fabulous, anyone who goes on strike to demand a move is not ideal for me. He’ll do the same to us. I saw him on TV vs Crewe and thought he looked super average. Made some decent tackles, but got caught out a lot. Let’s not hope he’s another Ross McCormack

  10. VillaMD- agree on Luis he’s not a sit in DM, can’t agree on marvs display, 1st half he hardly touched the ball and I wondered if he was there but second half he took much more control and even nutmegged an apposing player , looked way more assured.

    Played in front of an entirely different back four too in which Hause was all over the place and a different midfield, hell it was a different team to the one played in any prem game. Bit premature to be labelling him RMC the 2nd. As Smith has said he is now upped his fitness levels and is ready.

    IanG- Back then you reacted and you body responded, now I attempt and my body tells me off 🙂

  11. Another good leader JC,

    I hope evryone is right about Marvellous and Luis, but I have my own reservations about how good they really are at this stage for the Premiership. I still feel that Lansbury has a lot to offer the midfield alongside McGinn with Jack paying further forward. We actrually lack the physicality of Bjarnason at the moment… too many midfielders unable to stand up and hold the ball.

    Sky Sports are making Villa’s non goal against Palace famous, as it has just been discussed again, with the yellow card for Jack “Wilshire” Grealish, creating loads of laughs after Merson’s error, added to by Troy Deeney.

    Interesting to hear Palace fans raving about Ayew, now that he is adding goals to his game.

    Looking forward to Monday’s game and who Dean feels will be able to make the difference.

    Newcastle leading for a few moments, until the Liverpool machine swings into action, and now 2-1 at half time.

  12. Ian g
    Conor at left back well mad mick is in charge,but to be fair mc carthy doing ok as manager but as ever our fa have cocked up again McCarthy only got a contract up to next euros with new man coming from under 21,was impressed with our ex left back Steven’s last night not so much with Connors midfield show

  13. Yes Iang,
    Thanks to Tammy Abraham getting a hat trick and a dubious red card for Billy Sharp, and Burnley and Brighton drawing. This Premier league looking to be a very tough season this time round.
    See Lewis Grabban keeping Forest on course.
    Let’s hope that we have a striker step up to the mark soon. Would love Keinan Davis or Kodjia to hit form, if Wesley doesn’t step up to the plate, but early days yet.

    All the games I have seen Enda Stevens play in recent times, he has definitely looked the part.

  14. We have created near to nothing in 4 games, for 2 reasons. One, we have absolutely no attacking options and 2, its always the same set up. Our wingers don’t even move of the ball. They don’t roam inside. Always stay wide and it’s easy for team’s


    a minute ago
    We can’t be as predictable as always tomorrow. Teams just let our wingers have the ball and they know they won’t hurt them. It’s jack anf Mcginn who team’s need to stop. We need to go 4312 and be more direct. We are to easy to play against

  15. Frem,

    Deano may change it tomorrow night as Trez is not available. But we do need to get something out of the game. Naarwich reserves showed what was possible last night with total effort all game. A rocking VP under the lights should help.

  16. We can talk formations and tactics but the bottom line is that the team lacks quality in too many areas.

    Last year we finished a distant third to Norwich and Sheffield. Abraham left and 20m doesn’t buy you much of a player in this league. To recruit 10-12 new people for the budget we had was always going to be very difficult.

    I don’t see it ending well. I’ll make the 3hr drive tomorrow but it won’t be pretty.

  17. Couple summary thoughts…

    Luiz. Hard to tell right now. Tidy enough player, but hard to know just yet exactly what he’ll be. If Pep’s so high on him, then there’s got to be a lot to like, but don’t know whether he’ll get more physical, or that’s just not who he is. All he really has to do is be fast, cover, and have the strength to thwart and hold things up. Nice if he were a bit of a thug, but mainly he just has to be in the right places.

    Nakamba: Even harder to tell, obviously. His second half was much better. I’m guessing he’s the more aggressive of the two. But when you’re finding your feet, you either overcommit or play it safe. Luiz seems to at least be playing it safe, as it were, wonder if Marvelous would be as disciplined, but more physical.

    Formation: With Guilbert, I think we still get width on the right even if we go to a more narrow 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1. Left, not so much. McGinn, Luiz and Marvelous should have plenty of legs to overlap going up and down, and then really it’s a question of Luiz and Marvelous each having a side to support/shut down. It’s that wide thrust that then finds men in the channels/middle that’s killing us. If we can take away that inside pass, keep things wide, we’ll see more of the ball further up the pitch. We need to be able to push up harder in the middle, and take the trailing midfield runs off the table.

  18. And like someone said, Deano and Terry will certainly see where it’s going wrong, how we’re getting exposed. Part of it, like he said a couple days ago, is simply being better with the ball when we have it. That’s the adjusting part. The rest? Well, it’s do we actually have the players to win the ball back more and keep teams from getting running starts at us. So much of that comes from turning it over cheaply when we get forward.

    I worry less about being more narrow up front, since neither Jota or Trezeguet, despite being willing runners, are great defensively. But, they’ve both been in position to assist or score, give us width (and presumably more room for Wes, Jack and McGinn, and it just hasn’t come off yet in terms of goals). Maybe you start out more defensively, then introduce them later.

  19. And haven’t seen it talked about much, and don’t know how Smith feels, but it might be that five at the back, with the central CB pushing out more like a bit of a DM, and then a true DM to work around him, could shore things up. Weak point, again, is that Taylor doesn’t offer what Guilbert does trying to play as a wingback.

  20. This evening will be a real test for Villa. I think most Villa fans will think this game is winnable, especially after the Everton Win at home. The fans will be up for it and I am sure the atmosphere will be electric.

    My concern is that West Ham has some quality players, Haller, Anderson, Lanzini, Rice, Diop, Fabianski – Premier League Quality. They will not fear Villa and they are on a winning streak.

    If Villa starts slowly – we did against Bournemouth and Everton we could find ourselves out of the game by half time. We have been punished so far for every mistake we have made in every game.

    With the exception of Heaton, Mings, Engels, Mcginn, Grealish, this Villa side is average at best and we are in a relegation dog fight. I like Dean Smith and he is very honest. However, a managers success is defined by their recruitment policy and I believe the majority of our summer transfers were questionable.

    I am fully behind the team and will be supporting the boys this eve. I do hope our level of performance improves and Dean Smith can learn from the mistakes that we have made so far.

    Up the Villa.

  21. Hello folks, I think that its to early yet and we are clearly not playing the way Dean Smith wants, maybe we are not capable maybe we are, took him a while with a team that had been together a while last season, this is a whole different scenario.

    I’m still thinking its a free shot with a part of a team that pulled up trees to get up late on then was dismantled. We have a chance and the parachute payments, of course I want us to stay up but I am relaxed about it.

    Hoping Marv gets the shout, his performances in the champs league say he has more in the locker than we might think.

  22. The impending Marvelous Universe release is interesting.
    I can’t help but think that the script hasn’t been done yet.
    But I’m looking forward to seeing what may be exactly what we need, or not.
    His style & energy of play may well suit us, but Rome [or the team] still wasn’t built in a day, & the foundations haven’t quite set yet.

  23. Team
    Heaton; Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor; Nakamba, Grealish, McGinn; Jota, Wesley, El Ghazi.

    Subs: Steer, Elmohamady, Hause, Hourihane, Douglas Luiz, Lansbury, Davis.

  24. RichardS…

    Yeah, it’s tough. I’d like to think that if Dean had started off as manager last year, and had this team together that we’d have stood a good chance of winning the Champs. So, better than Norwich or Sheffield. Dunno.

    Do know it’s tough putting together a new team with little to no PL experience, and then adjusting and gelling on the fly. Did the best we could getting players in early, and I don’t see a lack of confidence in terms of ability, but I do see some surprise in how little time there is, and how quickly and effectively it can come back at you.

    So, I want to believe Deano’s right that Villa just focusing on playing better will move us along. Makes sense, as that’s all he can control right now. If Trez or Jota take another chance or two, we don’t shoot ourselves against Bournemouth; Trez doesn’t get sent off…Who knows.

  25. well frustrating! Not sure you know 433 suits us or we have good enough players to play it. Need to play more narrow. Got the players for that. Apart from that its same old. Taylor a waste of space going forward. Dissapointed with what I expected from deano ball. Bruce took a hell of a lot of stick with his style and its currently the same. long ball to Wesley and feed off. Thought wed be playing through the middle more. Engels and guilbert have settled brilliantly. Least we look tight!

  26. Our defence was Epic last night – that is a major plus point.

    Heaton didn’t have to make a save.

    The midfield players battled all night – however we played better when West Ham had 11 players on the pitch

    Our attacking deficiencies were blatantly obvious. We need to work on this.

    I think I would like to see Lansbury get a chance in the team. Jota and AEG were both out of sorts last night.

  27. El Ghazi is at best an average Championship player; Jota is too slow, holds the attack up when in possession; Wesley…too slow, with a weak shot… pure and simple.
    Taylor is poor, especially going forward.
    Grealish has been highly average but isn’t helped by lack of runners when he’s in the opposition half.
    We won’t score enough goals to survive. You have to win home games against West Ham when Arsenal away is your next game.

  28. paul

    im of the opinion it is what it is! I love the owners, I love smith and the route of buying young players to improve. But I think its too much of an ask. 12 young players in one window with hardly any prem experience expected to hit the ground running. highly impossible. think we have gone up too early really!

  29. Yes, as I said yesterday…we went up with by far the weakest squad and you can’t buy 10 x £40m players.

    Stranger things have happened but we lack quality up front and on the wings, and we lack squad depth all over.

  30. I’ll do a post-match, but all in all, I was very encouraged by the performance. Thought that was the first time we really looked the part.

    Some obvious downsides to discuss, but I thought I saw good progress there. More to go, but good step forward.

  31. yeah I said at the time. could not belive another winger and striker wasn’t brought in. was gob smacked at the time. All you had was the media saying look how much we spent et etc….we needed a new squad!! 120 mill on 12 players in nothing!

    But massive over sight leaving us short in attack. maybe stay in touch until Jan then buy?

  32. id be very happy for now if smith tweeked formation and played target.

    Guilbert Engels Mings Targett
    McGuinn Hourihan Grealish
    That I think would play to our strengths. Hourihan doesn’t get mentioned much but in that forward role can assist and score plus set pieces are key

  33. Saw the team sheet and thought Frem might go ape schitt. But I think we should have won. The team is still forming and learning so I’m quite relaxed. Had Wes’s header gone in, we’d be now above the other promoted teams. I’m keeping the faith.

    Think we need 5 in the middle against the Gunners though.

  34. Plug – I hope we don’t need more than 5 in the middle.
    Trez is back for that which should help, & when Luiz & Nakamba acclimatise, it should get more productive for the middle, with better quality scoring opportunities.

    It’s an ever changing learning curve, where we’re riding it at the moment rather than controlling it, which is understandable.
    I’m averse to panic, not only because once you start it’s hard to stop, but there are more positives than negatives so far, with some rubs of the green to even out later in the season.

    Yes we didn’t get everything we wanted in the transfer window, but who has?
    H&V – Remember, happiness is a warm gun they say

  35. Well, what a night!

    Dusappointed with the result, as it was a game that we could have won, but perhaps not with the substitutions that Dean chose.

    Not happy with El Ghazi butting Mings after he was given a few words by the big man. Could easily have been a sending off. Mike Dean was very kind to us with that, and maybe the penalty shout. For sure, if it had been Kevin F, both would have gone against us..!!

    It was great to be part of a really rocking Villa Park from start to finish, but we really need to sort our game out. I thought as has already been said that Marvellous grew into the game and will be a good assett in the future.
    Like several, I was surprised with Jota being substituted by El Mohamady, surely Lansbury would have been a greater asset, and not really sure why Dean is loathe to use him. Surely, Hourihane would have been a much better choice over Luiz to replace Nkamba, and then Jack could also have been more effective and played further forward.
    Guilbert being replaced by Keinan Davis seemed to be all too late in the day. Two centre forwards after the sending off would have been a much better option, as we never had a man up the pitch to take on the ball, so West Ham could keep nocking it back in.

    West Ham were able to control things far too easily, as the Villa mid field kept over playing the ball rather than moving it on quickly when there were players in space ready to receive it. If we continue like this then Arsenal are going to take us apart.

    Cannot fault the team for effort, but much more is needed if we are to stay in the Premuership.

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