Even though Villa’s first win in their return to the PL was met with euphoria, I’m pretty sure that feeling was exceeded after Villa’s 5-1 dismantling of fellow returnees Norwich City. I’ve taken a few days to calm down (partly enforced), take it all in, and see what’s being said. So, for your consideration…

The Good
Where do I start? Wesley: Excellent response. Jack: Imperious. McGinn: McGinn. Hourihane: Taking his chances at every level. Marvelous: Calm, composed, almost eerily quiet in his effectiveness. Luiz: Sidelined, but he sure does have a nice shot on him. In fact, all of the goals were very nicely taken. Really clinical finishing.

But of course it was a team performance. High pressure. Attacking support from both flanks. Smith carrying over his tactical tweak for Burnley to get Jack roaming free and Hourihane into the lineup.

The Bad
You never like to see a missed penalty. And if the game hadn’t turned our way, AEG’s header onto the crossbar might’ve come back to haunt us. Some loose play at the back, a goal-line scramble…It was all to play for early on.

The Ugly
Everyone loves Tyrone, but that backpass wasn’t his finest moment. Heaton’s either.

Final Verdict
It’s easy to get carried away. But the palpable relief and joy of seeing our hopes given more solid footing is real enough. And it’s always a good thing when there’s proof positive that the manager sees things the way you do. For Smith, it’s just been a question of time.

For one thing, he needed to get his fullbacks settled. Guilbert became a fixture first, and then, once healthy and given more time to integrate, Targett has stepped into the frame. Smith wouldn’t have bought these players if that wasn’t the plan all along. Less defensive players than attacking support, they provide a wider range of attacking options. This obviously complements Jack’s move to a free role further up, and El Ghazi’s role on the right. To be honest, I don’t think we’ve lost anything defensively, either.

Of course, you can’t have attacking fullbacks without a solid and mobile CB pairing that can play in space. There’s insurance in Konsa and Hause, strong, mobile players who fit the same mould.

Naturally, the holding midfielder is every bit as crucial. Perhaps as important as anyone on a team like this. You can’t get forward in numbers if you’re always worried about getting caught out. You can’t get forward to great effect very often if your most creative player always has to carry the ball from one end to the other. You can’t stay forward without a supporting lynch-pin who can get the ball back, retain it, and distribute.

Just four starts in, Marvelous Nakamba has won over the support with an understated ease. He’s quick, athletic, reads the game well, and is comfortable on the ball. The fact he’s supplanted Douglas Luiz in the pecking order speaks volumes, as does the fact no one disagrees it’s the right move. Here again, though, Luiz provides Smith with insurance, and it seems to be the case that he can be brought on as an effective, and attacking, substitution. Not bad when you can shore up the midfield with another player who’s skillful and can apparently hit that top right corner with regularity.

Then there’s Hourihane. Some have wondered what he does besides excel in dead-ball situations. This misses other parts of his game, like simply helping things cohere given the great understanding he has with McGinn and Grealish and his ability to be in the right places and keep things ticking over. Moreover, we know he likes to get into the box, and whether it’s late runs or being available a little further out, he scores and helps create goals.

When it all comes together, you get 5. And we probably should have had 7. On a perfect day, another couple close calls from McGinn and Grealish go in, and we could’ve had 9. That’s as many quality chances as you could expect of any team on the day.

The key is that these are distributed chances and goals. Jack and El Ghazi take pressure off Wesley, who responded fantastically given better service. McGinn is McGinn. Scoring, defending, showing dogged determination and seemingly endless energy. Nakamba obviously gives everyone the freedom to get forward. Hourihane? You never know where he’ll pop up. And the fluidity amongst the attacking players is hard to defend. There’s no single point of focus, no set pattern.

Naturally, I don’t think we’ll see Villa playing such wide-open football against Liverpool and City. I’d assume we’ll revert to a more compact, counterattacking set-up, but Smith will be emphasizing that we don’t want to sit too deep. We’ll want to press out a little more, and stop getting too clever trying to work the ball out. We can’t be as loose at the back. But, really, in this season’s League, there aren’t any other teams of their quality.

So full credit to Smith. Full credit to the lads. Full credit to the supporters who’ve been pointing to exactly this set-up.

“It’s been coming” has been verdict, and it’s true. That’s Dean Smith football, and it’s now Aston Villa football. We’ve taken a lot of leads, and we finally got the second Smith’s been pointing to. Create, convert, and force the opponent to open up and give us the room to create more opportunities. We’re here to play, and here to offer up positive, exciting performances.

It obviously won’t go that well every week. But it certainly does make survival (and perhaps more) a lot more realistic. And it will go a long way to convincing the players and everyone else that Villa aren’t destined to bottle it. The side’s coming together, and Smith is finally getting what he wanted onto the pitch. His calm demeanor and quiet confidence has carried through. He has a plan and knows what he wants to see. He’s gone and gotten the pieces to fit the way he wants to play.

If Villa can follow up that performance with another victory over Brighton, we’ll be in a good spot heading into what most would expect to be consecutive defeats. But I also wouldn’t bet against us getting something out of at least one of those games, and you’d almost have to think it would be City, who’ve shown much more vulnerability than the scousers. If The Canaries can put one over on them, who’s to say we can’t, as well?

But one game at a time, as Smith likes to say.

Over to you.

Comments 64

  1. Excellent observations JC. The fact we might have scored 8 speaks volumes. I thought all of the goals were quality. And I can only drool at the thought of Marvel Man and Luiz in the same midfield with Jack and SJM. It would mean just one winger but let’s see how things pan out against Brighton.

    small heath must watch all this and weep.

  2. To your points, though…

    They were all quality goals. Wes’s take on the first was very composed…Not an easy chance. Conor’s control and ball on the second, also not easy, and he found Wes perfectly. Wes turned it in instinctively and decisively. Course with the pace Conor had on it, it was always going to be a blistering redirect.

    The others were are well-worked, nicely taken, and what should be a lesson in moving defenders to create really good shots from the edge or inside the box.

    And really glad to see the pressure paying off. Players need to see returns, and they got them.

    Full credit to Conor for forcing his way back in.

  3. Thanks JC, pretty much how I see we have evolved, and it has been a very necessary path and not the knee jerk reaction we have seen for so many years.

    I’ve got two points to make , One is now we have two attacking FB’s we are harder to shut down attacking wise with essentially 7 attacking options. Two is We do remain vulnerable down the wings as Burnley showed us, that balance is crucial as is Marvs role.

    Against Norwich Targett got forward a lot where as Gilbert could not as Norwich attacked down his side, how this will work out in the long run against better teams we will see.

    I think Nakamba is quickly becoming this seasons McGinn and McGinn has carried on being McGinn, We may have payed out a fare sum in the summer but I think we have added at least £100m to the squads value.

  4. Excellent summary JC,

    A game which has lifted everyone, and given a huge boost to the fan sites, promoting a whole new round of positivity. Dean is now getting closer to having his strongest eleven, with a bench to match. It was good to see Targett at last show the potential that Dean had seen in him, and for Nakamba to continue to develop into the player we desoerately need.

    The creation of 43 chances against Norwich is unlikely to happen again, and yes, with so many, perhaps we should have scored 9/10, but happy with the five we managed. Just loved the David Luiz goal, and hope to see many more! Let us hope that Man City do not come in too early to buy him back for the knock down price of £30 million!!

    Really looking forward to the Brighton game and a fully fit squad.

  5. PP- have a look at this one he scored for Brazil this week, a rifle of a shot.


    On Targett, I’m cautious as Dean Smith has been on the defending front, I have yet to see him in a backs to the wall type game and clearly DS favoured the more experienced and less attacking Taylor. I really want him to be that all round FB we need. I like Gilbert as he likes a tackle and has pace but in honesty he is often caught out up field and the tackles are last ditch which have earned him yellows. Still can’t make a cake without breaking a few eggs. Good job Marv has plenty of energy and a great eye for trouble.

    Came across this the other day


  6. While my latest comment awaits moderation?? I’ll just say this which will be clear when the 1st bit clears 🙂

    For me Marv is the new and improved Wheelan, or at least he is while in this team at this point. His passing is unambitious and he rarely makes attacking runs all of which he has in the locker along with a goal threat. The fact that at the moment he is not offering to play that way is either down to him listening and executing instructions or him reading what the team requires and adjusting, either way its admirable.

  7. Had a long sitdown, finally decided to approve, MK 😉

    The site sometimes flags comments for links. It’s obviously not universal, so I’m not really sure which ones run afoul.

    Whenever anyone has a comment blocked, just give a shout.

  8. MK,

    The fullbacks are a bit of a risk, yes. Be interesting to see what Smith thinks when he selects the sides for Pool and City. He could stand pat, or do a number of things like figure out a way to get Luiz and Nakamba in the side. Could see Taylor and Elmo back in, could just see Guilbert and Targett told to stay home more. They might well be forced to, regardless.

    I will say that Targett is taller and probably stronger than Taylor. Obviously younger, too. I’ve no real idea about his aggressiveness or whether he gets turned a lot.

  9. Twenty four years ago since Andy Gray pulled his boots on to play for Aston Villa. Have many fond memories of his playing days for us, and one is coming up soon. The match against Liverpool will be a reminder of one of my greatest, when we destroyed them in 45 minutes, scoring 5 goals, and Andy Gray was the braveheart at the centre of it all, grabbing a brace for himself.

  10. JC,

    Seventies were one of my favourite periods, and when I could get to most games. Moved to Wales in October 1977, and became busy running a pub then for the next twenty years, so tv was my main source for viewing until I retired, and became a season ticket holder again in 2011.

    I enjoy making the trips from Wales and being part of the Villa family on the Holte End.

  11. PP yep no sky then, still have my old school Tie from Tamworth with all my friends names on and several scores from that season on it 🙂

    JC- think it might have been the word religion 😉

    Yeah as I said Targett defensively unknown for us, remember a few times in pre-season where he stayed very high upfield and exposed Mings, heres hoping he’s had that drilled into him or Salah will have him for breakfast.

    Be interesting to see how nakamba deals with his runs, not sure on a Luis and Nakamba duo for one game might confuse things, not been impressed with Luis’s defensive work so far.

  12. MK,

    Yes it would seem we have similar thoughts on Targett, which is why Taylor has played so much.
    Will he cut the mustard against City and the Bindippers, remains to be seen, but let us hope that by then that John Terry will have drilled enough into him and Guilbert, on defensive play!!

    Could have done with Traore to keep with Mo Salah, but perhaps El Ghazi will have sufficient pace to match him.

    Sad that McGinn is not able to shine for Scotland, but he can disappear at times, and then suddenly do something great.

  13. PP- Liverpool have two great FB’s and Salah plus the the rest, going to be tough, Jack now occupies one wing briefly in matches and El Ghazi not the most reliable although he does try. If we can beat pools press we have pace, saying that they will probably surprise us and stuff them, nothing would surprise me this season.

  14. Totally agree MK. Nothing is a certainty this season, and you never know who will shine on the day.

    Still hoping you will set up an avatar/gravatar for me JC. If it is impossible, then maybe i need to set up a new account, and close this one.

  15. From the latest gossip, we have Jordan Archer, a goalkeeper from Millwall on trial, and we are sniffing riund a young Roumanian winger at Boton, Dennis Politic.

  16. PP…

    With gravatar, I do think it’s something you have to do on your end, unfortunately. But, perhaps creating a ‘new’ account will help.

    If you want to create PP2.0 or something, I don’t think you need to delete your current account, but perhaps you do to break the link with the gravatar. I’d think it would just be a new thing. The users part of this isn’t very sophisticated, I don’t think.

    But then, neither am I.

  17. PP,

    Yeah, that was a great era all-round. My dad and I, and then my younger brother, used to go to matches all the time…Got to see a lot of Villa doing the rounds in London, as well. My favorite is still that UEFA Cup match against Barcelona. A real treat seeing Cruyff play at Villa Park.

    The League Cup final at Wembley was a great experience, but the 0-0 obviously was underwhelming.

  18. Liverpool…

    Tricky one, as far as approach. They’re obviously on a great run of form. That said, everyone’s due a poor day, and it just might be against us.

    I’d expect to see us very compact, naturally. But there’s trouble all over the pitch from them, so it could be a case of picking your poison.

    I think El Ghazi’s quick and strong enough, but he’s going to have to be disciplined, which he isn’t always. Hope we’ve learned from the Spurs and Arsenal matches…It’s all well and good to try and eliminate that space between the middle and the back four, but then players get panicky, there’s so many bodies, anything can happen.

    Not that he’s a defensive wizard, but I wonder if Jack plays deeper to help get the ball to stick and carry it out a bit, relieve pressure. I could see Trezeguet coming back in then because he does work really hard, and is pesky, if nothing else. He’s also due.

  19. Not too worried about the bin dippers just yet. More concerned about the Seagulls. I trust Marvel Man will take care of Connolly and Tyro will keep Maupay quiet. If those things happen we should get 3 more points and it’s happy days.

    Yes PP, that night in December when we battered the scousers with 5 goals in one half. My abiding memory was Emlyn Hughes throwing a divot of turf into the ground in anger after Gray had just buried another one.

  20. That said, going back to those fixtures…

    The big thing is being composed on the outlet passes from the back. Be organized in how you want to work it out. Where’s that first pass under pressure, then the second? Don’t telegraph, don’t let the CBs and FBs bomb down in anticipation. You’ve got to be quick, but deliberate and not hopeful.

    All sounds obvious, but that’s what let us down against Spurs and Arsenal. Trying to get forward and spring the counter, but not being composed about it. Deano was talking about going for the win (as opposed to just sinking back and defending), and they actually were trying to break, but they just didn’t do a good job managing it and being smart, ceded a lot of initiative, obviously, and weren’t willing to press out higher up to win the ball in better positions and force them back a bit.

    So, we’ll see how much Nakamba helps, whether they can defend a bit higher up without getting cut apart.

  21. Sorry to interrupt your memories folks, but you’re lucky you’ve still got one.
    SJM has scored a hat trick for Scotland, & the game’s still going.

  22. Yes, super John McGinn has silenced his Scottish critics by getting his first half hat trick and being Scotland’s MOTM….!!!
    Well done to him, and even the Welsh managed a draw agaist the Croatians.

  23. JC- I think our reluctance to press higher might last as long as it takes for the opposition to get a hold of the game 🙂 Not seen Brighton play yet but they do have Maupay the awkward little sod. From what I have seen they tend to have quite even possession stats home and away so not likely to sit back, at Newcastle they had 71% and 60% against Burnley , both defensive teams so they do go for it too.

  24. MK,

    Haven’t seen Brighton yet, either. I assume they’re reasonable, certainly nothing to fear. Figure it comes down to us more than anything.

    Good to hear they won’t pack it in, though. Don’t mind winning 4-3.

    I think with the more potent clubs, the sitting back is natural. Reduce that space between lines, keep it in front of you. Takes a bit of confidence to go try and trap and challenge them in space. And you have to be really committed to getting there quickly. One or two players hesitate and it all breaks down. McGinn and Nakamba are ball winners, Jack and Conor, not so much. Like you said further up, defense doesn’t seem to be Luiz’s strong suit.

    Think Deano’s learned that while a skillful player, Jota can’t do the harassing work Trezeguet will, just doesn’t have the speed. Good bargain pickup as a back-up, but probably nothing more. Maybe you bring him on if you’re chasing and looking for a creative spark.

    Might also be a bit of bad psychology at work, getting the lead, and getting it early: You figure you’ve just bloodied their noses and made them mad/focused/determined with 60-some minutes to come after the points they think they deserve. Don’t imagine we expected to be in front against Arsenal or Spurs. Shame we got Spurs on the opener rather than the falling apart version.

  25. Mings starts for England tonight. Wish him all the very best.

    SJM’s hat-trick for Scotland yesterday.

    We’re on the up for sure.

  26. Mings did exactly what was asked of him, causing probems up front on set pieces, and could have possibly scored on his debut, whilst at the same time, being an excellent centre back , producing great passes out of defence. It was a very solid debut. Nice to hear Roy Keane talking him up.

  27. Next to Maguire, Mings looked the man. At 21 million against 86 million, it’s a no brainer who got the best deal. Well done Deano.

    Time Southgate off loaded some of his Laaandan cronies and selected Jack. He would have done some damage last night.

  28. Jonny,

    Yeah, he didn’t look out of place at all, and to Plug’s point, was thinking the exact same thing: we saved some £55m–£60m on a player who looks just as good as Maguire.

    Nice to see a Villan playing for England again.

  29. On Jack…

    Even if he doesn’t play, would like to see him included in the squad. Would be good for him to get acquainted, and I’m not really seeing a player that brings what he does.

    I think it’ll happen, and it’s probably to our benefit that Jack is having to push for the call-up. Not that he doesn’t bleed claret and blue, but a little extra incentive to impress is never bad.

  30. I think Mings played better than Maguire, & was bossing him around.
    Chilwell made a difference rather than Rose, who doesn’t seem to enjoy his football these days.
    Barklay had one of his rare good days, but the next one may not be for a while.
    Sterling is still irritating mind you, & the less said about Henderson the better.
    But I do rate Sancho, he’d fit in with us nicely.

  31. Mark,

    We wondered what he was doing in a hospital bed and now we know. Let’s hope his operation was a success and when he comes back he’s better than before.

  32. Mark
    Wish I could play that well without a hernia, let alone 2.
    Intriguing when he comes back as plug said, He’s bound to be faster than he has been so far.

  33. Then you’ve got the;
    “A year of extreme care, a lot of rest, trying and strengthening the area” bit.
    Methinks there will be some reaction from AV, & lots of questions

  34. Good lord, that’s a serious c**k-up on someone’s part (Jota).

    I mean, maybe he said something and it was deemed not to affect his playing. But I don’t really see that being probable.

    So, sounds like we get a faster version of him back for next season. Not much help right now. Guess we add a winger to the January transfer wish-list.

  35. Two weeks, eh? Seems rather quick. I guess we’ll see. Be nice if he does come back faster sometime soon. Would have to imagine it’ll be some time before we actually see him again, though, given tactical changes and him nursing this along to full fitness.

  36. Elsewhere in surprising news…Arrest warrant issued in China for Dr. Tony, with a £30,000 reward for information as to his whereabouts.

    Can’t make it up.

  37. You are right JC, you couldn’t make it up. small heath saw Carson Yeung locked up. What’s next for Dr X?

    On another subject, Talkshite is known as that for a reason. So called “knowledgeable pundits” are talking schitt. Alan Brazil states Man Ure should pay 200 million quid for Tyro, Jack and SJM. Well, he’s got the price right.

    However, decimating a club trying to establish itself in PL ain’t going to happen so why mention it? He should avoid VP on match days for personal safety reasons. He’s a jerk. Can’t now wait until we meet Man Ure.

  38. I think there’s some delusional thinking regarding the allure of Manure right now.

    United aren’t going to be in the CL. Our owners can pay and spend as much. And I’d think JG, TM, and SJM would rather take Villa up the table than swap shirts.

  39. I’ve heard that basically Tony was fronting investors and they want their money, he says its a competitor slinging mud ? either way hope he comes to no harm

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