So I talked about draws, and how we weren’t getting enough. We got one last night. Wasn’t easy, but it was hard-earned and well-enough deserved. And to be honest, despite the flaws I can point to in many aspects of Villa’s performance, having watched a recording of the second half, I can’t really say Leicester were terribly dangerous. Which is to say, we could well have walked away with a 1-0 victory. If Konsa had scored, who knows.

I can hear the howls of protest: numbers of shots, shots on target, corners, and chances. Time of possession. But as I tallied things up in the second half, I came up with two narrow-angle chances for Maddison that were well-handled by Nyland. Vardy’s side-net effort, which probably would’ve squeaked in had it been on target just inside the post, and Söyüncü’s late header off the long-throw in the final seconds of added time.

In short, three at the back is working alright, and for all the possession, Leicester actually didn’t produce a lot of truly dangerous moments. If it weren’t for Luiz dawdling on the ball off the free kick, it’s entirely possible we’d have won. (I’ve seen the blame laid at Konsa’s feet, as well, and I can see it, but Luiz and Nakamba regularly get caught in possession thinking they have more time than they do.)

That isn’t too say Villa’s sins weren’t numerous. They were. But the set-up dealt with 11 corners fairly comfortably, pretty much shut down Ben Chillwell, and left Leicester looking for answers. We were pragmatic. As a result, Villa didn’t let Vardy get more than a couple good looks. And the lack of a second for Villa was as much down to us as it was to Leicester.

Where We Go Wrong
Villa’s inability to do more upfield remains two-part: their decision making, and not handling pressure better. Despite that, we weren’t actually battered.

It was more the case that Villa continued to do the things we’ve seen to thwart themselves: dwell on the ball; make poor decisions; hit aimless/panicked “passes”/clearances out of the back; and try to do too much individually. This includes Jack, who was dispossessed wide left trying to wriggle through two to get into the area, and the resulting counter saw Vardy’s best opportunity of the night.

Much is made of the “what are they doing in training?!”, but you’ve seen the videos. They work on all this. Training is not the same as matches. It just can’t be. That quarter-to-half-second less time is everything, and Leicester were relentless in anticipating, committing, and coming after the ball, especially when a player’s back was to them. This is the key to beating Villa. It doesn’t help that Villa are often waiting for the pass to arrive, rather than getting it while moving.

One of McGinn’s assets is his ability to turn and beat that first pressure man. Right now, you see both Nakamba and Luiz opting not to try turning that man or getting caught by wanting that extra step and hesitating. Nakamba also often chooses not to play the ball centrally up to Luiz, and takes the safer option of going wide or back. We could use more than one player who can turn, find time, and then pick out someone moving into space.

On the doing-too-much front, we have another great example in El Ghazi’s decision to bypass a wide-open Grealish when breaking from the back, trying to take on a man, and turning it right back over. Villa had space to work with on that one, and you’d have liked Jack carrying it if only to relieve some pressure.

We also saw, again, the domino effect of a poor first pass in a sequence, which makes it hard for the receiver and the quality drops with each successive pass, leading to a turnover. This is, of course, the purpose of an aggressive press. Likewise, pressure often produces a poor first touch. That’s why getting it to Jack is the best outlet. 

The other big sin is aimless balls out of the back. It’s one thing to put it in row Z, safety first. It’s another when you just pass it back to the opponent just 20 or 30 yards further up the pitch. Same thing when we try to avoid giving away a throw-in and just pass it back up the touchline. Hause was particularly guilty. If you’re going to punt it, get it over the defenders who are pushing up.

Naturally, the preference is players having good options, and again, we’re often a step slow providing that. We’ve got a lot of young and inexperienced players at this level, and they’re still getting used to the speed. But there is talent. If Dean can keep their self-belief up, they’ll grow into it.

At the same time, there needs to be a bit more urgency in closing down and moving to anticipate the next pass in the opponent’s sequence. Right now, Villa are trying to keep it in front of them more so than take it away. I get it, and it makes sense. But you can’t just watch the man you’re covering positionally glide past you on a one-two and find himself unchallenged and making the next pass to someone who similarly isn’t being harassed. If you’re passing him off to someone else by design, then that second player needs to be ready to step up and own it.

The Positive
All that aside, we held firm. These are simply the reasons we didn’t really threaten a second more than twice. But Guilbert acquitted himself very well with Chillwell, the back three dealt with crosses and showed good mobility giving cover to the wingbacks. The shape and discipline were decent, forcing the Foxes wide. If we weren’t pressing aggressively much, then we were at least making it hard for Leicester to break us down, which says we learned something from the League hiding they gave us. And there was a lovely little passage of play on the right touchline that showed Villa do have some quality.

Great ball from Ghazi, and a super run from Guilbert to get on it and put it home. Lovely ball in from Grealish, and I still don’t know how Konsa didn’t put it in. In the second, a good break went begging when Ghazi elected to shoot with a defender just a couple yards directly in front of him. Were we lucky? Maybe a bit. But Leicester’s best chances were generally funneled wide, giving Nyland good angles to work with, and there were plenty of bodies in the middle to block shots and cut out crosses. Mings was massive on his own, never mind marshaling Konsa and Hause. His leadership can’t be underestimated.

Brendan can say they should’ve won, but if we’re going that route, then let’s say they should’ve had to win 3-2, at least. Leicester ought to know better than anyone that possession does not equal results. If some have been saying Deano’s been out-coached, I’d say this is one where he definitely got it right. Leicester’s subs did make a difference. But Deano surely didn’t have impact options to turn to. SofaScore stats have Leicester at three “big chances” versus two for Villa.

More than anything, not losing from a winning position against a top team on the road is huge, and that’s the real takeaway for me. It should give the players belief, in both the system and themselves. We bent, but didn’t buckle for once, even as we were playing a 3-4-3 for only the second time—without a recognized striker or our midfield terrier, and two CBs with all of 14 Premier League starts under their belts combined. I hope Smith persists. I also hope we’ve got something left in the tank for City. Two consecutive, decent performances against teams of this calibre would go a long way toward ensuring survival.

Over to you.

Comments 31

  1. Morning Jc and thanks- some good observations there and insight and I totally agree with you.

    My one take would be that having the likes of McGinn and Jack tends to make some players over reliant and defer to them rather than re-produce the moments that they themselves were bought for in the 1st place. In old terms its shirking their responsibility’s, its a natural response when under pressure. Its also a consequence of having to make do which is Dean Smiths likely position. He can either insist they be brave on the ball as we were against Burnely or find those that can quickly. Harsh maybe when we were playing Leicester away and not Burnleys more pedestrian approach.

  2. Yes, a balanced set of observations JC. The shortcomings are known and will take time to rectify. And time is short as we know. Rodgers can say what he likes about who deserved to win. The scoreline says it wasn’t Leicester.

    On the bigger picture, nobody fancies our chances this weekend but it will be 11 against 11. If Deano sets up right, who knows? Playing the Man City’s of this world surely must rub off on our players who will realize that you don’t have any time at this level and therefore thinking and doing are split second decisions.

    I guess we need another 5 wins to survive. Doable? Definitely.

  3. ill try and copy the link. Just a read a very good bit on luiz and nakambas role against foxes. The positions and work they done to stop tielemans and maddy from playing. Good read and not so rubbish as we thought! Just loose on the ball

  4. MK,

    Yeah, very important stuff. We sort of expect to see certain things always happening, but the preparation and opponent have a lot of say.

    Teams looking at us, they’ll say, “Hause is just going to boot it,” and look to jump up on those, or “Luiz won’t turn you, come in hard and fast.” Likewise, “McGinn is going to try and turn you,” so maybe he draws two, one to force the decision, the other to react to it. “El Ghazi’s going to try and take it past you, very direct.” Whatever.

    Then it extends up into patterns of play, etc., and this is where all the anticipation comes in. Also why I’d say the book on us is to apply maximum pressure. We don’t have a lot of players at the moment who are ready to deal with it. There’s us getting used to each other, and then that extends to getting used to how they’re going to react week-to-week based on what’s being done to them. One player unravels and it’s dominoes, again.

    So those individual decisions are huge, and can undermine any set-up, tactics, training, etc. They’re trying to keep all that in mind while playing at full speed. And we have to remember that basically everyone in the squad was facing players they’d never played against in the first half of the season. So Zaha is really an unknown to Guilbert or Elmo until he really sees that speed, how he’s getting attacked, what happens when he tries to show him outside, etc. Next time round, they have a better idea.

    We’ve seen City, so there’s a better sense, at least, of what their players are capable of.

  5. H&V,

    Agreed. Loose on the ball, and caught hesitating. But. When I was focused on the shape, the areas and passing lanes the players were responsible for, I thought we did fairly well.

  6. January’s tough no matter how much prep you do. Whatever they were thinking pre-Wes would’ve been upended, and teams with the players you want, they’re also doing business.

    If Villa really were in for Piatek, hard to stop Spurs showing up with Kane going down.

  7. JC- yes its very easy to think that your club do nothing in training and with Bruce sometimes that looked to be true 🙂 but having seen Smith change things last season I cannot think he leaves to any stones un-turned.

    Heres an interesting tit bit , I have been on whats called the Carnivore diet (look it up) for about 1 1/2 years. I heard in the sauna from my mate who knows the Sports Scientist ( Oli Stevenson Ex academy player now Strength and Conditioning coach and also Big mates with and shares a house with Jack) that he is trying the same diet out as me, if he finds it successful then he said he will get the players on it. The all blacks and the south Africans both use something similar.

  8. JC, great write up. Thanks for putting so much effort and thought into ur articles.

    MK, I prefer a plant based does vs Carnivore, even though I love meat I try to avoid it

    Anyway, Benteke not in Palace squad today and they have 2 other strikers on the bench.

    I agree that at 20, Luiz has huge potential. He was player of the tournament at U23 world cup after all. Nakamba reminds me of Reo-Coker – huge engine, but not the most skillful, which is fine for DM. Luiz and Nakamba remind me of Torreira and Guendozi….huge potential, but need an experienced leader beside them in CM.

    Seems like pundits are predicting that we’ll get hammered on Sunday. Ian Wright going for 1-4. I can’t see us letting in 4 at home

  9. Cheers, VillaMD.

    You know, I often have to do it to make sense of things for myself, and then hope that if things make sense for me, it maybe helps folks de-stress a little. That’s how explanations work for me, anyway.

    City? You know never know. First thing I worry about is how much energy we expended against Leicester. If we’re okay on that front, then I’d hope we’re carrying a bit of confidence as far as keeping things under control. The more we play the 3-4-whatever, the better we should get.

  10. Plug,

    Yeah, we can get those wins, I think, and I agree, the more you face quality opposition the less intimidating it is. Or can be if they don’t keep taking you apart.

    That’s why I appreciate Smith’s calm-and-steady approach. The patience, lack of frustration/over-reaction, honest analysis…That’s what the players need.

  11. MK,

    I’ll do a little research…My default belief, and it is just a belief, is that different diets work for different people, no one best approach. As far as athletes go, there are certain truths about recovery, energy levels, etc. It seems the modern approach is tailoring plans for each player. No idea what the advice/guidance is at Villa currently.

  12. And on the City scoreline, I do think it’s important to play for a draw, if only to help goal differential.

    That said, I’m going to be a wreck if we’re under the cosh for 75 minutes and look like hanging on. It’s a game where you’d like to see us threaten more from set pieces. But that doesn’t mean starting Conor. More like Konsa converting, and having three big men in the box.

  13. Frem

    Trouble is agents and teams know we are desperate for a striker. They will be trying to take our pants down for money. Spurs in same boat with Kane out. Usually Jan deals go to the last day cause no one likes to blink first! We aren’t holding any cards I’m afraid

  14. I agree with JC on Dean Smith. I like his calm, honest , logical approach. He knew what he wanted in the last window and he got his business done quickly. Some of his signings were good and some have yet to deliver but either way I trust him to do his very best for villa and I have’nt been able to say that since Brian Little.

  15. VillMD and JC- There are without doubts genetic factors that diet can either help or hinder. The most common sense approach is look at where you are from as far as the equator goes. The further away the less carbs and plants available year round. Obviously today you can get what you want year round which throws yet another factor in to the pot, the cyclical nature of the seasons.

    Those races that had to face harsh winters had to devise ways of keeping food or hunting it. Letting meat rot and food ferment are two ways.

    When you think about it we are the only animal that mixes its food sources in one meal, that has to hinder digestion, Most of these meat only and plant only etc are an extension of the “combination diet” which doesn’t get mentioned much now.

    A lot of the benefits derived from plants are hormetic, basically its small amounts of poison that can make you stronger by engaging the bodies natural anti oxidants, plants anti oxidants do not work in the body as such. The dose is the problem though as to much and you get reactions like Arthritis, gut inflammation etc and inflammation leads to the majority of modern diseases we have.

    Another problem with higher carb diets is they require high amounts of vitamins for the body to use them, Meat pretty much has all you need in one hit and is 95% digestible requiring little in the line of Vitamins, the ones in the meat are also bio-available, Plants are not generally and you get about 12% from them. We have devised many ways of cooking and deactivating the nasties in plants that if we ate raw would likely kill us. Out in the wild the majority of plants will make you ill, most of the Plants we now eat came from the mustard plant originally about 10-12,000 years ago. Most of our domesticated stock are a pale imitation of the original designed to poison us less.

    Of course you also get diabetes from high blood sugar continually too and insulin resistance. Luckily the whole saturated fat and Cholesterol thing has been disproved so cutting out carbs is a no brainer for the overweight or diabetic.

    Add to this your gut biome has a big part to play too although that can change rapidly dependent of the food you eat, most carb heavy eaters are fermentation factories .

    When I was talking about the Carnivore diet in the Sauna another chap who does a bit of triathlon chirped up and said he had gone low carb for his last race as a trial, he’s been told to give it a go by his Doctor no less who was on the Carnivore diet and also did triathlons.

    What the last 1 1/2 years has taught me is we don’t know an awful lot about diet really but way more is being learned today.

    Anyone who wants to try lower carb try “No Sugar no Grains” 1st, the guy who coined that name has a film out called “fat the Documentary” he’s very knowledgeable and had cancer once before sorting his diet.

  16. Mark
    I don’t actually agree with some of your conclusions, as for example too much focus on red meat etc is for a more short term effect, from my experience with diets, especially chinese macrobiotic diets that go with the chinese ‘soft’ martial arts, & Ch’i Kung.
    Also without the practice itself they can be difficult, & have repercussions.

    It’s all organic & seasonal, & produce only from where you are geographically, along with no red meat [as it is second hand food that comes with extra toxins [without adding any], which uses more energy to deal with them, so is somewhat counter productive.
    It did allow white meat [chicken], game birds & venison, along with white fish only, & no bottom feeders [pork is red meat along with shark, tuna etc.
    But no coffee, & no strong builders tea, along with no alcohol
    Then no sugar & raw food or fruit, with no preservatives, or preserved foods & not much cheese or dairy produce.
    Of course how you cook it all is very important [which screwed me].

    There was no need for additional anything as long as you did the practice itself.
    But it is time consuming, but really cleans you out physically & mentally, leaving the Ch’i to work instead of using all your energy, which extends your good health & life span, & increases your ability to relax, along with increased awareness.

    There must be a lot of frustration abroad for such a focus on so much physical activity.

  17. IanG- There are many ways of looking at it but there are people that have eaten nothing but Beef for 10-20 years with nothing but good health to show for it so I can’t agree on the short term view. Most meat eating peoples do eat nose to tail though, no waste.

    For a long time now we have had the variety of foods angle pushed at us, sounds plausible but in reality is it? One chap lived on potatoes for a year and now pushes a spud diet. Lets face it if someone said you only need to eat three foods or even one how would they sell the myriad of food stuffs available or even feed us all. China by the way now eat loads of meat as they have become richer, so much for culture.

    Singapore eats the most meat and is in the top 8 for health, Spain is renowned for eating loads of pork, beef etc and are number one for health. Many of the Nordic and swiss etc that stuff fat meat and milk down their gullets are also in there.

    I do wonder why when most animals are eating fairly mundane diets we are eating the rainbow 🙂

    There are certainly some very dangerous combinations of food though and seed oils and sugars are the worst (see packaged food). If you get enough fresh meat you don’t get scurvy, if you eat a lot of carbs you need a lot of Vit c. Sometimes taking something out of the way works better than adding ten things no matter how supposedly nutritious they are.

    I don’t mind if someones a Vegan though as long as they don’t want me to be one. Most people that attempt it don’t get it right, it requires supplements and mixing of foods too get enough protein, B12 etc so most end up skinny and ill in the end. I haven’t seen that yet with meat eaters.

  18. Mark
    I forgot salt, for which in the chang ming diet is never used on food after cooking, & little in the cooking,
    To this day I don’t use salt in much cooking, & from that I can really taste the food without it, even now.
    Plus no spices, peppers or capsicums, as it winds up the digestion, plus wholemeal, organic & stone ground grains. unfortunately I live in Little Pakistan, so my stomach is well excited.
    I stopped it years ago but still feel the positive effects, & I’m still here, despite disability.

  19. I’ll put a fresh page up, but here’s the starting XI…Couple interesting decisions.

    Nyland, Elmohamady, Konsa, Mings, Hause, Taylor, Luiz, Drinkwater, Grealish, Hourihane, El Ghazi.

    Kalinic, Chester, Lansbury, Nakamba, Trezeguet, Guilbert, Vassilev

  20. (And I don’t mean to ignore the diet conversation…I’m just an indiscriminate intuitive eater who can’t wrap his head around it all at the moment.)

  21. IanG- Salt isn’t a problem without carbs either funny enough. Carbs help you retain water or bloat as its known the electrolytes are taken by many animals at salt licks. I suppose if you get enough blood in meat then you need less. when you first drop carbs there is a period when you need to take a lot of salt in (sea salt) as its flushed out with the extra water, it soon levels out though.

    I have tried pretty much every diet and tweak going and I can honestly say this has lowered my inflammation levels and virtually eliminated a recurrent back problem, Happy days.

    Doesn’t mean that every now and then I don’t have a curry etc I just soon feel the difference if I stray to far for to long.

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