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.
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.