It looked like it was shaping up to be a night of frustration for Villa in their season opener, but Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa managed to combine off a corner to finally break through Sheffield’s defense and seal all three points for the home side. Oh, and some guy named Martinez saved a penalty.

With John Egan sent off in the 12th minute, Villa, who’d started brightly, suddenly found themselves in trouble. Breaking down 10 men has not been a forte of the Villans, and it looked for long stretches that we’d never find a way through. Never mind the fact that Matt Targett stepped into Chris Basham, who’d ghosted in behind him in the 36th minute, and conceded a penalty.

New-boy Emi Martinez, though, was up to the task and, guessing right, his big frame stretched to brush away the attempt with ease.

Here’s what we’ve got.

The Good
A clean sheet, three points, and a win, finally, against 10 men. Douglas Luiz looked sharp, as did Matty Cash. Grealish wasn’t at his all-time best, but wasn’t half-bad, and could’ve had a couple himself. Konsa and Mings had a fine game together, including combining for the goal. And it looks like we might have a real keeper. Apart from the penalty save, Martinez wasn’t asked to do much, but he claimed the ball with confidence, distributed quickly, and was calm with the ball at his feet when Villa tried to play out against the Blades’ press. Watkins was perhaps a bit unlucky not to connect and open his league account, but he seems to be fitting in well. He was whiskers away from a couple of goals. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Konsa is looking more the part week in, week out.

The Bad
Targett switching off could’ve given Sheffield a goal they didn’t deserve, though it was set up by a tidy pass. McGinn, while showing a few flashes of his former self, was again very up and down. Trez ran and ran, and you can’t fault him for his effort. But time and again, he passed up chances to take on Enda Stevens, and never really gave the defense much to worry about. And if I’m being fair, there looked to be more than one opportunity where Jack didn’t pull the trigger on a through ball that could’ve been on. Me, I think it’s down to him taking too much on his shoulders, wanting to make things count, but he’s going to have to roll the dice on those more often. It’s been a criticism, and I think he’s reached the stage where he’s got to trust more. I’ve a feeling Watkins will reward him.

The Ugly
Well, you know there’s going to be moaning. And Wilder is feeling a bit of pressure already. But Egan was clearly beaten, grabbed hold, and the ensuing ‘controversy’ regarding Watkins’ arm has everything to do with the player trying to stay up, break free and not simply go to ground and sell the red. If you’re honest and fight, then suddenly it’s harsh? That’s why players go down.

To go on and say Targett should’ve been sent off is just daft. Yellow card, penalty. Fair enough. Sheffield had a lifeline and let it slip.

Final Verdict
You expect a team down a man and defensively stout to play for the 0-0 or a smash-and-grab 0-1 off a set piece or lucky break. Didn’t work out that way for Wilder and his men, but no surprises. After they went down and ventured forward, Villa probably should’ve had one or two more.

For the rest of it, Villa weren’t very quick or incisive against the two banks of four, but that’s no joke of a defense. They’re big, solid, and very well drilled. They were playing about as deep as you can, and played a man down about as well as you can. Scoring has always been Sheffield’s issue, not defending or working hard.

If Villa had the world-class attacking talent of Liverpool or City, yes, we’d have sliced them open. But we don’t. It was going to be a game of attrition, and it’s very, very hard to play for extended periods under the cosh without a slip-up. Villa had to be patient, and they were. Konsa took a difficult chance well, putting the ball the only place it could go to beat the keeper.

As I said above, when the game was more open, Villa looked the more dangerous.

Which isn’t to say it was thrilling. Smith mentioned rust, and you could see it. But that’s a game we’d have drawn or even conspired to lose last season.

Tactically, Smith may have waited a bit too long to take Conor off. We didn’t really need him given how dedicated Sheffield were to staying behind the ball at all costs, and Davis provided a spark with his physicality up front. That said, I can understand that Smith may well have wanted to keep on a dead-ball specialist given how hard we were finding it to make clear-cut chances.

So, not a lot to be gleaned, really. If I’m looking out the outfield players, where I’d say we can improve is Conor and Trez. I’m sure a lot of people would say that, and others will disagree.

With Trez, it’s about presenting threat as a forward who can take men on. He doesn’t, for the most part. He’s been most effective as a goal-scorer by poaching when left unattended away from the ball. And he does get crosses in. But if we’re still pursuing Rashica or any other wide men, I can understand why.

For Conor, it’s all about when we don’t have the ball. He links up well, keeps things ticking over. He works hard, has a great attitude, and has scored some beauties. Obviously has a wicked delivery when he’s on song. But defensively, he’s more a body trying to get goal side and into passing lanes and ends up being a bit of a passenger.

I will also say that I hope McGinn finds himself soon.

He was struggling before the injury after a flying start last season. And even though we all adore his grit, tenacity, and work-rate—and know he’s got a great ball in him, which he showed once or twice—at times he’s feeling like dead weight. A bit slow, late to the show, and a bit sloppy overall. Smith’s showing the patience and faith McGinn needs. It was a serious injury, and he’s shown a lot of guts trying to play his way back from Restart on. I hope he can get there sooner rather than later. But at the moment, Luiz is the only player in that second three showing that he’s indispensable. This is why I wouldn’t be unhappy if we brought in another midfielder.

Anyway, roll on Bristol, which is a bit of a pain in the arse right now, and then Fulham next week. If Villa can get 6 out of 6 in the opening two fixtures, that would be 17% of last season’s point total in just two games. These are the kinds of back-to-back matches we have to take advantage of.

Over to you.

Comments 47

  1. Agree JC

    Neither Trez or Cash tried to take on the defender on the right flank, eventually Luiz started pushing the ball only to the left.

    Both Grealish and Davis need to take on more shots, and McGinn needs to stop shooting from range.

    not just Conor, I think Dean needs to make subs sooner. We looked tired and fresh legs could have pushed the Blades. No faith in the bench I guess but the games will come fast and hard.

  2. Villalore,

    Yeah, Dean does leave substitutions late. I’m guessing last night it was about getting game minutes and fluidity into the side. Sheffield were tired, too, even though they’d played more. But he’s waited a while all through the last two seasons.

    You’re right about Cash, as well.

    Jack does need to shoot more. That said, when I watch the opportunities, you usually see three or four players shading him. He’s got to look to pull the trigger quickly after he gets a step drifting infield. Again, I think it’s an abundance of caution on his part. With so many players in front, the odds of a block caroming out to create a break are fairly high.

    I also really though Luiz would take a couple when he was getting the ball in space.

    McGinn just doesn’t have his game down at all. Prior to the injury, he’d have at least put a couple on target with pace.

    What’s a shame about Ghazi is that he’s the more willing to charge inside the channel and take men on. But Trez obviously works harder. A consistent goal threat, or creator, on the right will make teams back off Jack if we can switch it quickly (or can move Jack to the middle). McGinn was doing this, with the trailing run and shot, and Conor, too, more near side, but it’s not been happening as yet.

  3. Emiliano you beauty. MK reckons he was man of the match. Nnnoooooooooo. That can’t be given to a man that spent most of the game leaning against a post eating sandwiches.

  4. Wilder’s comments after the match belong down small heath. Watkins was rugby tackled by Egan who had one arm around him gripping his shirt and the other arm tackling him around the neck. That’s a penalty for a high tackle in rugby, never mind football. Wilder (and Carragas for that matter) think it’s a yellow as he was merely “taking one for the team”. They can do one. Straight red any day.

  5. Some great comments from all Lifers. Yep, SJM is struggling and we really need an enforcer in the middle to help out a silky Luiz, Jack and SJM.

    That’s 3 points after game 1 that we didn’t have last season. Or 2 more points if we are comparing like for like fixtures from last season. Statistics, statistics and damn lies.

  6. Luiz after scoring those two brilliant goals has stopped shooting. I thought he would give it a go couple of times yesterday (so did the commentators) but he balked. I think Traore will be that threat from the right but he tends to not pass after getting into good zones but prefers to shoot (albeit my limited knowledge is from youtube). At least has that trickery about him that will draw defenders away.
    DS could try Nakamba is the holding role and Luiz take on McGInn’s role till the latter is back to match fitness. Dont see other choices on the bench tbh.

  7. Thanks JC- I thought cash looked to move the ball early and hit players in advance of him at least. Also he was excellent at intercepting passes, all things he came top in last season in the champs.

    My biggest gripe with our players is apart from Jack and Luis and the new lads they receive the ball by the numbers, then look up then think about it then pass, all to slow. Why they can’t see the pass before they receive the ball I don’t know? and sort their bloody feet out. Martinez is 8ft 10′ and he can use his size 17 feet why can’t the rest?

    Now Martinez is defo man of the match, without that saved pen I reckon we might well have lost or at best got a draw. f**k it I’m just going to give it to him because he’s really bloody good.

  8. Oh and perfect player for Luis to have in front of him is Ramsey who also looks to go forwards at every opportunity, he is better than Conor already and could swap with Mcginn who’s left footed anyway.

  9. VillaM. Luiz started going to the left because Trez is a poor player. As a winger, he can’t actually beat a man. And his delivery isn’t good either. Thank christ Traore will play Thursday and we can see a proper winger. We need a left winger now. And it’s not Rashica.

    To be honest Monday night just added the case we are still way short in terms of quality and depth

    We need wingers. We need a left back. We need another striker. Sammata going. Plus desperate for a centre mid who can play between the lines. Hourihane isn’t good enough. Mcginn doesn’t look sharp yet. So we have no options. We can’t

  10. We are off with a good start in terms of the 3 points .. but i have to agree with frems last post it was clear to see we lack qaulity for the ambitions we have but i am sure the backroom will continue to juggle things with the aim of further improving the team/squad before the window shuts ,,, over to Lange I am hoping he will be pulling a player in thst we know very little about but becomes a major asset to the club
    Rashica could still happen though as the link will not go away and i guess we would need one ot two out now to allow for a few

  11. I agree Martinez was excellent. Not just the save and high catch, but he got some dodgy back passes and was so calm.

    However, for me Konsa was MoM. His positional sense and pace are unreal. He’s also so composed. He made so many interceptions in the 2nd half. I think he’s already better than Mings.

    Great write up JC and comments. Spot on with all of it. I hope Ramsey and Nakamba play on Thursday. If Ramsey cannot make the bench for league matches, then loan him out

  12. Wolves spend 30m on RB with 10m in add-ons. Makes Watkins deal look good.

    I’m kind of looking forward to Bristol C match if we play some of the U23’s

  13. On transfers, I’d much prefer either Benrahma at 30m or Sarr at 40m with King.

    The whole Rashica saga has gone on too long, plus how long would it take him to settle

  14. runtings
    It was basically the same team as last season with a new goalkeeper & left back.
    They continued as they left off, & we won, when Traore is in it should make a difference.
    I agree that there could be more incoming yet as there is still 12 days of the window.
    The quality of incoming is better than last season, so we should improve as we go.

  15. Villamd- You could give it to Konsa he played very well and got the goal, that seems to be standard these days. The reason I think Martinez deserves it more is he bailed us out and set the stage for the win. Also I know from experience how good it feels as a CB to have a keeper happy to receive the ball and that commands his box. Takes a lot of the thinking and stress of whats he going to do away as he’s telling you.

    Also 1st save in a Villa shirt is from a penalty!? thats legendary stuff, Konsa’s goal will be forgotten by next week 🙂

  16. Whatever we think of the team (lets face it you can always use better players) we have two extra points from a team that were flying last season and took 4 points off of us, in truth that could of been 6 if not for the goal line tech failure (blindness).

    All in all we looked a better side before the sending off and once they had to come out.

  17. Excellent summary JC. All your comments so spot on, and agree with what I saw, away on my travels on a superb big screen in the “Palace Place Social Club” in Paignton in Devon!
    Didn’t know there were so many Villa fans down there, and most of them Brummies to boot!!

    Will the surprise mid fielder signing be James Milner, as I saw a rumour the other day about him. What a great player he would be back at Villa in this team!!

  18. PP – would be a gem. I bet Liverpool would allow him to leave for free if he wanted it..similar to Lalanna.

    MK – ok, maybe Martinez was MoM. Either way it’s great.

    I’m a big Guilbert fan, but I’ve taken to Cash already. Thought he was excellent in first half. I’m getting a bit worried with SJM, doesn’t look the same player since Spurs opener last season.

    Any official word on Wesley come back? I heard Jan, but how could it be so far away

  19. VillaMD,

    Wes, bad injury. May never be the same player. I guess January is roughly a year, give or take. And even if he’s “back” in January, he won’t be match fit until the following season. Really tough. That’s why I believe another striker will be coming in.

    SJM, same thing. I don’t know the nature of the break, but again, very tough injury for a footballer. Any athlete, really. I’m sure the only thing for it is for him to keep running and playing in game conditions since the injury itself has apparently healed. But psychologically, trusting it is a whole different thing. You risk overcompensating and getting other injuries. You pull out of tackles. You want to be the same, and you’re just not. He may be lacking flexibility, faith in pushing off of it, landing on it funny, running at a true 100%. So hard to say. Kodjia was never the same.

    What McGinn has going for him is his attitude and grit. Kid’s a fighter. But again, I don’t know that he’ll ever be the same player. Fingers crossed.

    And same goes for Heaton. Three very serious injuries.

  20. As far as Villa and transfer money, wages, etc., no idea whether there’s insurance, etc., on players with long-term, career-threatening injuries. I’d assume there is, no clue as to the terms. The players probably have their own policies to guard against loss of income, inability to continue playing, but where that kicks in, what the club’s responsible for in a contract and for how long…?

    I’ll assume transfer fees are always sunk money. The risk you take. Wages? That’s what’s interesting.

    But when we look back to January, up against FFP, and losing a club-record signing in a striker, a combative, goal-scoring midfielder, and an England-quality keeper? It’s a bit of a miracle we overcame that.

  21. Percy linking us with Barkley. That’s exactly what we need. Someone else who can play the Mcginn or jack role

    Sounds like we don’t want another winger though. If Smith thinks Ghaizi and Trez are good enough, and is planning on leaving grealish wide then hes lost his mind and we will be in another relegation scrap

    Also need another striker and left back. We are still way way short

  22. frem

    that my fear. we wont get a lw! I really don’t want us to be left short again and an injury away from a massive drop in quality.

    barkley king and rashica we would be so set. and a stronger bench

  23. Dont think DS ‘has lost his mind’, we are closing on 100 million for a second successive season. You dont see a lot of teams, even the ‘big six’, spending that much. We cant buy another 11 players to replace the ones we bought last year. Slow steps.

  24. Yeah, if we reinforce the MF, with Jack staying wide, I can see the sense of it. Barkley’s wages apparently a sticking point, maybe Loftus-Cheek, instead. Would mean we can get a second striker.

    And you’re right, Villalore. This is pretty much all playing out the way we were told it would. A big spend, but focused. Shame we needed to replace the keeper, but at least that looks to be sorted for the long term.

    We’ll see what the outgoings mean. If Ally and now Nakamba go as rumored, then there’s wages and money without increasing the net spend. Ally out, striker in. Marvelous out, midfielder in. Don’t know that we ‘need’ to sell to buy, but I can see that making the accountants happy.

  25. Looking a bit thin, VillaMD. You can purchase for £10 in UK and Ireland via Carabao Cup site. Everyone else, it’s going to have to be some dodgy Russian stream or something.

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