It’s been an interesting weekend so far in the Premier League, and Aston Villa will wrap up Sunday’s proceedings shortly in welcoming Liverpool to Villa Park.
With only two matches played against struggling clubs, it’s hard to know whether or how much Villa are improved, but we’ve not yet seen the full impact of the summer’s business so far. On paper, you’d like to think Barkley and Traoré will make Villa better. And Smith is going against form a bit and introducing Barkley for Hourihane straight away. Welcome, Ross Barkley. Let’s get your England shirt back.
Watkins has yet to open his Premier League account, but he hasn’t been far away, and Matty Cash looks to be adapting well. Martinez has, of course, been an instant hit. Rumors keep rumbling on about Rashica. Which is like saying the sun also rises. But it could well be that the Stoke performance has convinced management to do a bit more business.
On the other side, we hear that Alisson has now been ruled out along with Mane. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alcantara, and Matip are also out. So, there are worse times to play them in terms of depth, but the starting lineup of course remains very strong. You know they’ll be anxious to continue their perfect league record, keep pace with Everton, and take advantage of City’s draw with Leeds. Mane’s absence may well be minimized by having Diogo Jota to turn to.
Like I’ve said, Villa will say they’re playing to win, as they should, and that’s how they should prepare and approach it. Which means I would expect Smith to keep things tight at the back and for Villa to hold form and play more on the counter. Nothing genius about that, it’s sensible and what we’d all expect. The biggest thing is being a bit clever with the ball and not rushing things. We’ve seen ourselves under siege, and however long you hold up, it’s a tough ask. Just takes a single slip-up. Giving it right back when you do break out, well, doesn’t really help.
Obviously taking chances if and when they’re there is the best outcome, but it’s also important that Villa contest the ball, and when we do get it, we have to make good decisions about whether to break like Leicester, or to try and take a little air out of the game and spend some time with the ball outside our final third. The urge to break will be strong, however, with Watkins showing good pace, strength and control. A decent long ball or two for him to run onto wouldn’t go amiss.
Targett’s in for a long day, of course, and Luiz will have to put in a shift. McGinn will need to build on his Fulham performance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Traoré get his league debut at some point today. What’s nice about writing that is he’s a player who could actually change a game, and with Barkley, both could offset Liverpool’s propensity to dominate proceedings late. We’ll see what kind of fitness Barkley has.
So, I’ll be quite happy with a draw, of course, and over the moon with a win. But these are the kinds of points that make a big difference if you can claw them out. As always, what I’d like to see is a solid performance. No shame in losing, but I’d like to avoid naïveté and errors and see Liverpool well and truly earn it if we aren’t going to walk away with anything.
At any rate, we’ll soon know a fair bit more about this season’s edition.
Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Luiz, Barkley, Trezeguet, Watkins, Grealish
Steer, Elmohamady, Nakamba, Hourihane, El Ghazi, Traore, Davis
Over to you.