It was a gritty and fairly unspectacular performance from Villa that saw them finally break their Saints jinx 1-0, as Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley combined flawlessly on the game’s only goal. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Villa match without a VAR controversy. This time the reviews went the way of the claret and blue. Job done, three points secured on the back of some dedicated defending and a great performance from Emi Martinez, and back into the top half.

Tonight, it’s West Ham, the season’s other surprise team, who’ve climbed up to fifth, three ahead of Villa. Should Villa win, that’s where we could end up at the end of the day with a little help from Leeds. Who I should probably also include in the list of halfway-mark surprises.

Since Southampton, most of the talk has centered on substitutions, or the lack thereof. It seemed like Villa could’ve used fresh legs to ease pressure and perhaps push on for more, but Smith neglected any changes until the late tactical in bringing on Marvelous Nakamba.

It’s certainly not surprising from Smith. He rarely changes things round, and when he does, it’s usually when Villa are chasing a result. Even then, it can seem like he acts too late. But it’s how he does things. I’ve offered up my hypothesis repeatedly: He expects a full 90 in terms of fitness, game-management experience, and cohesion.

Arguments against are certainly valid. And the results so far are what they are. We’re also unsure of the Covid toll, if any, amongst the preferred XI, and how much that’s playing into the thinking.

Also seeing calls for Jacob Ramsey, but I don’t think he’s destined for a starting role this year, barring injuries, given Ross Barkley and now Morgan Sanson. While Barkley has been slowly working his way back to fitness, Smith & Co will be keen to evaluate him. Whether Sanson is insurance against either his or Luiz’s possible departures, well, you’d have to think that’s part of the thinking. But we’ve seen what a fully fit Barkley adds to the side, and if he is to be made available, Smith will want to have seen as much as possible. He’ll also want to see if he can remain injury-free for the second half. And I think there’s a bit of an implicit promise that Barkley would play and get to make his case for England again. Doesn’t mean he’s undroppable, but all that adds up against seeing him on the bench for any extended period.

Sanson, of course, is going to present Smith with an experienced option, and it could be John McGinn who’s most immediately threatened. No one knows, though. We’ll just have to see. Tonight, he’s starting off on the bench again, and the only change is Anwar El Ghazi for Bertrand Traoré.

Maybe of most immediate interest will be how Villa do on set pieces. West Ham are a strong side, and we’ve been vulnerable at times on corners.

So, if Villa can avenge the 1-2 setback in the previous meeting, we could find ourselves in some rarified air come bedtime for this point in the season. We’ve yet to see a really complete performance since the quarantine, and while I thought it might come against Southampton, maybe tonight’s the night.

Over to you.

Comments 116

  1. He better freshen things up later in the game

    It’s a huge game tonight. If we want European football we need to beat the other teams wanting it. We lost at West ham so can’t afford to lose tonight. We need to win tonight and arsenal if we are serious

  2. Also, West Ham. Corners. I’ll say no more

    Every time we’ve had the chance to win and really move up we’ve f**ked it up. So hopefully tonight we don’t. Set plays will be what kill us. We are small. They aren’t

  3. It’s a long season, Frem. You look at all the teams clustered around us, and everyone is having the same ups and downs.

    Set pieces? Be nice to see us limit their opportunities. Whether we can? We’ll see.

  4. Frem
    As you’ve said that tonight and Saturday are absolute must win games to have a chance of Europe
    . . . . if we do t win will you stop talking about it because our chance will have gone?

  5. Well absolutely awful first half. Midfield have been terrible. On the ball and off it they have been so slow and west ham walking through l. We making Lingard look world class.

    We are to predictable. Barkley needs to get closer to Watkins

  6. Get Gahzi off half time. He’s gave the ball away every single time. Get Traore on

    And Watkins can’t score with his head can he? Misses so many good chances with headed attempts. He should have scored a lot more headers this season.

    This game tk needs subs. Traore. I’d put Sanson on soon to

  7. I guess Traore needs a rest? Because he’s much better a football player than Trez and Ghazi. We need to get those two off in the summer and do better

    But give Traore 45 mins now

  8. Very tough first half. Lingard looking good, considering he has not played in the Premier league this season. He and Benrhama are going to be a serious threat second half. Cash and Konsa getting in problems trying to play the ball out. Barkley and El Ghazi are both off the pace and we are not clinical enough. We have had some good chances which could have made a difference.

    Lets hope we can step it up now second half!!

  9. May well see changes…Ghazi looks off it, Ross still not terribly sharp, nor McGinn, either. They won’t be happy with that.

    West Ham showing good energy, pressing. A lot of our passing through isn’t coming off.

  10. Frem, Watkins has scored 3 with his head 3 right foot 2 left foot.
    There’s nothing wrong with that record.
    To say “Watkins can’t score with his head” is just silliness

  11. Credit to Dean Smith for taking a more attacking approach this half.
    It’s a decision that increases the chance of goals for both sides

  12. The players look burnt out already

    Arsenal on Saturday will be another struggle

    We’ve been poor at home all season

    We needed some fresh legs in January and didn’t get them in

  13. Mcginn isn’t fit.. Barkley isn’t. Luiz is f**ked

    Smith thinks we can go through s season using 14 players. We can’t and now it’s showing

  14. Smith needs to drop Barkley snf mcginn for arsenal.

    Our players are knackered.

    I still can’t believe Watkins touch.. He has so many bad first touches time for Davis

  15. Frem
    At Bodymoor they have state of the art equipment and staff who will measure all of the player’s physical statistics
    Please stop the “they are burned out” comments as they are wrong.
    You don’t have data that says otherwise.

  16. Robbo. Burnley we burnt out lost.. Southampton we should never have won. Tonight we have been absolutely out ran

    It’s pretty obvious. We need to make changes against arsenal

  17. I hope Martínez has a strong character because he’s not had his best game tonight.
    Perfect opportunity for him to come back strong against his old team at the weekend

  18. Watkins again at fault really other end of the pitch not getting the ball

    Martinez has been poor in a few recent games

    Wr need changes against areand we need to beat them if we want 6th place

    We have been poor recently

    Something is wrong. We are becoming tired

  19. I hadn’t seen much of West Ham this season but you have to say they’re looking well drilled, with a touch of flair and good value for their position in the table.
    We’ve come a huge way in a very short time but the last two games suggest that we’re not quite there yet.

  20. Frem, they’re not tired. They’re an average team with an ok first 11 and no backup. Grealish has been marked out of the game and Villa have nothing. What did you expect from a bunch that were saved by a goal decision system error?

    Be grateful that they have enough points now to stay up

  21. I’m going to have to say we did look tired tonight…mentally and physically. Couldn’t match West Ham’s intensity. Passes long and short, bad touches, players who usually link up not on the same page.

    Credit West Ham, they did look good, but we just weren’t at the races. And, yeah, a tough one for Emi.

  22. Oh well we can’t win them all. Not the greatest game to watch and a shame Grealish didn’t exploit the right side more sooner. West Ham had more fight and it showed and Lingard had a point to prove which he did. The Southampton game obviously knackered both teams out and at least we didn’t lose by 9-0. Could be worse, we could be in another relegation scrape. The expectations of some person is beyond belief.

  23. Lingard man of the match, and both of his goals came as a result of Ollie losing the ball when all our defence was caught upfield.
    Sanson looks good in the few minutes he had, receiving the ball well, and moving it on, as well as looking for it.
    Barkley looked really off it again, El Ghazi not at the races, and the defence struggling to clear the ball properly.

    Have to admire David Moyes steady recruitment with Bowen last January, Benrahma in the summer, and now Lingard (who was offered to Villa), and Cousek in the summer.

  24. PP,

    From the Villa we were seeing to these games back from quarantine, we just haven’t been all there. Have had some good periods, but just not the same, overall.

    My guess is that Dean looked at the stretch, figured he’s got what he’s got, he’d have to just run them through it, take whatever we could get, and get them back to 90mins. But instead of looking progressively stronger, it did look to have caught up to them tonight.

  25. Haggis,

    Yeah, you have to wonder, watching Southampton essentially give up, how much we had in the tank tonight. Thought it might be better with the extra day. Jack’s usually up to a lot of end-to-end running, and he didn’t have it late on.

    I don’t want to paper over a poor performance, but there were just too many errors indicative of fatigue: no sharpness, or anything happening quickly. Second best to most 50-50s, losing the man-on-man scraps.

  26. r0bb0,

    Was a very good goal from Ollie. And as poor as the team’s performance was, if it weren’t for that very well-timed intervention, he might well have had the equalizer.

    Not that we deserved anything from the game, but.

  27. Right, a couple updates. Paul Whiting has received a red card.

    Frem…on hiatus.

    Has nothing to do with dissenting opinions. They’re always welcome, and please, once again, write a leader if you want to really say something at length.

    But we’re not going to call each other names, or beat dead horses down into the earth’s core. I have to think about everyone’s experience.

    Other views always welcome. Just message me.

  28. Jc – totally agree say what you like but with respect.

    As for the game ,one West Ham are a big side and a very good side, we are also a good side but have only just come back from an enforced break due to covid in the camp. That plus game after game ? Some look a bit jaded, mcginn and Luis in particular not at their best.

    1st time I’ve seen jack man marked and the marker did well to keep him to one assist.

    Pretty sure smith would of loved to buy Benthama and lingard , hopefully sanson can be as effective as Sucek for us . Lange knows the east European market so would like similar in the summer if not .

  29. west ham were very very good. was pretty sure 15mins in we would loose. There tactics spot on and the physicality in midfield too much for us. You can see why there 5th and won 5 in 6.

    But I must say the rections to a lose or expectatations of Europe….well its a bit mad! We are going in the right direction and the improvement in such a short space of time is beyond what id hope for. I mean 32 points after 19 games!! wow

  30. Mark

    going forward to improve us I think we need that domimate, driving force of a cm. 6,2 strong and drives a team by the scruff of a neck. Deano does love his little number 8 types.

    And bloodt matty cash. It takes him 4 touches to get the ball under his spell. Next season going forwards he has to improve, and im sure he will.

    I thought ollie Watkins was superb last night! Along with targett. again.

  31. Well Moyes did a great number on s tactically last night …. two men on Jack out wide and you stop villa which is a worry

    Considering what the game meant and how we know we can play it was a shocking effort were nothing much went right and we used the ball as poorly has he ever have under deano

    I f we don’t greatly improve at the weekend the gooners will be filling there boots as they are starting to play some good stuff

    We seem more and more reluctant to play forward and be braver on the ball we also need to make forward runs for each other and make a lot more attempts to find the player making the runs

    I feel the next game we let us know if this squad can go again to the end of the season .. I believe they can if they can be brave enough to go for it

  32. Hello Lifers,

    Lots going on, on the pitch and the blog I see. Poor result though we cant win them all. The continuous games definitely seemed to play a part.

    I really like Emi and thinks he’s such a good buy but felt he could have done better with both of Lingard’s goals yesterday. Even Burnley goals seemed soft against a keeper of his caliber. He really pulls off some amazing saves, so I dont know if he’s weaker with the low placed shots.

    Arsenal are going to be riled up after we beating them at home and them losing to Wolves after a very decent first half, going to be a tough game. Hopefully Dean will address the issues at hand.


  33. we looked last night like a small squad who had been playing twice week for 3 weeks. Was always going to catch up to us and that’s not knowing about who had covind and how there recovering. Is what it is.

    To go forwards and be a stable prem team that could challenge Europe we must control the ball and game so so much better. some of our passing and control is terrible and has been for a while.

    Its ok everyone fit and firing we can blow the odd team away countering but I think for stable success we need that element of being in control of the game. that’s the next natural phase and hopefully address in the summer.

  34. Very disappointed last night, as we struggled once more, and failed to live up to the early season promise where we moved the ball well, and played some very intelligent football. We seem to have slipped back into the same problems of last season, giving the ball away, not moving the ball forward, playing very poor balls back across the defence, and also trying to play everything through Jack.
    Jack is very good, but we have another 4/5 forwards and mid fielders, who should be leading the charge and making the ball work. Jack should not be involved with taking every corner and free kick. Douglas Luiz had some amazing free kicks when he first arrived, but I can’t remember the last time he took one.
    Dean really needs to look hard at how we are playing, with last night in his own words “like Sunday league standards”. I am sure we can bounce back, but it is not just the lack of energy, we need to look back to the beginning of the season, when we were like a breath of fresh air, moving the ball quickly and well. Martinez and the defence need to seriously look at how poor they were in possession of the ball, unable to turn quickly and use it. Are they really so bad with one foot.
    I am sure that Southgate was very disappointed last night with the Villa squad, apart from Ollie, who scored a beauty. Sad he lost the ball twice, for Lingard to get his brace. He will have noted Lingard and Rice though.

    On to Saturday now, and a regrouping, but there needs to be a major improvement, if we are not to start slipping down the table.

  35. paul

    yeah its a bit of a dip but its too be expected. Listening to deanos reation though is great and the also from the players. They know whats needed, just takes time.

    What always boils my p*ss is Mcguinn playing further forward. Just never works. glad deano said it was a mistake. Like you say some of our old naïve ways slipped in. People caught further forward and far too much space given.

  36. Barkley I have to say is a big fat no from me. Yes he is a bigger name and mates with Jack. But we just cant carry people. He is far to lazy for us as a group. His age, wages and transfer fee wont justify. And his hamstrings are shot. Spend the money elsewhere

  37. All good comments/observations.

    Ross being off the boil is a problem. He was giving Jack that outlet/partner, but if he’s not playing well, then, yeah, you can spend all your attention on Jack. Coufal did a good job staying with him.

    It was working earlier, but since coming back from injury, a half-speed Barkley isn’t going to cut it. So, yeah, H&V, can’t see signing him, atm.

  38. H&V,
    Agree with you about Barkley, and maybe he and Jack tried too much for each other. Maybe Sanson should have played from the beginning and kept Lingard quiet, and with Jack so well marked, maybe Dean should have made El Ghazi get more involved. He was out on a limb.
    I am sure we can recruit better in the summer, if we do not have one of our own to promote.

  39. Gutted with the result. Lifers have already covered the relevant talking points so I’ve nothing to add other than agree with them. Moyes has the Indian sign on us.

    That’s 6 points from our last 6 league games. Which gets you about 14th in the table if constant over a season. Tiredness was evident. I’m expecting 2 or 3 changes for the Arse game. Deano can’t persevere with his favourite 11 surely. They need some help.

  40. plug

    I’ve so far been okay about the subs and rotation but after that i’m expecting changes

    Barkley, el ghazi should not be starting and luiz needs sitting down. Thanfuly after sat we are back to 1 game a week.

  41. Martinez
    Cash Konsa Mings Targett
    Sanson Nakamba
    Traore Grealish Trez

    That would be my side for arsenal. Dean will prob go pretty much same though. He was angry after but think a bollocking and telling them is enough and let them fix there mistakes

  42. Dean Smith has to expand the number of players getting game time. Otherwise an exhausted first 11 aren’t going to be able to play to their abilities. Ross Barkley for example is dog tired. How can one say he isn’t putting in the effort when you can see the sweat pouring down his face and neck? The effort is there, definitely, the end result is not.
    Villa have an excellent first team. They also have a good bench. Smith has to put trust in the bench and start them in some of the games. The top players need to understand they need to sit some games.
    Players need to stay sharp. Hourihane knew that and that’s why he asked for a move. That’s a pity as he was A good player consigned to ride the pine. There are others, El Gazi who looked wooden yesterday needed time on the field.
    Villa don’t have the team strength of MC or Liverpool and perhaps need to pick and choose which games they are going to win, tie, or consign to the dustbin. Is there any point running the best ragged and losing and then having them flat for the next game which could be a possible win? I think this scenario is starting to take shape right now.
    If Villa intend to keep the best of the U-23’s they need proper game time either on loan or minutes with the first team. Integrating the bench and youth and the first team for me, needs to be done.
    Yeah, visions of Europe are nice but it has been mentioned several times that Villa aren’t ready for that leap just yet. Better to give as many players game time, get them blooded, and devoted to Claret and Blue with an understanding that mid table is an achievement this year not a failure.

  43. Some interesting comments from a Leeds exec about VAR and officials this season.

    He makes some interesting comments about officials seemingly making up or tinkering with the rules as they go along but I actually think it’s a positive thing.
    For too long there has been no clarity over why decision have been given but with VAR exposing exactly what has happened, referees are now having to explain why they have made decisions based on a known set of facts that we can all now see.
    It’s going to take time, but I reckon that we’ll finally get to a point where we all understand exactly why a specific decision has been given and everyone will be in a better position to decide whether rules actually need changing.

    I hadn’t realised how much personal interpretation there was in decision making but VAR will slowly being us to the point where consistent decisions are given for a given set of circumstances.

    We’ll just need to be a bit more orient while all the vagueness washes through

  44. Ian and all,

    Good comments. I decided to wait vs writing something emotionally that would mostly be inaccurate.

    Anyway, I’m still glass 1/2 full. Our season is better than any of us could have hoped for. Great goal by Watkins, Sanson looked really good, Martinez will never play as bad. I’d love to see Ramsey start. Give Luiz, Barks and SJM a rest and play Marvelous, Ramsey and Sanson. Nothing to lose.

    JC – thanks for removing people that write abusive comments. This is a football blog, no need for that nonsense. We can disagree without personal and silly attacks

  45. On Villa so far this season, I’m super happy with our position and even more happy with our pure flowing attacking football. Our style of football under DS is Barca quality. There’s no way I would have believed we could be transformed in 2 years.

    This is the 1st year I’ve bought 2 Villa jerseys in the same year – Konsa and Jack. My next jersey will be Ollie. His energy and quality is unreal. £28m was steep, but well worth it. I would love to see him, Wesley and Jack play as an inter-changing top 3

  46. Well said VillaMD, re. the abusive posters and, yes, thanks to JC.
    I’ve supported Villa for 64 years now and didn’t come on here to be called a wa**ker.
    We can all disagree about something without resorting to personal insults.

  47. Its a tough one, you can’t get match fit not playing and I guess thats why Barkley plays other than he may have a clause. That said if he hadn’t played against Southampton we would have 2 points less. Again We played well with Jack at 10 previously and two wingers so who knows.

    Dean Smiths admission that he played 1 2 instead of 2 1 in midfield is a pointer to how we approached the game. I think he thought West Ham would sit rather than attack. Doesn’t excuse him not altering it once he saw that though. The ElGhazi Traore swap did little and should really have been Traore or trez for Barkley and let Mcginn and Luis sit in with Jack at ten. That would of caused spam problems as they had set out to stop Jack out wide.

    Robbo- I can solve the offside problem in one fell swoop, make the red line on the Var screen a foot wide.

  48. Ian- On the target for the season, Jack has already said that its Europe (and that’s not an excuse to play no fringe players) its clearly needed you would think to get more points and avoid lay offs. I would not purposely weaken the side and except mid table though, that’s just not a target psychologically compared to Going for Europe, its wishy washy. Bit like saying its no shame to be average, I can not see Jack buying that nor any footballer worth his salt. Ideally your aim is on a game by game basis anyway rather than looking at it in a chunk.

  49. Hey Mark, when did Jack say Europe? I missed that bit. All I was saying is perhaps Villa should look to future games a bit when doing his man management. Playing your best is fine as long as you can rely on your bench to cover with regularity. Villa’s bench right now is nothing more than a cheering squad who, I think don’t have Smith’s total trust. Who’s to blame for that? It’s a catch 22. If you don’t play how can you gain the gaffer’s trust? Obviously training isn’t doing much convincing. Like I said, hourihane didn’t stick around for that exact reason and Villa lost a good player.

  50. Look at Barkley, flogged like a cart horse who needed to come off but no. Having an exhausted man on the pitch instead of a pair of fresh legs? You tell me.

  51. Ian- I think Barkley has to play when available, some of these loans can be a ball ache. He did look likely at time to create something and thats the lure, one moment changes the match. Smith tried Traore to liven it up to no effect but ultimately should have put jack at 10 and took Barkley off and gone 4231 it looks to me. If we had started the game like that Barkley would maybe not be so knackered. Smith pretty much admitted that.

  52. Ian- Jack said that the players are aiming for Europe, you would think that considering the start and the position we are in it would be looked on by the owners as insanity if they didn’t try. I can see why you said use the season to blood more players but I just think getting a merit payment which is mostly based on position means you have to try as much as possible especially at the moment. last season Merit payment was £7.1m 6th place got £23.1m, 1st £35.5m.

  53. 35 mill would be nice but I think Edens and Sawiris have that tucked away in their sock drawers.
    Who would have placed that stipulation? Barkley or Chelsea? It doesn’t seem right to put a player in jeopardy by playing just because he’s ambulatory

  54. Mark, I’d also thought about making the offside lines much wider and then giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking side if the lines overlap.
    The trouble is, if you make the red line a foot wide, you’ll still have a debate when the blue line is 12.05 inches ahead of the red line.
    We just need to get used to the current rules. . . once the referees have agreed what those rules are! They then need to agree to consistently apply those rules, . . . . and let us troublesome fans know what those rules are!

  55. Great to see Hourihane scoring goals 3 in 3 games. Credit to him for just wanting to play football!
    Cantwell is a player I’d like to see in claret and blue.

  56. That’s Hourihane’s third full game in ten days, not bad for a 29 year old that the commentator has just described as ‘running the show’ for Swansea.
    It seems all too easy to blame our recent results on physical tiredness but I really don’t buy it.
    Sports science has advanced hugely and there’s no excuse for the management not knowing the physical capabilities of the players.
    Yes Barkley did look tired when he came off, but maybe he was never intended to play a full game, we just don’t know.
    I bet you if Hourihane had been picked to play 3 games in 3 days for us we’d have been saying it was physically too much of an ask but here’s he is doing exactly that, and just picking up man of the match at the end of another full 90 minutes against the league leaders.

    Mental tiredness? Well that’s another thing. There’s an Arabian proverb: “ Dwell not upon thy weariness, thy strength shall be according to the measure of thy desire.”

  57. R0bb0,
    There’s also the bit about flogging a dead horse.
    And the joke about getting a cat to pull a cart. To which the farm said I have a whip.

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