My realist side likes to expect the worst, sometimes. But a makeshift Villa surprised in ways I didn’t expect.

Seeing Dean Smith’s team sheet, and knowing what he had to choose from, I thought this was a game where Villa could find themselves down early, heads hanging, and Chelsea going on to score for fun. It obviously turned out much differently.

Yes, Chelsea were often slick and well-drilled, bossing possession. But it was a lot of meaningless possession, with most of the early forays culminating in long balls to Werner. My concern at that point was Villa tiring and not having much experience to turn to.

But Villa instead ended up creating the best of the first-half chances and didn’t tire. There was smart and good pressure, decent interplay, and the quick moves that are the trademark of Smith’s Villa when on song. This was different than my expectation that Villa would mainly be backs to the wall hoping for a smash and grab.

As the game wore on, apart from a few dodgy moments, Villa were fairly comfortable. They looked a bit asleep to start the second 45, and I didn’t think Chelsea really deserved to be ahead on balance when Werner scored on 54 minutes. But it said a lot that Villa withstood the resulting barrage, however narrowly, and showed the character to equalize just 10 minutes later.

An excellent performance and Villa were perhaps unlucky not to win in regular time. For all the changes, absences, and youth, the team seemed to know what they were doing, and the mentality was really good.

Thing is, I expected more timidity and hesitation. It wasn’t there, or if it was, not for long. You could see several instances of players being on different wavelengths, but only natural. When Buendia was remonstrating after a seemingly aimless free kick, I think it had more to do with him and the others being on a different page for the set-piece routine. He may have been off the pace a bit and loose with the ball in places, but his heart was fully in it, and we did see flashes of his quality.

Bottom line, if this is Villa’s ‘second string,’ it’s not at all bad. And the encouraging part is that the young players included in the first-team set-up really do seem like they deserve to be there and getting important minutes. Cameron Archer, Carney Chukwuemeka, and Jaden Philogene-Bidace all acquitted themselves well, with Archer deservedly stealing the spotlight with a fantastic finish.

Deano may have seemed to throw them all to the wolves without more veteran backups on the bench. But in putting the weight firmly on this group’s shoulders, he removed the excuses that might’ve dwelt in some minds had there been saviors on the bench. Besides, Ollie just became a dad, Ings is no kid, and Luiz played a lot this summer. McGinn was never going to play. Young Jacob could’ve been included, but Chuk has to play important minutes to keep developing and staying interested. Jaden, too. Buendia needed a full game. Traoré’s a starter needing fitness. Sanson got a chance, showed a lot, but probably overdid it. Young’s a veteran some were calling for to supplant Targett. Marvelous is no stranger, and many have thought he should be starting over Luiz. El Ghazi has been a starter.

Don’t know that anyone expected it to be that close, in the end. Maybe Smith is wishing he’d played it differently after the fact, but there wasn’t a whole lot to change, really.

And it’s not like Mount and Lukaku turned the tide for Chelsea. They only really did their damage in the shoot-out.

On the penos, maybe Archer should’ve taken one instead of Nakamba. You’d have bet on Ash to convert. You’d have preferred Martinez between the sticks. But however the shooters were chosen, my take is that Smith didn’t want to pull a Southgate. Archer was already getting slated during the first 45. It was huge for him to stay confident and score.

That Villa faced just about everyone besides Havertz and Thiago and went the distance bodes well. It was more than a moral victory. They were obviously not overawed by what they saw 10 days ago, have been brought along well, and faith was kept in the entire squad.

Over to you.

Comments 36

  1. Thanks JC, Haven’t watched the whole match so I’ll take your word 🙂 I think despite the recent 3-0 Villa have got the edge on Chelsea, last season taking 4 points off of them and but for wayward finishing might be on 3 for this.

    Smith said before the match that it was a match for getting minutes into a few players but we were going for the win, I too think now he wishes he actually had. Martinez and Ramsey could of made a big difference for me at the very least and Ollie on the bench.

    Before anyone goes for my throat I’ll just mention that the Chelsea Keeper was subbed on for the penalties in the super cup recently and won it for them. This was one moment where sentiment didn’t help us.

    You also beat me to the punch, Robbo pointed out that only two started in the team on Saturday. Well I’d like to remind him I think all of them Bar Sanson and Archer have played a part in matches this season, starting in some this season too (only 5 games) for the 1st. Archer would of come on last week was it? but for another injury preventing his entry. So None of the players were strangers to the 1st some mainstays last season, the bench certainly was.

    There is no settled 1st team at present anyway, who’d bet that Beundia and Bailly won’t be nailed on soon? maybe even Sanson.

  2. On the 5 subs, On last nights showing it would be more help than hindrance plus time on the pitch for the youngsters, more tactical chances too. Its already 4 with the concussion sub.

    It seems to me that we are using high energy tactics, high press etc and as the match progresses wouldn’t it be nice to be able to keep the pressure on? also one or two injuries to players you were not going to sub can completely derail the planned subs you were.

    As we already have umpteen subs it seems like a logical step to me, its a Squad game now due to the number of games that come very quickly, what’s better, sit your star player or let him have 50-60 mins in two games?

  3. MK,

    Yeah, I’m just pointing out that it was a fairly ‘strong’ side to begin with and there wouldn’t have been a lot to add to the bench.

    Mainly because lots of folks talking about our youngsters taking Chelsea to the wire, but only Archer started, and Chuk and JPB came in. Fair play to all involved, and it did show that the overall bench is actually pretty deep since only Buendia and Traoré, maybe Nakamba, are considered starters now. Axel, too, in a back three.

    But I guess the point was that I don’t really have a strong feeling that bringing Ollie or Jacob on with 15-20 left would’ve made a world of difference. We’ll never know, but Traoré needed to come out, Sanson got hurt…Could’ve only used one anyway, in the end.

  4. Bit torn on 5 subs, MK.

    We now seem to have enough that we could probably utilize them effectively, but I still think it advantages the deeper squads, and it’s more about them being competitive in multiple competitions. I like that they may have to risk losing ground in the league to keep certain players fresh for Europe.

    Essentially you get to swap out half the outfield, and I prefer the idea there’s a bit of game management to picking your moments to press and recover, rotate players, etc. And over the long haul, it might inadvertently help bigger squads stay together, though they already seem to do pretty well replacing players that want more starting time.

    On the other hand, as you say, would probably help keep players fresher, maybe reduce injuries and so on. Hard to know how many smaller clubs would actually use all five.

  5. JC- I am talking about starting Ramsey and Martinez mate not bringing them on, a slight upgrade with two players unlikely to be effected to much for Saturday. maybe the difference to us getting our noses in front and keeping it.

    I think that 5 subs could help us catch up as we have lesser load to begin with so you’d think a fresher squad with more time together and match fitness overall might be a good thing and speed things up. Teams like city rotate loads anyway so gain further as they have nearly two teams to play.

  6. Yeah, didn’t think that was going to happen (Ramsey) with Buendia needing minutes (and more time at 10) and Sanson trying to get back in the frame.

    Steer was always going to get the cup ties.

  7. Yes I can see that but Beundia at 10 was tried and abandoned very quickly and he went RW. So rather than shoehorn in everyone that needed minutes I’m think winning for minimal damage. Will Beundia or Traore be any better now? maybe but the 1st team will alter radically over the next few months I’d think and they will get minutes but its not the big rush it was once thought imo to get the ultimate 11 out, indeed there may not be one.

    Steer always getting the cup ties doesn’t win cups. That said both Manure and wet spam put out understrength sides and west ham won. For a team like Villa with aspirations for Europe can the cups be pushed aside so easily.

  8. The other question on my mind is what are we saving our players for if not a push for top 6 and Europe? Saying our players are prioritising the league or the Manure game is a bit nuts at this stage Are we supposedly looking at progression and finishing higher than last year? If we went for it in the cup and failed in the semi’s or final would people say that ruined our chances of a top 6-8 finish? seems a bit of a stretch to me. I think we are better than many teams squad wise and the top lot are in Europe too. If we can’t stretch to a tilt at a cup at this point? Moan over.

  9. Not sure where you’re seeing/reading that about Buendia, MK. Apart from the usual movement, he was central throughout, just scanned the replay.

    Traoré was right, then JPB was a like-for-like swap.

    Carney was a swap for Sanson, and played that role.

  10. Bigger picture, players need minutes, been almost a month since Buendia has truly kicked a ball in anger. Traoré, assuming he was in there for fitness having had the operation. And if Buendia was going to get more minutes in the middle, Villa needed an experienced, dangerous wide man.

    Smith’s trying to juggle a squad, and there are some overlaps. Buendia you’d have to say is/has been a right midfield player. So is Traoré. Ramsey’s been employed as a CAM/10 almost exclusively. Maybe Ramsey’s sudden maturation will change the thinking.

    So, whether Buendia ends up being the 10, I’ve no idea. Might not end up suiting him, and Ramsey might well end up being better there. But if that was an idea, and why he was bought, Buendia has to play there enough to rule himself in or out.

  11. Cup runs in general…The only value I see at the moment in this stage of the project is either getting into Europe through the back door or being able to give your ‘fringe’ players time. Was simply a shame we drew Chelsea when we did.

    So, overall, seems to me league position is the measuring stick. Question for Dean & Co more than me, obviously.

    But if that’s the case, it’s about preserving players for the campaign, managing loads, getting good performances against top sides, and rounding out the squad as much as possible so you can actually mix-and-match. Don’t think that was shoehorning anyone. If anyone wasn’t in a natural position it would’ve been Buendia, but I don’t think we paid £30m+ for him to fight with Traoré on the right. Might end up that way, but you can’t see whether the alternative works until you’ve tried it enough. If Smith’s planning on playing Ramsey Saturday, then it made sense to get Buendia back out there working off the rust and learning.

    So many fans keep talking about “if we’re bottom-half by Christmas then we have to take a look at Smith.” But then we should also be vying for cups, etc. It doesn’t always add up.

  12. Tut, tut Mark. Are you whinging about Deano? Criticising team selection? Moaning about Deano’s substitutions? You’ll be in the “Smith out” camp before you know it!!

    Simmer down bud, I’m only pulling your chain. More concerning is the news that Sanson is out for another month with a hamstring. Blimey, I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever see his skills in full flow.

    Also bad news about Bailey’s quad. It’s a good job we have some great names to come in, not forgetting the Ramsey’s, Chuk’s and Bidace. Plus, Archer will now be champing at the bit. Looking forward to us kicking Ronaldo into touch.

  13. Plug,

    Some of these injuries are so hard to come back from…nothing serious, but so easy to re-aggravate. And often when rehabbing one thing, you’re compensating somewhere else and end up with a strain, pull, whatever in that spot.

    Plus, going full-speed…Sanson was really at it. All the pushing off, changes of direction. Ghazi, not so much: no reaching, lunging, tackles. Was barely jumping (if he can) for tall passes sent his way.

    I haven’t checked independently, but was reading that Sanson and Bailey have basically missed something like 10 games each over the last four seasons combined. So, not really injury-prone players, just caught in a cycle.

  14. Plug- Smith out.

    Nah just think that its a missed opportunity to put one over on a top side and announce we are here. I know people want to beat Untied but A: that’s less likely with their full side rested and B: it now means less games for the fringe and youth players this season, less tv money, less exposure, all those good things losing Jack ( I now say his name in my Head like I’m coughing up a Fur ball) stopped. To top it off Sansan gets to excited and buggers his hammy, could see that one happening a mile off. Oh and a free ticket to Disney land if don’t get top 6-7.

  15. Sorry JC I was referring to Beundia in previous games not last night. Pre-season played RW and played well dropping into midfield, Watford he Plays 10 and gets out muscled, Newcastle game back out to RW. So I don’t think he is earmarked for ten Particularly if Ings continues to play with Watkins. Can still see Ings as a false 10 where he has often played. If we play the 352 then Beundia may come in on the right of midfield. Or RW with Bailey left in a 433 etc. We have a lot of options available non of them for me say Beundia nailed on at 10. I think that was a matter of who have we got to fit into the team to get minutes hence Traore RW.

  16. “it now means less games for the fringe and youth players this season,” Yep, that’s the real downside.

    But, to the point about fringe and youth players, they have to play in those cup games to get the minutes and experience.

    Like I say, Deano might wish he’d been able to change things up more the last 15-20. Or that Ash had converted, and maybe he’d given Archer a go instead of Nakamba.

    Beyond United, a break, remains to be seen how many will actually be gone. Following, it’s Spurs, Wolves, Arsenal, West Ham: the exact set of teams we’re planning on competing with (though Wolves are off to a rough start).

  17. JBD- just went and filled up because I knew as soon a someone said there’s a petrol shortage every twat with a car that might not even go out in it more than twice a month would be filling up. Sure enough 300 OAP’s at the petrol station at 2.30 putting in £20 while the rest of us that need it for work are usually erm working, fuckwits the lot of them.

  18. MK,

    Yeah, he has played one in the middle, two off the right in the league. Some of the RW may have been due to Traoré being saved to come off the bench earlier on.

    But there’ll be rotation, different players in different matches/set-ups. Don’t disagree that Buendia isn’t necessarily nailed on for 10. Might be that there isn’t a true 10 on a lot of days, like you say.

    If Ings drops back, may well see Buendia and Ramsey tucked either side, maybe it stays Ramsey, SJM and Luiz. Is a shame about Sanson, he was looking the part for all the rust.

  19. JC that’s the point, we play united then its like a fecking holiday for most of them until the next Sunday and beating the next teams up would o more for league position than a likely top two side. Maybe DS had no idea what sort of team Chelski would put out I don’t know, had it been the full side then it would of been a lesson in watching Chelsea pass it around for the youth even more than it was. I agree they need to play but they didn’t start either, it was a definite older squad members pick.

  20. I was quite looking forward to the game tomorrow, then I found out we have Mike Dean as the ref. FFS, there’s Manure’s obligatory penalty against us right there.

  21. MK,

    Good job it’s a “holiday”. They’ll be training, rehabbing, and it buys us time for Bailey, etc. Schedule gets ‘softer’ after that, and we could make hay with all the options to choose from. I’m guessing Smith would love to end the abysmal run against United, too.

    Wouldn’t have been a weak Chelsea side, regardless, which is always the problem. Tuchel wants to win, and has the players to move around. They got to hold out a couple (Thiago, Rudiger, etc), give Chilwell a game, but you still had the Kanté/Mount change from the week before (in reverse), Lukaku coming on. James is no slouch, neither Hudson-Odoi. Ziyech and Werner up top.

    But yeah, Smith went with game-time for ‘fringe’ players, enough to compete, in the end. Archer did start, took his opportunity, I thought, and I figure Chuk probably would’ve come on for Sanson in the second. Morgan couldn’t have had 90 in him. Injury just sped that up, and that’s the real shame. He only needed to make it through another 15-20, but was really eager to impress. JPB? Probably the same idea, in for Traoré at 60-70mins like we saw.

    So, don’t think Smith was exactly chucking it.

  22. Vital Villa just come up with a good one – Penalty United. I don’t think our biggest worry is about who is picked to play but how many penalties they are given and how outrageously unfair they are.

  23. jbd,

    On the inevitable pen, who gets the biggest dose of Ronaldo. Likely Konsa, naturally. If we go 3-5-2, Hause will come in, I would think on the left, so Konsa and then Mings.

    Thought I saw Cavani’s out, so that’s good. Odds for peno may end up being best for Bruno.

  24. Oddly enough I fancy our chances against Manure if we play to the levels of the Chelsea game and finish. There defence is nearly on par with our own and very close at defending set pieces.

    Now if we get a few of those against manure I fancy us to take a few. The only question is will we go with three CM’s? Hause played 90 and Tuenzebe is out. If the plan is to bring Hause in then I hope he has recovered enough having not played at that level for a bit. If he is in then he is mustard in the air and I fancy him to convert one of our now trademark free kicks. If not then we are looking at a change of formation and who gets to play? Traore had a run out may start, Beundia got 90 so unlikely to start for me. ElGazi 90 so not likley, so maybe 4231? ramsey and traore with ings and watkins up top. McGinn and Luis or Nakamba.

  25. Mark,`If we’d played our ‘best’ side on Wednesday in order to progress in the cup why would we then change it in the next round? As JC said, if we want game time for the youth then we have to play the youth in games. As you say though, it was only Archer from the start and I admit that I’d have preferred to see more youth players in the first half too.

  26. Mark, you’re right that electric cars have been too expensive but the prices are coming down and there’s a wide range of prices for EVs now. The second hand market lags the new car market of course but is also growing all the time. I’ve found the running costs to be dramatically lower than my old petrol car and the fact is that in just 9 years time you won’t be able to buy a new petrol or hybrid car so the day of the electric car is coming.

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