Villa returned to action following the midseason interruption and lost an entertaining, wide-open game against an on-song Liverpool 1-3. It was great viewing for everyone but Villans, though it wasn’t that rough for us, either. Haven’t done many match reviews of late, but it’s always more interesting to talk about when there’ve been changes.

Looking at the lineup, it was a little hard to tell exactly what shape Villa would take. And indeed, during the match, you could see a lot of fluidity. Off the ball, it often looked like 4-4-2. Buendia was tucked in pretty narrowly on the left, and Bailey often seemed like a second striker on the right. McGinn was much further forward (though he did have defending to do), and Luiz and Kamara patrolled the middle, with Luiz generally the more forward of the two.

So at times, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, and 4-2-2-2. It’s interesting and produced a lot of movement through the middle as well as the wings. Villa weren’t sitting back by any means, and they weren’t being told to just keep it wide. Most important, it created a lot of good chances.

We’ve all read that one of the shapes Emery particularly likes features one “withdrawn” winger (usually on the left) and the other more advanced like a striker. And we saw it. Here’s a link to an brief animation that does a good job showing the patterns/options in the 4-2-2-2 buildup (it’s the pic.twitter bit you click on):

We’ve also been seeing a high line, which hasn’t always been easy for Mings and Konsa, especially against the pace of Nunez and Salah.

When it was clicking, it looked good. When it wasn’t, well, nothing looks good when it isn’t working. But, it did play to a number of players’ (supposed) strengths. McGinn was once again further forward and showing some quality on longer, sweeping passes from the right side (instead of trying to slot through-balls in from more central positions). Buendia was doing the Buendia things, and I’ll say once again I don’t understand his critics. Kamara had a fabulous game breaking up play, protecting the back, and both retaining possession and getting moves going. Watkins was put through in the kinds of ways he can score from. We could write books about whether or not he should be doing better.

Everyone will generally agree it was a tale of two halves, with Liverpool looking far sharper and quicker to start. Villa were getting run down, dithering, thinking they had more time and were always being challenged when receiving. We were losing most every second ball. Liverpool were good value for a 2-0 lead at the half. It’s just a shame that goals came from phases of set-piece situations. Further, Van Dijk’s effort just brushed off Mings’ hip, when it might otherwise have gone wide. On the other hand, Liverpool had clearer chances from open play that they didn’t convert.

After Villa got a talking-to at halftime, we saw, as we have so many times before, a different side. Scrappier, fighting for balls, all of that. They were able to wrest control for long stretches, and were oh so close to scoring three or four. Watkins had the offside goal, then the well-executed header to the back post. Both he and McGinn misread balls they tamely headed toward goal when they should’ve volleyed/redirected. Bailey fluffed at a cross that I think took a slight deflection on its way past Watkins to him. Emi put a one-timer wide left (though I think Allison had it covered anyway). There were one or two others.

Bottom line, I really thought Villa were going to get the second, and it would’ve been deserved. Instead, we predictably got sucker-punched for a third at 83 minutes, which effectively ended the game.

A number of players had up-and-down performances, particularly McGinn and Luiz. I thought there was a lot from SJM on those sweeping passes, but just as many miscues of all sorts, especially as time wore on. He’s just not a one-touch player, and makes frustrating decisions. Dougie, on the other hand, was better as the game wore on, but really does come and go. Digne, well, I think we can all see why there are rumors at left fullback. Bailey? I honestly have no idea what to make of him other than that he seems to have a limited bag of tricks and that they may not be enough for the Premier League. I think I like him better than Traoré, but I also don’t think there’s that much difference.

I’ve seen a lot of prescriptions here and elsewhere about what the side need: Two new fullbacks and a striker; two new CBs and a striker. All sorts of things. And they’re probably all about right, in one way or another. Many paths to the waterfall, etc.

One thing I’ve seen said, and I’ve also said it for years, is that we’re too lightweight in midfield. Not strong on the ball; not good at winning tackles; not enough touch and quality; not enough speed and tenacity. That, to me, is the biggest issue. Kamara definitely looks to be a step in the right direction. A couple more purchases like that would take us a long way forward.

I’ve also seen it said that what we buy going forward has to be higher quality than where we’ve shopped before. Absolutely. That was always the idea, an iterative rebuilding of the squad. Gerrard did not help in that regard. Phil, pretty much useless. Digne, not a good enough defender for what we get from him on offense. Carlos? Fingers crossed. Kamara, yes, that was a win. No idea if that was Gerrard’s pick, but I kind of doubt it.

So, no ideas where Emery will focus in January. We’re all seeing the same rumors. Honestly, and I’ve said this all along, as well, there’s not many players we couldn’t improve on. That’s just the nature of the game. If the top four are always looking for more, it only makes sense we would be, too.

Emery will have learned a lot. Yes, he had the two games and a mini-camp, but it’s what he’s seeing after having had the time to drill, coach, and evaluate that really matters. He’s seen the gulf. We’re seeing lots of talk about all sorts of departures and incomings, and don’t think any of us would argue about who can go. Don’t think any of us would argue about replacing Watkins with Haaland, for example. The trick is what’s doable now, and charting a sensible progression.

What I hope is that Emery can address longstanding issues, that he has that innate ability to quickly get to “Here are the problems, these are the solutions.” All very easy. We do it every day, right? But we also know it’s a bit more complicated. He has to be as shrewd as Arteta has been, basically and somewhat poetically. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see what January has to say about this season, yes. But it’s really about next season and the one after. A top-half finish should be achievable, and it’s desirable in terms of attracting players, showing momentum and the like. Otherwise, the season is pretty much over unless we pull off a couple coups. In the end, 9th or 11th doesn’t make much difference.

Me, I’m coming away with positives from the match as far as the tactics and understanding go. It’s limited data to go on, but it seems like Emery gets it. It’s all about the next steps, all about finding the right fits, the right answers to the right questions in the right order. It always is.

Over to you.

Comments 131

  1. Thanks JC a quick reply to Frem then I’ll read the header.

    No point repeating the Watkins stuff its been said you won’t see it ever but if he went to say Arsenal you would.

    Smith with Norwich in 5th gets sacked because a section of fans have been booing for months. Meanwhile look at the teams in the mix, Burnley, Sheffield and Watford all recent prem teams and Blackburn who have lost 11 won 13!! Norwich at the end of an era and rebuilding with money worries. Norwich would not finish automatically 1st and 2nd every season because they are not noticeably better than those clubs and their prem standings have shown this hence why they need to do something to improve that, IE change. Fans being fans want what they think they deserve. You’d think having seen Villa’s 3 seasons in the champs you’d have a little appreciation for what Smith did for your club but Nah .

    Funny isn’t it that Beale went top with QPR then crashed out of the top 6 but then got the top job at Rangers, its like someone appreciates that clubs are different and that a managers time there are not always reflective of their abilities as the times so short, even Unai has been sacked several times and by top clubs with vastly superior squads and had one of Arsenals longest period without a win as a record.

    “Its 2-1 defeat to Frankfurt in the Europa League Thursday was the side’s seventh consecutive game without a win and Arsenal has slipped to eighth in the English Premier League.

    In truth, pressure had been mounting on the 48-year-old for weeks with large pockets of fans questioning his tactical direction and calling for him to be sacked.

    The club said the decision was made “due to results and performances not being at the level required.”

    Get the idea yet?

  2. Not much to add to your musings JC pretty accurate stuff to me. I think Unai will definitely be targeting a higher finish and I think we have it in us, just a matter of what can be done to rectify and stiffen what’s there. He can coach so hopefully maybe squeeze 10% more from a few players and add some game changers. Unfortunately game changers are not usually cheap nor do they always land feet 1st. If we can cause damage to the top 8 while not losing a lot to the rest then 7th/8th why not. There are a fair few teams that will feel the same though and I hope Unai’s attention to matchday detail can make a difference. Hopefully it won’t look like our 1st half hour as in a tangle of tactics/ideas , be fun to watch though for that I am grateful.

  3. Accurate assessment of the game JC. I believe we’ll see more attacking thrills and spills under Unai than previous incumbents with the possible exception of Deano. But on tactical matters, Unai is way ahead. Exciting times await if he can get his players in.

    The early opposition goal sucked some of the atmosphere out of VP which has happened before. I prefer a fast start to try and get ahead and if not, at least match your opponents. But we did put them on the rack after half time. Looking forward to Spurs now.

  4. I was going to mention Unai’s comment about us after we conceded, he said we abandoned our plan and tactics, from the horses mouth. It won’t matter if he is the most tactical manager in existence if the players panic and don’t listen.

  5. Good write up jc,but have to disagree about beundi,but then that’s what this site is all about different opinions
    As for incoming yes we need a few but not too many attacking options are seriously needed,
    Would love to see dendonker get a run adds a bit of steel plus would be a bonus for set pieces, that’s 3 managers in a row that have used mcginn beundi to mark largest opponent crazy stuff

  6. JC,
    A very fair summary of where we are. Villa’s problem in the last couple of seasons ha been that we have improved, but most of the players recruited have not been a real improvement, and not added any quality to the squad. Digne, a marginal improvement, Bailey, still to come to fruition, Carlos, still to come to fruition, Couthino, a five minute wonder, still waiting. Ings, a very patchy start. Only Martinez, Kamara and Young have produced consistent performances. Then there are the Sansons , Nakamba and Traores.
    The amount of money spent on players and wages is almost frightening. It really is time we stuck with the nucleus we have, and just recruited one or two truly quality signings each season in order to build a team of challenging for the top. This is exactly what Eddie Howe has done at Newcastle. He has built wisely, using the existing squad and adding to it. He has achieved an awful lot by giving players back their confidence.

  7. I am fearful of Villa’s recruitment of forwards, as we have Ollie and maybe Buendia as the only marginally successful recruits since John Carew! Maybe with the exception of Uncle Albert Adomah.
    WE have been terrible over the years, spending millions on failures. like McCormack, Collymore, Wesley, and many more.
    We really need to make sure that we look at our own and ensure that any new players are substantially better than what we have.
    I would rather see this season be one of consolidation and development of what we have, including our youngsters, with very limited addition now. We need to let Unai develop his team and his tactics, if we are to become a successful team of the era, not just a flash in the pan.

  8. We are a strange Squad, we are not useless but in comparison to say Liverpool we are average, to work we have to stay on plan, that plan left with smith, in came another with Gerrard and out that went with Unai with a return to more smith-like tactics minus the wingers we once had.

    No surprise we are were we are then, the youth were being primed for smith ball, then their coaches were sacked and in came crab ball, now I am hoping they may take another look at that set up, Unai gives me hope as he likes Raiky one I feared was going to go under the radar.

    I wonder how much recruitment Unai does? I think he might have a bigger hand knowing his OTT preparation you would think detail on players would be a forte of his. That’s the area we really need to crack, so far not outstanding but not the worst either.

    Norwich have the ex Huddersfield DOF that seemed to do no wrong on manager and players buys, at Norwich he hasn’t done anything since the initial squad when he came in 2-3 seasons back they have stood still, Villa seem to be at that impasse.

  9. Our squad,for me only martinez and possibly kamara are irreplaceable
    Seen a clip on fb of on this day back in the day we beat the gunners with goals from platt and Mountfield, would love players like that now

  10. RIP Edson Arantes Do Nascimento. I was fortunate enough to watch him live at VP under 3 working floodlights (driven by a temporary generator) along with 54,000 others. It was an exhibition match Villa v Santos which Villa won 2-1.

  11. Watkins is 27 today……

    He isn’t a youngster

    He still can’t finish.

    He’s got worse

    He won’t get better

    It’s time for him to go

  12. super write up thanks John, which for me at least, helps give a bit more context on some of the things to look out for in the next game. There were times when my heart was in my mouth with the high line and as you say, it would have been nice to have at least one speed merchant at the back to be able to match a fast attacker like Salah. Is Martinez the sweeper type of goalkeeper that this style of play probably needs, or can he learn to be, or will he now think he knows it all and won’t want to take advice/instruction?

    It was good to see McGinn in that more advanced role and let’s hope he gains the confidence/passion to put the goals away for Villa as he has done for Scotland.

    You’re right that the jury is still out on Bailey, but I am still optimistic for him. Yes he had two rushes of over-excitement/panic, when a calmer head would have slotted the ball into the net but his unpredictability does make him look like our best creator to me.

    As you say. . . . it wasn’t boring!

  13. Mark, I’ve felt just the same about Norwich fan’s impatience. They finished last season rock bottom and 16 points from safety and yet they seem to assume that they should get automatic promotion this year. The previous season, Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United were relegated and two of them are still down there, and that’s how it normally works. In fact, all 3 teams have never bounced back, and only 5 times in the history of the premier league have even 2 bounced back. Norwich are sitting in 5th and their fans are deluded.
    I hope that we’ve learned our lesson and will be patient this time round.

  14. As Mark also pointed out, the diversion from what felt like a long term plan under Smith, to . . . .well, what was it even? under Gerrard . . . was a real club management aberration. It will take a little time to put it right as we’ll first have to try and re-balance the squad. The Liverpool game did feel a bit like the early Premier league games under Smith, where we ‘could’ beat any team on our day (unlike under Gerrard where we seemed incapable of threatening any team above us and there were steadily more and more teams above us!). The problem under Smith was that we were also just as capable to losing to any team. If Unai is able to get us playing exciting football with the potential to beat anybody but also ensure that we win a high proportion of the games we ‘should’ win, then things will indeed be looking up.
    We’ll remember how smith had to quickly bring in some pragmatism to our approach in the premier league in order for us to survive and it would be nice if Unai is able to retain some of the excitement that we saw last time out but still achieve results.

  15. I’m firmly in the PP camp of wanting us to bring in a few quality players rather than seeking wholesale changes. Eddie Howe has demonstrated perfectly how this ‘can’ be made to work. Of course, as JC points out, if Haaland puts in a transfer request to move to us then we should replace Ollie but odds are that we’ll not find anyone better than what we currently have. What Unai seems to be doing is creating a fluid forward line where goals can come from any number of directions. . . it was great to see both JM and LB being in positions to create great chances but a shame that neither of them were able to convert on the day.

  16. Under Smith the initial idea was to play on the counter with inverted wingers and of course Jack was a big part of that. Jack and a fit Barkley took that to a new level along with a defence that was pretty frugal second season, 15 clean sheets remember. Even the totally useless Watkins couldn’t help but score with those two on song 😉

    Attempts to replace them really has been impossible it seems and we have become a much less threatening outfit since, the various satellite players like Traore etc and even the likes of Connor have not been replaced but they all contributed goals and assists, compared that to now? Unfortunately the players left like Luis have got slightly better but not to the level of a Jack or Barkley.

    How Unai can make use of what is a not really spectacular core is anyone’s guess, Gerrard tried to bring the general level of quality and know how up but probably lost the core that was supposed to be maturing with his comments and any flair we had left. Obviously Phil was supposed to replace Jack but didn’t work.

  17. Frem- Watkins at 27 is just coming into his prime and you want rid, I’d say he would fetch a minimum of £50m Liverpool paid £60m for Nunez who is a pain in the arse but also suffers from missing the cows arse with his Banjo, so who are we buying in your opinion considering they are top 4 and we are erm, not.

  18. What I am saying is we don’t replace Watkins we look for a poacher/ goal orientated striker, Ings is much more likely to be sold unless we really want the money Watkins would bring.

  19. Mark, yes you’re right, we did become frugal under Smith but that was because he realised that he’d have to adapt to survive. . . . a talent which Gerrard’s arrogance (or lack of managerial abilities) precluded. I do still very very firmly believe that we have a squad that is well capable of a top half finish and I’m hopeful that Emery will be able to deliver this. We’re probably a few players short of a top 6 finish but as PP (I think) pointed out, Eddie Howe is so far managing to do it with just those few introductions of the right players in the right places.

  20. Mark, you’re also surely right about Watkins. The facts show that he’s been one of Aston Villa’s most productive strikers over the past 40 years and it seems very possible that Emery’s tactics will start to redeliver the sort of chances which will see him moving up higher than his current 9th ranking in the Premier league.
    Could we realistically find a better replacement. . . . . probably not. Could we find a more productive strike partner. . . . maybe. Will we do it this month or will we have to wait till the summer. . . .I’d guess the latter, but we’ll see.

  21. Excellent review JC

    I think Unia is trying players in positions that I wouldn’t generally expect to see them , we have a lot of good player in the squad but I am guessing the manager has his eyes on a few in and a few out that will hopefully see a better villa in a few weeks time
    Ollie is a good player but can’t be left as our main striker , there are better goal getters out there , Ollie though is a great team player , sowe could either use him as such or cash in and upgrade if the manger see’s fit to.

    Blessed transitions Pele

  22. runtings,
    I feel we have a lot of answers within our own squad. Ollie certainly cannot be replaced without spending a huge amount of money, otherwise it is the risk of potential once more, and we are not good at that with forwards. If I were Unai, I would play Archer up front for at least two or three full matches with Watkins and Bailey providing the passes he needs. His clinical ability is excellent, but he needs a proper run in the team, then Ings is always available for back up.
    I am also sure that when Ramsey is fit again to play with Kamara and Buendia we will see a big improvement, plus we also have his brother at Norwich to come back.
    I am sure we will see a difference in the coming weeks, if Unai can find the right combination, and Luiz and McGinn can surely only improve as they get used to having more freedom with Unai and his systems.
    The defence is still an area that needs improvement, and hopefully Carlos cannot be far away now, but Mings and Konsa will fair better with Martinez back between the sticks. It will be interesting to see how he uses Cash and Young, but I feel that Cash should return to his normal position with Digne on the other flank.
    I am sure that even without additions that this squad with more flexibility and freedom, will improve, and Couthino having dished all the rumours about himself can become a valuable player once more.
    By the end of January, I am sure we will be looking at a very different team, compared to the one under Gerrard, even without changes.
    Dendonker could also become a useful midfield enforcer.

  23. I’m actually wondering whether Unai will splash much in Jan unless someone he really wants is available, I can’t see him buying for buying sake. Also don’t know how involved with recruitment he’s been prior although I’d assume hands on, he just seems the type.

  24. Mark, that list is interesting and at first sight doesn’t look great but there were some gems in there and it shouldn’t be forgotten that whilst Emery signed the players, they were then managed by someone else who may not have had the same personal relationship or playing style. Cebellos for example, who was ranked 8th worst Emery signing out of 12 is reported to have had a great first season but then a dreadful second season. . . . . under Arteta.
    I’d say that Dean Smith had a pretty decent record on signings (anyone who brought Trezeguet too Villa Park deserves praise!) but there are some duds in there too:
    Samatta, Baston, Guilbert, Drinkwater, Jota, Carroll, Wesley, Kalinic . . . . amongst others.

    As I said though. . . I reckon, despite the failures, that Dean Smith did a pretty good job, but it just goes to highlight how easy it is to criticise existing players and want better replacements and how difficult it can be to actually find them!

  25. Just watched the MOTD highlights and was imagining how excited we’d have been if our owners had decided we needed another striker and spent £65m on someone like Nunes. Yet again though, he missed several chances and despite the number of chances created by Liverpool, his performances rank below Ollie Watkins so far this season.
    I’m not saying i wouldnt want to see us splash out on a new strike partner as runtings suggested, but I’d prefer to see our existing options show their worth in a team that’s creating plenty of chances.
    I imagine that when you’re a striker in a dour team that creates few chances, the pressure to score when an opportunity finally does come along must be immense and maybe that’s part of the reason that both Ollie and Ings went off the boil?
    Ideally, our existing options up front will come good and we’ll strengthen further in midfield instead.

  26. Robbo- looking at Unais buys you have to take into account he had 3 windows I’m assuming 2 summer one winter. A 1 in four hit rate doesn’t look good on paper

  27. Match day, same side ,usual story underwhelmed ,the bench definitely needs to be strengthen ,no attacking options
    Watched the Canadian guy he talkS some sense

  28. Mark, you seem to be trying to force a point through about Emery having recruited poorly but I don’t think you’re drawing the right conclusions. I think your 1 in 4 success rate is wrong as some of the players started well under Emery but then faded under Arteta but for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right. On that basis, Dean Jones (of whom I am still a fan) should have found 7 real gems in amongst the 27 players he recruited. so who are they?
    If we apply the same principles you’ve applied to Emery’s choices then they need to succeed not just for him, but also for subsequent managers so that leaves us with:

    I think Cash could be included but as he’s not getting game time under Emery he doesn’t pass your test.
    I could include Targett, although he isn’t able to get into the Newcastle team
    oh. . . how could I miss Trezeguet?!

    that leaves 17 others who haven’t really made the grade.

    I’m not saying that Dean Smith recruited badly, I’m just trying to point out that player recruitment is a tricky business

  29. Bailey, Buendia and Watkins should be subbed. I’m a huge Buendia fan, but he’s dreadful today. Archer and Ings should leave if they’re not good enough to start the 2nd half

  30. Interesting half (not in terms of the football), but the 6-2-2 off the ball. Spurs started to find a way through, but I’ve never seen Villa do that.

    Anyway, yeah, something off with Buendia today, not his usual self at all. Curious to see how this one progresses.

  31. Robbo – you want us to only buy key players from now on, that doesn’t leave a fat lot of wiggle room , maybe his hit rate got better after Arsenal who knows but if we are talking buying a few players it better be good no? I was just looking at his record in the prem . Highly unlikely so many would of been no good for arteteta at all and Unai had 18 months at Arsenal . I was hoping for a bit more if I’m honest but bugger alls happened yet eh 🙂

  32. Any decent striker gets that shot off sooner took him so long

    First half he had awful technical ability to with his good chance

  33. Uni is fantastic

    If he can sign two quality strikers and a wide man we will be very good

    Our current forward options just aren’t good enough. Buendia isn’t working. Waste of money

    Maybe sign another quality cm

    Luiz might be out for a while

  34. Frem. If Uni is fantastic, how about giving him some time to see what he can do with this squad. Let him decide who can fit into the way he wants them to play.

  35. JC. . . It really was wasn’t it.
    What a relief to feel we have a manager who will ‘manage’ his players and also know how to ‘manage’ a match

  36. Underwhelmed before match,overwhelmed after
    Emery got everything spot on today subs were brilliant nice to see big men for us
    Martinez will have to sit out next match now,hope injuries to Luis mcginn aren’t serious we r desperately short
    What a great way to start new year
    Kamara was brilliant, Watkins also,in fact no one had a poor game

  37. JG. . . Nice summary
    As you hint. . . it will be interesting to see how Emery manages Martinez. Olsen did nothing wrong this afternoon although it would be fair to say that Spurs hardly tested him.

  38. JG, as you say, McGinn and Luiz out together would both be a big loss. As it stands I’d rather see us build our strength in midfield than up front

  39. Kamara, Young and Olsen were brilliant. Also thought SJM was much better. Watkins running and hold up play, making himself a nuisance- amazing in 2nd half

    I was a bit shocked to see Phil come on, but he was quality

  40. JC, great point about player “buy in”
    Emery is fortunate to have replaced a poor manager who had lost the confidence of his players but three wins, including 2 against top 6 clubs must surely cement his position as a serious manager in the eyes of the players and earn even more respect from them.

  41. JG. . . Absolutely fucking spot on!! It’s why I was so cross at the time about us taking on Gerrard.
    Our owners were prepared to invest in the club and squad but then decided to take a totally unfounded gamble on Gerrard. It’s the very last appointment that they should have skimped on.

  42. VillaMD. Coutinho is a tough one. He’s not really impressed since the opening few games, but in a really tense game, I relaxed a little whenever he was on the ball.

  43. R0bb0,

    On Phil, like I wrote.., I would have preferred a defensive player. However, Unai knew what he was doing. Phil got the ball, drew fouls, and wasted time

  44. r0bb0,

    It really is a critical period, especially when Unai’s asking them to do very different things. Gerrard did, too, and got off to a reasonable start, but he undermined himself with the players off the pitch, and then the system turned out to be pants and he had no other ideas.

    Like I say, I’ve never seen anything like that from Villa (last decade or so, at least). McGinn and Buendia tucked in by the fullbacks, then Kamara-Luiz, Watkins-Bailey. Really looked odd, but he gambled right by taking away the space for Spurs to counter/play into and daring them to find a way through.

    They almost did, but they were increasingly frustrated and out of ideas…wore them down mentally, really.

  45. VillaMD,

    Kamara is really showing. I’m liking him more and more each match (not that I ever didn’t like him).

    And Watkins made that opener, obviously, from being that tireless nuisance. Calm finish from Emi, and Spurs were stunned.

    His holdup play looks to be improving, too. Learned a couple tricks, it seems.

  46. JC. . . Interesting. . . and perhaps qe were helped by Son not quite being on song, so they lost the extra bit of creativity they needed to break us down?
    Were we not defending ‘quite’ as high as we did against Liverpool, or did Spurs just not have the pace to exploit it?

  47. It’s fair to point out that Watkins hasn’t been as decisive in front of goal as you’d hope, for a top premiership striker, but despite that, today’s assist has moved him up another place to 8th in the rankings.
    It would be great for us if we were to see him edging even higher over the coming weeks

  48. On Olsen:

    Yeah, he did fine, and that’s good. But I hope Emery gets this right.

    Whatever the history, unless Olsen has been proving himself to be the second coming Schmeichel (which he hasn’t), you can’t sit a WC Golden Glove winner. Not the kind of rift you want to start with, and I’ve no interest in Olsen being the #1 and seeing Emi leave.

    Maybe he’s leaving anyway, who knows, but absolutely no reason to give him any more incentive.

  49. r0bb0,

    That was defo the strategy…play deeper, invite them on, take away space and the wide game. Spurs obviously excel on the counter, so don’t give it to them. Be the countering side, instead.

    Maybe an off-day for Spurs, but he wasn’t going to give Son and Kane space to run riot, or lots of crosses for Kane to get on the end of.

  50. JC. . .fair point about Emi. I guess if there ‘was’ something in the rumours and he is at risk of leaving then we wouldn’t want to do anything that may harm his value either!

  51. JG,

    Would be lovely, wouldn’t it?

    Step 1, getting the most out of what you’ve got…seems to starting down that path. Fingers crossed it continues.

  52. To agree with you again . . and JC. . . it would be perfect if he was our Wenger.
    Wenger worked wonders with Arsenal’s budget too!
    Getting the most out of what we already have has to be the start point though. . . . and we need to give him time to try and do that.

  53. I’m floating on cloud 9. Crack, fizz, glug, glug… Repeat….. Repeat….

    By the end, we reduced them to a rabble. Tactical masterclass. Don’t wish to single players out but Dougie and Kamara were exceptional. How long has it taken Unai to see the merit of playing Cash in midfield? Something the other coaches never contemplated.

  54. Correct substitutions strangled the opposition. Can’t describe how good it is to roll Spurs over at their place. Booing from their fans at the end….music to my ears.

  55. Kane was plodding around exactly like we’ve witnessed with England. By contrast, Ollie was poetry in motion. If Kane is worth £30 million, how much for Ollie?

  56. Plug, you’re right that Dougie and Kamara marshalled the midfield really well, but I thought that in the second half, McGinn did well too.
    Cash in midfield ‘could’ be an interesting one and could be another small progression towards everyone being responsible for both attack and defense.
    I think the link about Emery’s player purchases that Mark posted suggested that he spoilt one player’s chances and confidence by playing him too far up the pitch so it’ll be interesting to see how Cash adapts

  57. Happy New Year Lifers. We’ll have some more of this stuff please Unai. Travelling support will float home. Bloody hell, Spurs and ManUre ragged, shagged and bagged by the boys. I need another beer.

  58. There’s a rumour that we’re looking for a new sporting director to take over from Lange and that Emery will be involved in the appointment.
    Tough for Lange, but interesting if true.
    If it IS true, then like the managerial role, this is NOT one to be skimped!

  59. Watching chelse,they r a mess and coming close to half a billion spent under new owners
    Chuck not getting a kick
    Potter looks out of his depth floundering

  60. Chuck who?
    Sometimes I wonder if I’m watching the same game as some of the posters. I thought the first half was good. And maybe Ollie isn’t really a striker but a really good playmaker.
    Olsen, with a couple of games under his belt will prove to be a very good keeper. His confidence was up From the liverpool game. Big guy. No on wants to tangle with him unless they want to be bruised and pushed aside.
    I really couldn’t see any poor performances.
    Cash in the mid field? That could definitely work. He’s up and down the entire pitch as a right back and good at it. Having to run only half of that would be a plus.
    And Frem, was it the game from the planet Zarb that you watched?

  61. James, maybe Chelsea players don’t rate Potter and aren’t playing for him. Some clubs just expect a world renowned manager and won’t play for a “Potter” type manager although Eddie Howe is doing well. Not saying NCFC expect a big name behind the bench.

  62. JG and Ian
    Oh ye. . . Chukwuemeka. . . had forgotten all about him!
    That was only his 4th substitute appearance and in total he’s played just 46 minutes of football.
    Oh well. . . as long as it was short term extra cash rather than long term career development he and his Dad were after, then he still made the right choice.

  63. Well well well, Ended up watching the game at the local as the Mrs commandeered the settee due to illness so I graciously left her to it. As it turned out I ended up sat next to a Spurs fan. He insisted form the off that Villa would beat them, I pointed out that we had only won 2 in the last 23 games against them, fair does we won one at the end of 21 season but the record is pretty poor for us.

    He pointed out that Spurs had no attacking players on the bench whereas Villa had, at least 4, bemoaned that the manager was ok managing world class players like Chelsea had (poor old spurs eh) but tactically was boring and unreactive (which was pretty accurate) in fact he looked like he had one foot out the door and was waiting for the call, he’s gone season end anyway and they want Poch back, only timing meant he didn’t get the gig instead and he still lives in the area etc. He bemoaned Villa’s ten man behind the ball tactics and I pointed out that’s how Unai plays it a lot of the time although we usually have a lapse at some point ( we didn’t). By half time we’d had no real shots and not one touch in their box. The game itself was pretty boring and the ref handed out Yellows for fouls you probably wouldn’t normally to Spurs players and they got even more frustrated.

    So second half rolled around and just as I pointed out we’d had a shot at goal to him we tucked the rebound away through great persistence by Ollie and Beundia suddenly appearing like the shopkeeper in the right place (see Mr Ben for shopkeeper reference). I then graciously went to the toilet telling him it will be even by the time I’m back, eerily it wasn’t. By this time he was bemoaning being outplayed in Midfield and I could only apologise for being very un-Villa like.
    When the second went in it was ironically while he was in the toilet (always works).

    When harry Kanes shot went about ten yards wide I thought we might just win this, Spurs looked devoid of ideas and we looked to pick them off as they usually did against us for so many games except we we were not playing that game today. The Spurs chap put a fiver on Conte being the next to get sacked at 25/1 which instantly turned to 8/1 as spurs fans piled in I assume.

    Now Spurs were about as poor as I have seen them for a long time, Just as Liverpool had been against us and Leicester ( who did oblige by scoring two own goals from a winning position) The main thing was we stuck to the plan, I fancy that had we been away last game we would of too.

    I wasn’t expecting the win today but I did learn that you don’t know how other teams are doing until you meet a fan. These are precisely the games though that could see us hit that top 8, 3 wins out of 4 for Unai against top half sides and add Brentford to that its won 4 lost 2 since stevo left us, 6th in the form table heading into the window and some easier games before City and Arsenal in feb. Win those and we will be somewhere like.

  64. Still buzzing from yesterday. Mark, you was way too gracious with that Spurs fan. I’ve worked for years in a company who’s head office is in Laandan. Over the years I’ve been ridiculed, laughed out of the office, pilloried, verbally abused and had the micky taken after every Arse and Spurs defeat. They’ve even phoned me at home after games to continue the verbal assault.

    So when yesterday happened, you know exactly what’s coming from me. In spades. Nothing spared. Full broadside. All week.

  65. Plug- I was gracious for me mate, at one point we were discussing mings and Kanes height and how Kane is very good on the ball for a tall chap. One of the punters said your 6’2″ John aren’t you? (jokingly to the spurs fan ) I graciously asked him if that was circumference.

  66. Rather than find the words myself, i thought I’d just copy and paste what a journalist said about Watkins:

    “Watkins, 27, has been a real success story under Emery who has kept faith in him despite Danny Ings’ double down at Brighton prior to the World Cup break. Watkins, a proper menace against Tottenham, has either scored (2) or assisted (2) in every one of his matches (4) under Emery having missed the win over Brighton with illness.”

    I only do this to emphasise to any who may doubt Watkins, or any other player, that if qe have any confidence in Emery at all, we really should give him the chance to see if he’s able to bring the best performances out of them.
    Inevitably, different players thrive under different managers and playing systems so let’s see which ones thrive under Emery.

  67. Mark, I agree that Spurs looked poor so I’m not getting too carried away either, but 3 wins out of 4 against top 8 teams (when we played them) is an impressive start. If we’ve happened to meet teams having an off day then that’s fine by me. . . we’re due a ‘lucky general’. I
    It’s starting to feel more than that, but as you infer, it’s the next 4 games that will start to show if we have a squad and manager who really can pull wins out of the bag against ‘top’ teams but also, get wins and draws from the teams that we ‘should’ be beating.

  68. Were Spurs having an off day or did we just squeeze the fight out of them?
    I reckon it was a bit of both. Your conversation with the spurs fan sort of summed it up nicely. They were indeed missing some players, and I thought Son and Kane looked a bit off, but I reckon that was largely down to the way we stopped them from playing.
    In the second half. . . well we just seemed to grow, and were by some way the better side.

  69. Robbo- Spurs have conceded 1st in their last 10 games so yeah they are poor for them lately. They do also have the best record for coming back from being down in a match this season hence their position in the league. So definitely a combo of them being poor and us improving for me, we certainly didn’t allow them back in even if I was surprised to be ahead.

  70. If we found the next Haaland then fair enough but I cannot see that happening so the support around him need to step up and by doing that create more problems for teams and more space for him.

  71. Mark: “For me its not a matter of replacing Watkins its finding the partners to suit him.”

    I’m sure that’s what the majority of Villa fans feel.

    It will make best football and financial sense if Emery can get the best out of Ollie

  72. With reference to an earlier post from rOBbo about the rumour of a Sporting Director change. Unai found one or two diamonds in the South American market. Maybe he knows a good scouting network down there. If so, we should be looking to tap into it. The marketplace in that part of the world will be cheaper too. Wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of Lange but some structural changes could happen.

  73. Family day yesterday, so recorded the match, making sure that I did not know the score before I watched the game at 10.00pm. So pleased that I did. What a game to watch, as if it were live, with all the excitement and drama.
    What a game it was. a very slow and solid start it was with no clue to what would happen in the second half. I cannot really add to all the comments and drama which has already been recorded, other than to say how much I enjoyed the huge performances from Kamara, Luiz, Olsen, Young, and Buendia. How good is Kamara becoming, a player we signed on a free!!! Must be the bargain of the summer window, and how much better than Bissouma.
    Douglas Luiz is also growing game by game once more! (is that thanks to Alisha!!!??)
    Olsen too had easily his best game in a Villa shirt and how confident was he, throwing the ball out so well, commanding his box and plucking the ball out of the air with ease.
    Ollie is also starting to show real confidence again, and starting to think about what he is doing with the ball. His pass back to Buendia was sublime for the first goal.
    Fascinated to see what may become of a Cash / Young partnership on the right side.
    Have no worries over the Martinez situation, with him most probably returning against Stevenage, having given Olsen a much needed run of matches to bring him up to the mark.
    Really don’t see anything in the Pickford rumours that he could be a replacement if we sell Martinez. Like Luiz, he isn’t going anywhere.
    Really looking forward to Wednesday night to go and watch the Wolves game and have a couple of beers in the Tavern!
    I am just over the moon with Unai and his dedication, clarity and determination to make sure Villa end up in the top 6/8. and win a cup!!
    I believe that any player that is at Villa now has the chance to make it under Unai. The future is bright… the future is claret and blue!!!

  74. MK,

    Regarding your Spurs buddy, I know none of us care who they might not have had on the bench. Kane-Son have a far better goal-scoring record than any two we can put up front.

    And I’m sure what was out there cost more than Villa.

    Yeah, they’ve under-delivered so far, have fallen behind and come back. Lots of criticism of the style and stalling progress under Conte. Don’t care. After the match all I was hearing was Spurs this, Spurs that and thinking Spurs always fall short, and Conte doesn’t stay anywhere for long.

    But if they’re going to let us fly under the radar, probably for the best.

  75. Regarding Watkins, it’s defo the case about who’s around. He’ll put in the work, made the first out of pure graft. But others need to take advantage. Buendia did yesterday, then McGinn finally found a touch of class and Luiz pitched in.

    We need more from Bailey. Maybe it’ll come. When goals come from elsewhere, it’ll help take the pressure off Ollie.

  76. Guess what I’m saying is that we need someone fast and clinical to work with Ollie. Sounds easy, but it would make all the graft pay off more often.

    Not sure why Archer doesn’t get more of a look…maybe he will, but that’s the right kind of complement.

  77. JC – the spurs chap just echoed what I have heard from so many Villa fans, just shows you no matter the level the anxiety for many remain and the addiction of winning is a hard one to give up. Right on que Liverpools not entirely earned winning streak ends at Brentford whom we stuffed recently. We may just be blossoming as others flames dies for a while, a cup or cup run plus high finish or even Europe for next season don’t seem so far fetched suddenly. As I said next few games are crucial. Add well to a rising team with confidence with no need to rush is a lot different to fire fighting the minute you come through the door. Did wonder how the World Cup would affect things but a raft of games so soon after has to be in our favour.

  78. Frem if the new striker ended up where Watkins did maybe , the chance may never of arisen without Watkins on the pitch you just don’t know. Look at Liverpool what are they not scoring? Spurs for that matter.

  79. Having seen the unreal improvement under Unai, I’m not bothered about signings. Whatever Unai wants is fine by me. He has improved every single player. It’s hard to believe, but living the dream. I was hoping for Poch, but over the moon with Unai. Had no idea what a genius he is, and also seems a really nice bloke (unlike Klopp and Pep)

  80. VillaMD,

    Yeah, lots of talk about Poch, and sure, he’s a name, but him sitting sourly on the bench at Spurs sticks with me. I think I like Unai’s energy better.

    And from what I’ve seen so far, Poch can’t be any smarter.

  81. Frem,

    Would we have won three of the last four, all above us, with your dream manager Gerrard in charge?

    If we had Haaland, yeah, we’d score more. We don’t. Nunez? Different story. I’m going to leave it up to the guy who knows 1000 times more than you and I combined to pick and judge where we go from here.

    You should probably do the same.

  82. John McGinn has given a few insights into life under Emery. Apparently, the key message from the manager and coaching staff is to “stay humble, stay focused”
    I wonder which player’s name came into your mind when you read that?

  83. I know no-one will agree with me, but can you imagine what an Adama Traore could do under Unai Emery, and operating amongst Ollie, Leon Bailey, Cash and Buendia! He is the fastest player in the Premier league, virtually impossible to tackle and can operate in any area of the pitch. He has just not found a place at Wolves with the changes in manager, but I still feel that he has huge potential under the right manager, and could be got for a reasonable fee.
    I shall be fascinated to see our team for Wednesday and our game plan, as well as which Wolves team turns up on the day.
    The biggest advantage we had over Spurs on Monday , was they were without Bentacur, who we had hoped to sign, as he has been their mid-field driver this season.

  84. Fascinating,
    I have just read an article on Wolves and Adama Traore is saying how the new manager, Spaniard, Lopetegui, has transformed Wolves since his arrival, and got the players believing in themselves, much as Unai has done at Villa. They gave United a good game, only losing to a Rashford goal.
    Sounds like it is going to be a hard game on Wednesday, with Traore most probably being involved!

  85. Agreed PP, Wolves are going to be a tough nut to crack. But I disagree about Adama Traore. The Scottish Cafu locked him up during the play offs so I don’t fancy him. Kadan Young at 16 looks a better prospect. Then there’s Raikhy also. Unai does bring the kids in, as shown at the Arse with Saka and Martinelli. I trust his judgement.

  86. Plug,
    I absolutely agree about bringing on the kids, Grealish’s development stumbled after Wembley cup final, for a long time. Archer is nearly 21 and should have been getting first team experience last season so that he would have the experience to be involved this season. It is sad that we hold many of these youngsters back too long in their development, and consequently lose them.
    However my point was that Unai could be the manager to get the best out of Traore, but apparently Lopetegui is very familiar with him from Spain, and may end up getting the best out of him if he stays.

  87. Wolves problem is they have no no9 for the balls traore delivers at the moment because Jimenez is not fully fit, the also took Costa off on the weekend when Traore came on so reducing his targets further. He’s a bit of a wildcard, not sure he’d suit unais approach.

  88. Someone pointed out that we’re ranked 6th in the form guide over the past 6 games. You could add to that the fact that we’ve hardest the hardest run of 6 fixtures of any team in the top half of the table.
    Now we get to see how we’ll perform against teams that we might ‘hope’ to be winning against.

  89. There are strong rumours that Archer may be loaned out again. If true, you’d have to imagine that would mean that we’re seriously looking at bringing another striker in.

  90. JG, you reckon we’ll be challenging Chelsea. . . . you mean on spend in the upcoming window or number of players?
    I don’t see us buying many players this time round. . . .but we’ll see. Can’t see us going for a well known, expensive player like Lukaku though!

  91. Plug and PP, Adama Traore is a difficult one. It seems that it’s hard to find wingers with ALL the attributes to make a great player. They either have the speed but not the guile; the trickery but not the calm head, that sees, or finishes chances; the ability to beat players down the wing but not the ability to accurately cross the ball. . . . . .maybe because they’re moving too fast!

    Traore is one of those that gets you excited as soon as he receives the ball but then you look at his stats and see that he’s not ranked in the top 100 midfielders in the premier league or even in the top 4 for Wolves. Having said that, I bet I start to feel nervous each time he gets the ball tonight (if he plays)

    He reminds me a bit of Gabby. I remember being in the stands for his first home game and people physically edging forward off their seats each time he received the ball but we all know that he just lacked that bit of skill or awareness that would have made him great. Having said that, he’s still, by some way, our top all time goal scorer and I can’t see Traore doing that for any team he plays for.

  92. Have to agree with r0bb0 on Traore. Hell of an athlete, but no real end product for all that. Agree that the lack of a true target doesn’t help his stats or contribution.

    He’s matured since his time with us, but still ends up being underwhelming even though he does scare anyone who’s trying to stop him.

    Identifying true top-class talent, ain’t always that easy, which is why the big boys go ahead and splash on known quantities. And obviously that doesn’t always work, either.

  93. I think I’d only enjoy being a manager where the stakes are very low. And even then, probably not that much. Be better to work with kids, just keep it fun.

  94. I’m going to quickly put up a fresh page for tonight…Likely won’t be around for the match, the missus has been having an ongoing health issue, but you never know.

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