Been a rather busy stretch for me, so I’ve not offered up much in the way of bigger thoughts, let alone match previews. So, here’s me trying. Arsenal match largely excluded since I couldn’t watch and haven’t seen a replay, yet.

Emi Martinez
Seeing a lot of talk about our Emi post World Cup. Me, I don’t quite understand. He’s an emotional person, and we’ve seen temporary dips in the past following international involvements and his father’s health. Unless he and Emery are truly butting heads, or Unai wants a more natural sweeper-keeper, as I’ve read, I wouldn’t be looking to offload him, and £30m seems too low.

What’s odd to me is that recently he has been bolder (on instruction, one assumes), coming way out, and also quicker distributing. The quality of the distribution seems to have improved (read he’s about 70% in accuracy for the season). I think for him, it’s simply adapting to what Emery wants.

If he’d stayed home for the fourth we likely lose 3-2 instead of 4-2. If he broke some explicit or tacit guidance from Emery, then fair play, he shouldn’t be doing that, and he knows now. I can see telling him cut to down the time-wasting antics.

Playing it quicker is certainly something that can be coached into him. That’s just patterns and recognition. And options. If he wants to move, well, he wants to move. But he’s big, commands his box, is an excellent shot-stopper, and we’ve seen him perform under extreme pressure on the world’s biggest stage.

Playing Out From the Back
If Emery says we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it. You could say that if we don’t have the players, why bother? And I get that.

But if you don’t do it, you’re never going to learn, and Emery can’t go and replace everyone. With Kamara, Luiz, Mings, Young, and Moreno, we ought to be able to see more consistent success.

Emi’s distribution will be important, obviously.

If it’s breaking down because players are being too slow making decisions, not showing enough awareness, are playing themselves into trouble, persisting and giving them the experience is the only way for them to learn. And if they can’t learn, we’ll know what to expect. They will, too.

It could very well be the case that Carlos coming back in could make a big difference. Not sure if he’s going to take Mings’ or Konsa’s place, but right now, Konsa seems the least capable in this regard.

Cash and Young? A lot depends on what’s happening in front of them as well as around them. Bailey’s missed a lot of football, so he’s still learning, really. But he doesn’t seem to be taking lessons on board very quickly. He’ll only be useful if he accepts that his tricks aren’t working in the PL and adapts his game.

Likewise, Ramsey flashes, is decent going forward, but I’m not sure he’s a starter for a top 8-10 side. Would rather have Eze all day long. Still young, yes, but playing out demands a certain level of awareness and skill that I don’t know he has. You have to move, drag players, present an option or open up space, receive well, make decisions quickly and deliver a quality ball.

I think Buendia, Luiz and Kamara can play it out, but it takes 8-9 players who can consistently beat a man, make a turn, or deliver a quality long outlet pass or a long and wide switch.

We see it done all the time, usually with three or four quick but highly accurate passes. And yes, sometimes it will break down even for the best (see below). There are times to punt it, and times for long passes to get in behind.

This has long been a big issue for me. Given how often our players play off, I’ve never been able to tell whether it’s been more by design or lack of courage. But those saying you can’t press without being aggressive are right, and everyone has to be all in, ganging up on particular players or areas of the pitch, anticipating and challenging outlets immediately. We see it sometimes, usually when we’re chasing. Otherwise…? I think mostly back to the early days of Smith’s tenure and the team looking for fast starts.

I’ve seen over and over that opponents stick much closer to us, challenging every reception, and it stops any rhythm, creates a cascade of poor passes and receptions (which also relates to playing out), or simply lost possession. We’re better countering because there’s less chance to apply pressure and more space to work with.

A lot of this could well be fitness. A lot, mentality. A lot, simply physical characteristics. That’s Emery’s job, seeing what the mix is and whether it can be fixed with any given player.

State of the Squad
It’s obvious we need upgrades, and obvious Emery wants them. And in retrospect, it seems the January window just wasn’t going to give us what we wanted at the right prices.

I’ve no real idea what Emery’s thinking, but the persistence of certain links probably tell us things.

My gut feeling right now is that Ramsey, Bailey, and Traoré can all be replaced/demoted (and probably will be). Perhaps McGinn and Digne. Ollie can be upgraded as a pure striker, of course, but it won’t be cheap. Young’s been a marvel, but he can’t keep going forever, and Cash is probably not going to be the sort of deeper, defensively strong RB that the system needs. I don’t think Konsa is good enough on the ball. Mings, probably just enough, and he’d benefit from a more assured partner. As would our transition game.

The Buendia/Coutinho situation will be interesting. If Phil can get back to his best consistently, who knows? Maybe that makes an attractive move for him easier. Maybe he’s back to being a 60-70–minute starter. Buendia fits the profile in terms of touch, control, vision. It may seem like he’s not ‘controlling’ games, but he wriggles out of a lot of tight spots, makes a quick pass, sees runs, keeps it moving. He has range and touch. He’s aggressive. He may not be fast enough. Does he allow Phil (and his wages) to leave? Does he need upgrading? Buendia’s run/‘dummy’ dragged a defender and freed up Phil for his goal….which is simply to say that not all contributions get noted in stats. I feel comfortable when he’s on the ball, unlike Bailey, for example.

I focus on this because the role is obviously crucial. I like Buendia. I like Phil when he’s playing up to his quality. I’m not wedded to any outcome, but we know these players are few and far between. Can what we have work so Emery can focus on other areas?

Regardless, virtually all players can be upgraded beyond your World XI. See the comings and goings at all the top clubs.

Bottom Line
For Villa, so much of what we admire in other sides is the range of passing, control, decision-making, and awareness. Villa just don’t have enough of it. We also don’t have enough aggression, pace, and perhaps stamina.

May sound like a lot, but after some clear-outs that set the stage for the summer, I can see us getting four, maybe five players that could transform the squad, with players we see starting now dropping to the bench. In other words, there are players out there who possess the needed qualities and they won’t all need to break the bank. Everyone else seems to find them (and now we’re reading about a potential change at Sporting Director).

We may already have one of those players in Carlos. And Duran might well fill that hole on the right.

But incomings who fit and understand the type of football Emery likes could slot in fairly quickly. And that means we could be challenging for Europe next season.

In the meantime, we’re going to see a continued insistence on Emery’s approach (which is flexible), with the final placing being secondary. We’ve also heard Emery explicitly say 2-3 years, and he’s talking top half/near Europe. We can’t expect mastery of yet another system in a few weeks.

Are we capable of 8th? Maybe, if everything goes right. But, and I know many disagree, I’m just not sure it’s in our locker yet, week in week out. But, win some big six-pointers and you never know.

What we know is that Emery knows what he’s doing. He’s not going to change his philosophy. He’s going to instill it and find the players for it if he can’t get the ones he has now to execute it. I’m pretty sure he’s got very definite changes in mind. He talked again about what they cover in training versus what’s happening on the pitch. (He did take the blame first.)

Does making a late run help recruitment? Yes. Does Europe? Certainly. Does top-half? Yes. And I do think a top-half finish is achievable.

Main thing is to retain some perspective and a little patience, as Emery keeps saying.

Over to you.

Comments 59

  1. That’s an excellent assessment JC. It details all the salient points and I can’t add anything of substance to it. Agree that recent opposition seem sharper than us, are playing tight on us when they’re not in possession and shifting it into spaces when they are. We don’t seem to have the same intensity in our marking and our pace and fitness appears short by comparison. Opponents have identified our weakness at playing out from the back so press quickly and in numbers knowing there are dividends to be had.

    Despite this, we’ve moved up the table. At the moment I can see a top half finish. Which means personnel recruitment in the summer. Who makes way for them, I’ll leave that to Emery as I trust his judgement which is well beyond mine.

    Patience will be rewarded. When you see none of the struggling clubs who’ve sacked their managers have been tempted by Gerrard, Beale jumping ship again a few months after leaving Villa and Critchley being dumped soon after appointment, Purslow has got some questions to answer.

  2. Cheers, Plug.

    You know, I don’t think Gerrard could’ve hurt himself worse with his tenure at Villa. And I’m sure his ego won’t allow the Championship, never mind League 1.

    I think he’d struggle in both. Saw the ‘links’ to PSG and thought, “Please god let it be true…He’ll destroy them in six months.”

    Speaking of Purslow (& Co), I’m very curious as to whether Emery has actually recommended a change at sporting director. If he has, that alone has to mean he won’t be listening to Lange unless it’s a player Unai has already proposed.

    The way he talked about Mings’ contract extension makes me think it wouldn’t have happened (for sell-on or staying) if Emery hadn’t been on board.

  3. So yeah…Purslow’s got a lot to answer for. NSWE should at least restrict him to non-footballing decisions.

    Which means they should cut him loose. They have to know a ton of savvier people.

  4. It’s game day. Everton in the cross hairs. Will Unai start with Duran over Bailey? Cash over Young? Moreno over Digne? Questions. Answers soon.

  5. Yeah, I’d like three, Plug. Emery was fuming after last week, doesn’t seem too much to ask.

    Take a draw, too, but I only like settling for a point when we’re coming from behind.

  6. Interesting half…curious to see how Emery changes it up. Just lacking that little bit of quality in some telling moments, struggling under pressure again.

    Cash just barely hanging in, no secret they’re going to keep going to McNeil.

  7. Dyche ball looking more danderous than Emery ball.McNeil messing us up on the left. If we didn’t have the anti winger red scouse in charge over summer, McNeil could well have been at Villa. Still wish we had got Tarkowski instead of £30M Carlos.

  8. Well, big win. Three points, yes, stopping the ‘slide’, yes. But some resiliency, in the end.

    Again, not aggressive enough, lots of bad decisions, almost lost their heads, but got through it.

  9. Don’t know why it happened but McNeil just dissappeared from the game and then Everton were no threat and Villa took over the game with Buendia (shades of Gordon Cowans?) coming on and doing his usual scrapping business.

  10. Wow!
    A good solid win in the end, and all about the substitutions, especially Buendia, the little magician. His only weakness being too easily knocked off the ball.
    Good to see the whole midfield working harder. I am sure the more they play together, the better they will be. Good to see more and better contribution from John McGinn, who could be such a much better player and make the difference.
    Good performance from Kamara and Ramsey, in fact the only weakness was Bailey today.
    Good all round defensive display today, and Martinez ws better too, apart from getting another silly yellow card.

  11. Mcginn plays in an advanced role gets 2 assists, Bailey? Watkins setting records for consecutive goals in 5 games and a near 35 yard shot, Miraculous, Emi Beundia, what a player, Villa game plan at the back and the passing more WTF, Martinez looking less big headed and on his game.

  12. Starting the play from the back is definitely the way to go but it has to be initiated a lot quicker. Lots of standing around like statues gives the opposition time to mark their man and be ready for what ever happens. With Martinez being a bit slow with his looking for an out is the beginning of this problem. Well at least to me. You can’t turn it into something akin to a throw-in where everyone is marked.
    Still, there has been a steady improvement and I’m looking forward to Crystal Palace.

  13. Well that suddenly feels a whole lot better.
    Despite the disappointing run of 3 losses, we’re still ranked 7th over the last 8 games . . . and despite those games being in a tougher than average set of fixtures.
    It’s not surprising that 3 losses in a row will start to change perceptions of our capabilities, but the facts suggest that Emery is at last starting to bring out our capabilities as a top 8 squad.
    A few strong additions in the summer of players that Emery really believes will fit his way of playing and things really could start to get exciting

  14. Oh dude…..Some result that. We were under the pump for long periods but it was a classic Unai away from home display.

    I didn’t think it was a penalty when SJM went down. Their guy appeared to get a toe on the ball. But I’ll take it because Ollie didn’t get one in the first half when he was felled by Pickford.

  15. What on earth was Konsa doing lying on the goal line wide of the goal and preventing a goal kick by flicking it back into the danger area? FFS. Good job Tyro was awake.

    Pleased no end for the away support. They’ll float home. Pleased also I’ve got a bulk supply of underwear in stock, but I’m getting through them quickly with all these incompetent attempts to play out from the back.

  16. Fabulous scoring run Ollie. As others have said, Bailey didn’t contribute much. And yep, Buendia’s goal was very well taken. He turned 3 defenders with one shoulder drop. Tarkowski? Ha, ha, ha.

  17. Ian, you’re surely right about us needing some faster decision making for the playing out from the back strategy to work. One of the key elements for that will be Emi learning not to try and take as long as possible every single time.
    It’ll be quite tricky for him to change mindset but if you can believe what you read online, he is very focused on being the best he possibly can be, so he’ll work at it till he gets it right.

  18. Mark, I know you’ve said it before but it really is ridiculous that the club decided to hang on to Ollie. OK he’s been lucky enough to be the first player in Villa’s history to score in 5 consecutive Premier league games but let’s not forget how many he would have scored if only he’d been any good.

  19. Have been away for a week and only just read your opening piece JC.
    Easy to agree with nearly everything in there.
    We really do need to let Emery have his chance to coach what we have and replace where he thinks we can improve.
    It seems the one area we may be in disagreement is over the potential of our current squad where I seem to be more optimistic than you on how far he could take our existing squad of players.
    I’d also be very wary of thinking we could upgrade Ollie. Assuming that there will be a budget for how much Emery can spend, that’s not the position where I’d be focusing, largely because, as you say, any perceived upgrade would likely be very expensive.
    I say ‘perceived’ upgrade becuase of the inherent risk of bringing any new player into the squad.
    Maupay for example looks a shadow of his former self. . . Good players don’t always click so if the budget has a limit I’d spread it in other parts of the squad in preference

  20. Still buzzing this morning. We definitely have the Indian sign on Everton since our promotion. Played 8, won 6, drawn 2. They must be as sick of us as we are of Man Ure and the Arse.

  21. James, we know now that Gerrard picked the players, decided on formation, blamed the players and little else. He left the coaching to Beale and later to Critchley. Judging by their subsequent performances in management even that lacked best use of resources and tactics.

    He screwed up his captain. He hired Critchley who couldn’t even join them in Oz for pre season due to lack of a valid passport. As you say….bad.

  22. Best analysis i have read on the Villa in awhile. I agree on most points about the squad highlighted by John.
    My simple analysis on this squad is that for Emery’s system to work it depends on a very efficient double pivot. For now is Kamara and Luiz and is working ok. However, i think Guendouzi will eventually displace Luiz if he signs. A forward thinking double pivot. Luiz will never be an elite midfielder, Guendouzi has all the attributes.
    On another point, i think he should give Irengoubam a chance. I watched a ton of QPR’s games this season and he has stood out on countless matches. He scored against Blackburn yesterday and he was playing in a very advanced position. Of all our prospects out on loan, he is the one who has the best chance of making it imo. There is a reason Dortmund were interested a while back.

  23. r0bb0,

    Was thinking the same about Maupay, complete shadow of his former self.

    With Ollie, it’s more an abstract consideration. MK and Frem going round comes to mind: As soon as you start harping on Watkins he scores. Main idea is that you can probably upgrade just about anyone. Which makes me think about Mane, and some pointing to his absence as a large part of Liverpool’s inability to play the way they have been…And that was all about the pressure and danger. There are some players who are perfect for a system and replacing them can be hard.

    Was seeing a stat on Ollie’s xG, which is very low…say 0.3 or so per match. He does very well given that. He also does well considering Bailey has frankly been terrible. Phil’s going to be out for a bit, but there just aren’t many goals coming from elsewhere consistently enough.

    I really liked the peno conversion. That was a cool, confident strike.

    Also couldn’t believe Buendia’s goal. When the pass was a little behind him I thought the chance was gone. To open himself back up and beat Pickford near-post from that angle was quality.

  24. Well Danny Ings proved yesterday if he is used correctly, he will score the goals, and so perhaps, one that got away there!
    Palace should be beatable, but Liverpool struggled against them, and Palace’s failure is overplaying their passes, and not being clinical . Can’t believe that Eze and Edouard started on the bench, they could have made a difference.
    We will definitely need to be on top of our game, not allowing any poor decisions in set pieces, and absolutely clinical with our attacks.
    This has to be a real must win to show where we want to be.

  25. Jackvilla,

    I’m with you on Luiz. Decent enough, but not the level we need. Kamara also needs to raise his aggression. He seems to have lost a little confidence.

    Hope you’re right about Tim. Dunno that I have a great feeling about our youngsters getting much of a look-in at this moment in time, though.

    If we could get up and boss some games, they’d get more chances. But the Championship is a good proving ground for him.

  26. PP,

    Agreed. I hate playing Palace. We just don’t match up well with them at all. They should be further up the table. But as you say, they just aren’t clinical enough, so we’re generally in with a shout.

    Can’t say I’m looking forward to Bailey and Cash facing Eze and Zaha.

  27. JC- on your header son 😉 The biggest thing we lack is awareness, that single factor delays everything a player does and should have already guided what he is doing in the now. One caveat, it has to be instantaneous and relaxed at the same time not forced or you see passing for passing sake when the receiving player is not in a position to receive, or the passing player missed the window when he was. Its a dance that has to flow. it also underlies all defensive and attacking endeavours, given that this is elite level and very few are massively faster than there peers its quickness or thought or freedom because they are not thinking that makes a player appear quicker than he is.

    Your right on Watkins XG he has finished with aplomb chances that really should not have gone in on probability, yet with newfound confidence they are, if we can up the easy chances for him he is a keeper because there are not many that out work him in world football.

  28. Latest clickbait on Newsnow Aston Villa. Spurs are going to sign Martinez in the summer and Arsenal are going to sign Watkins. NO ifs. No buts. It’s done!

  29. Ollie I would not want to lose, Emi Martinez if he wants out can go but not to the prem, if we could get big money for him and Everton go down then Pickford would be perfect, he is much better with his feet, he would be in demand though.

  30. John, it’s a thing until it isn’t. It seems that Villa start most games looking quite fluent and sharp on the pitch. As soon as a goal appears on the opposition ledger things tend to become more tenuous and Villa play degrades. And then like someone mentioned a week or so ago they throw caution to the wind as there isn’t anything to lose. It’s all about confidence under pressure and not losing your form if you go 1 or 2 down.

  31. The person who spotted, recruited, trained and coached the best goalkeeper in the world has no place at VP. This seems a bit wasteful and shitty to me!

  32. Ian,

    Our arcs in games is really interesting. Sort of confounds analysis (suppose it does for all teams at different points).

    Everyone talks about confidence, and there’s a lot to it. You’re braver, quicker, freer. Then you go down, and what’s the response? Confidence you can reassert yourself, or fear of making an error, going two down, etc.

    So, agreed about confidence under pressure, and it has to do with the individual and trust in others. Players not joining the press, for example, or not doing the simple things. You think twice about giving Bailey the ball if he’s just going to dribble into dead ends and turn it over instead of playing the system.

    That’s why I always intertwine awareness, decision-making, mentality. Different things, but all parts of the package a top player has to have.

  33. The AVFC accounts for 2021/22 have been reported as showing a small profit of £400k over the period. It’s a step in the right direction after the eye watering losses of the preceding 2 years and confirms that Nass and Wes have been busy stabilising the club and moving it in the direction required that other clubs can only watch and envy.

    The building blocks are in place for further improvements in the coming seasons. We’re fortunate to have these two gents after previous owners almost destroyed us.

  34. Ollie finds himself in a unique position this weekend against Palace. Score, and he joins Andy Gray on 6 top flight league goals in 6 consecutive top flight matches. Wow, that’s heady company. Andy Gray was the best striker at VP in my lifetime. I can only merit the change to Ollie’s fortunes as down to Unai playing to his strengths. I do hope Ollie nails one on Saturday.

  35. JC/MK. Agreed, awareness is critical. It saves a split second of thinking time and can be used to unlock well drilled opposition systems. I don’t think it can be taught, it’s more of a natural attribute. Players either have it or don’t.

    Looks like Zaha will be missing at the weekend. Palace will still be a tough nut to crack, but I’m looking forward to the game.

  36. Plug,

    ‘Awareness’ is interesting, and like you say, isn’t necessarily something that can taught. Football brain and all that.

    At the same time, when you have a system and players are drilled enough to know what to expect from each other, it makes the decisions easier and faster, such that you’re not really ‘thinking’, just doing.

    Most of the time, when I talk about decision-making I’m focusing on moments where awareness and the consequent action come together: players choosing to settle or keep playing head tennis; trying to take on an extra player; fighting a lost cause to keep the ball in play (and setting someone free) instead of letting it run out; looking for an ambitious pass when they just need to cycle it; trying to dribble out from pressure at the back instead of just thumping it.

    Basically, it’s when I yell, “Why the hell are you doing that?!”

    There are better examples, but that’s the kinds of things coming to mind atm.

Leave a Reply