Preseason is now history, and Villa have come through the summer’s six matches unbeaten. Not a bad showing given the competition and some of the conditions, and from the outside, it seems to have been a very useful training camp.

In the end, Villa notched wins over  Fulham, Lazio and Valencia, while drawing with Walsall, Newcastle and Brentford. And in both the 3-3 draws, there were periods were Villa were rampant and could easily have had more.

Me, I think the Summer Series games against PL sides was a good idea. It wasn’t the sexiest set of fixtures, but it was real-world stuff. The heat and humidity were a factor, but there was a level of intensity that’s often missing in preseason, and the games were obviously a reminder of what lies ahead starting this weekend.

Then the two matches against Lazio and Valencia gave the side a taste of what they’ll be facing in the Conference side of proceedings. All in all, you’d have to say Villa passed all the tests. Fitness should be good, and no one got overworked.

Additionally, with five tough games in two weeks, we saw that Villa look to be close to the required depth to compete on more than one front. I’ve read that Monchi and Co. want to see what the Conference will hold before committing to further signings. That may not be entirely true, but as always, we’ll see. I’m sure there’s also a matter of outgoings to factor in. But, if Villa get to the group stage, we could well see some late action we may not otherwise.

So what did we learn?

For me, the main thing is that Emery’s core side from last season seem to have his ideas down. They’re playing well and quickly together, and when on song, they can execute beautifully. Ollie, Diaby, Buendia and McGinn have all scored, and I was particularly happy to see SJM net with a trademark finish. Those are the goals we need. Tielemans has slotted in effortlessly, and his quality is clear to see.

I think perhaps the biggest concern I have looking ahead is a second striker. Archer is undoubtedly talented, but he’s not there yet, and Duran seems to be a ways away, as well, if he’s even still part of the plan. Missing all of the preseason games hasn’t done him any good, and it seems a strange situation. So we need another option there. If Ollie goes down, well…and I don’t think Felix is it. Clearly doesn’t want to come if any of the talk is to be believed, and I’m not convinced even if he does secretly want the move.

Diaby will be interesting as well once he gets settled in. Not yet seeing a huge impact in other phases, but he has found the back of net twice, which is good, and he should have a bigger influence as time goes by. He ought to draw attention in the meantime, if nothing else.

Overall, it’s been free-flowing at times, some very tidy moves, and 14 goals in six matches (with plenty of chances left begging) is a decent return all things considered. There’s been a lot of swapping around, which has to be helpful for everyone. Different views of the game, different asks, different drilling.

Fans will differ on whether Coutinho should go. Me, I think Bailey’s time should be up if we can find a buyer. I can’t imagine Philogene would be any real drop-off from what I’ve seen, and will probably only get better.

At the back, we’ve got a bit of work to do. Emery’s been playing with the back-three concept, and on paper that’s fine. But it looks like it will take Torres some time to get comfortable out wide, if he ever does. Digne’s status seems to be up in the air, no idea when Moreno is returning. So I think Digne will stay unless we have another deal lined up and he can be moved on. Cash needs competition/rotation, and I’d rather have the option of a standard back four that’s solid on either side. Young played a lot of games last season, and his caginess did the side a lot of good off the ball.

Also not sure what’s going on with Carlos. I’ve not been tracking too closely, but he hasn’t been included the last two matches, and someone in Italy is now talking about his agent offering him to Inter. Could well be made up, but you never know. I’d be happier selling (though I’m sure at quite a loss) than face the prospect of him having troubles with returning from such a long and serious injury layoff. Anyway, that’s another we’ll see resolved by the end of the window.

Me, I think if we have Cash, Konsa, Mings, and Moreno in you’d see things tighten up back to the way they were. It’s going to be dodgy in the Prem facing a lot of high pressure with confusion/hesitation in the LB space with the Torres experiment. Some of the turnovers against Valencia would definitely have been punished in league play. Emery may well persist, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see us revert to a standard back four—to start, at least. Even though it’s preseason, he won’t be thrilled conceding eight in six games, but at least there’s context.

After winning the Orange Cup, Emery said some of the tactical work has gone well, some needs more drilling. I’m guessing that’s basically about the back line changes.

Going Forward
Newcastle away to open, so a tough fixture where neither side will hold any surprises for the other. Obvs you want to win them all, and with Everton and Burnley up next, there’s the potential for a very fast start if we can turn the barcodes over. But that’s no small ask, St. James will be rocking, and a draw would be a good return. Seven out of nine to start would still be a strong start. To be honest, Villa just have to take three points from opponents like Everton and Burnley if they want to stay in the right half of the table. Not a disaster if we don’t, but a lot of things have to go right if we’re looking to finish 4th-7th.

As far as incomings go, as I’ve mentioned I think summer has shown us we need another striker, and I would really like to have a defensively stronger RB than Cash. Wouldn’t mind another midfielder, a real runner and ball-winner that can come on to help hold leads, etc. Not sure we need another creative player in there, more about physicality and being able to take Buendia or Ramsey off, for example, to get a bit tougher. That may not be on the cards, but it wouldn’t necessarily have to be an expensive player.

Anyway…Plenty more to talk about like Tielemans, tactics and the like, but I’ll leave it there. Can’t believe we’re back to the league come the weekend. Summer seemed to blow by.

Over to you.

Comments 17

  1. Thanks JC, plenty of food for thought there. My take away from pre season has been the midfield improvement. At times, the intricate quick passing in tight areas is a revelation. It’s accurate, if high risk, but very necessary in the EPL which is fast and mobile. We have some real quality in the engine room now.

    The back three or four formations sounds to me like horses for courses. What we play will depend on the opposition. I also think Pau may need some time to come to grips with the pace in this league, but like Moreno I’m sure he’ll do so and we’ll have an extremely useful addition to the squad.

    Up front there is no doubting Archer’s ability. He’s a natural finisher. However, he’s not the biggest of guys and size matters in that position. Duran is a real unit, but does not have Archer’s natural ability. Which means if anything happens to Watkins, we’re in trouble. Of course, Diaby knows where the goal is and has an afterburner, but he’s also not a big unit.

    Who comes and who goes between now and the end of the window is down to Unai and Monchi. A penny for their thoughts right now. We may never know the full story though as player movements depend on many things and not all requirements are possible in one window.

    It’ll be a baptism of fire for us on Saturday. The opposition will be stoked by a huge crowd of seething Geordie’s. Expect the officials to be real homers. Despite the odds, I am confident that we’ll give a good account of ourselves and hopefully get something from the game. It’s a difficult start.

  2. With respect to Europe, Unai has a big advantage as he’ll get to watch the opposition play each other home and away and make his plans accordingly. If I’m a gambling man, I’d put my money on Luzern winning out over Hibs.

    Either way, it’s a crucial fixture for Villa to succeed in. The group stages will increase revenue significantly. We must win. The second leg at VP is vital. Expect a full house, under lights, continental opposition and baying support. I’ve so missed these nights.

  3. Ground capacity at Easter Road: 20,421.

    Ground capacity at Swissporarena: 16,800.

    Away tickets will be rarer than rocking horse shit.

  4. JC and Plug,

    Great leader and comments. Agree on all content.

    It’s a shame that Duran didn’t play preseason. I think the best would be to send him and Archer on loan. Archer needs another season in the championship. Ideally bring in a seasoned striker on loan for a year.

    My heart still wants to see Bailey succeed, but my head says let him leave. He’s too injury prone and some of his 1st touches are worse than anything I see at local schools matches. Maybe something is hot on personally, but his head seems elsewhere.

    I would like 4 at the back for Saturday. Harvey Barnes got 2 cracking goals yesterday.

    JC – I don’t feel we need another RB. Cash, Konsa and Chambers are enough for me.

    My surprise of preseason- Revan at LB. Didn’t put a foot wrong. Quality going forward, big strong and fast lad

  5. VillaMD,

    Yeah, I thought Revan did pretty well, too. Strong, quick…seemed up for getting in the action going forward, didn’t do anything dumb. Could be worse backups, and he brings something different.

    On RB, Emery may well agree with you. Me, I’ve always wanted at least one true shut-down fullback. The kind who sticks with anyone, physical, gets close and tight, forces them back, tackles, doesn’t allow many crosses. (I’m just going to tick all the boxes while I’m at it)

    Konsa’s a fine player, Chambers does a job, but there’s a different body type (more like Revan) that I’d like for sticking with pacey/tricky wide men. Taller, longer-legged CBs make me nervous out in space against players like Barnes or Zaha, etc. Don’t think they change direction quickly enough, don’t generally have that hunter-seeker missile mindset. I like them better in more straight-line scenarios down the middle and channels.

    But, there are budgets and tactical considerations.

  6. Thanks JC, Thankfully its a hard away start over a supposed easy one (remember last season and the season before) at least we know we need to be on it from the off.

    Last season we had 13 games without Unai, with the third best points per game at 1.96-2.11 (depends where you look) and an improved side, hopefully those extra games might yield upwards of 26 points. That would be 87 points yikes.

    I think he will go in with experience but this is Unai, he might spot a fatal flaw in the Toon, we certainly found scoring against them fairly easy in America. And with our best friend VAR back the 5 man defence returns.

    We do look like we haven’t missed a beat since the end of the season and Watkins is scoring so not top much to worry about. For me whether we play Tilemans or Luis is a biggy I’d like both in but unlikely, but then I’d like McGinn and Beundia and Diaby in too oh and Bidace. It seems we have many players who are on par yet have distinct qualities and I want to see them all.

  7. MK,

    Hope all’s well. Agreed, I think a hard game to start will be good. Long as we don’t get spanked.

    But like you say, played them well a couple weeks ago, had a good result at Villa, so the players ought to feel reasonable about it heading in.

    The midfield rotation/mix is very interesting. Like you, I think he’d go with his established starters, but Emery with options?

  8. Nice analysis John. I think the line up we saw against Valencia is likely to be unchanged against Newcastle.
    Guys doubting Bailey here could be surprised. He teeming up with Diaby upfront supporting Ollie could be Emery’s wildcard.
    We are likely to play with a back three. One of Cash or Digne is likely to start on the bench.
    I believe we are still likely to try again for Ferran Torres, as i think the manager has doubts on Archer’s potential. Torres rarely does much on the pitch but has the knack of being at the right place at the right time.
    Overall i am satisfied with the presason and if we do not add any more players i do not see any cause for alarm. UTV

  9. It’s ablow we could do without, beundi injury
    According to emery interview today we are still looking at more players, for me attacking options r needed

  10. Fuck’s sake. Happens every year. Really thought Emi was going to shine this year.

    Big loss, we have to find some kind of replacement. Phil’s not going to cut it, I don’t think.

  11. JC,

    I hear you. Wesley, Carlos and now Buendia over last few years. Nice touch by Madison to wish Emi well. 6’2” Italian winger could be interesting.

    Not sure why Sheff U would sell their 2 best players. Looking forward to season starting tomorrow. Up Burnley 🙂

  12. I’m good JC thanks, better that Beundia at least 🙂 well that’s one less option, I’d say Bidace is nailed on to stay and maybe start although McGinn could fill Beundias shoes. Archer likely on loan, A. Ramsey touted to go to Burnley that will do him good. I can See Archer getting a slot in a prem side this season. There are a few to shift to lower the wages and they are all Gerrards buys, will we be forced to keep phil though? he did wake up last game. I see Chuk might be more involved in the seasons start for Chelsea, had a decent pre-season and Poch likes him.

    Either way looking forward to see how it all pans out.

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