Away from the fortress Villa Park has become, it’s Forest at the City Ground. Will it put a dent in Villa’s league fortunes?

The biggest factor Villa have to deal with now is mentality: We’ve e reached a position where ‘consistency’ is the fundamental issue. And consistency has a lot to do with self-belief. Winning teams find ways to win. Which, yes, is down to quality, but also a belief in outcomes.

And it’s tricky for Villa. Right now, the question is whether Villa are overachieving. Are we that good? Can we last? That’s about quality, sure…but really it’s about belief. It’s a different version of the question Villa have faced til now.

The answer basically comes down to the players. Do they believe they deserve to be where they are? Do they shrink or grow into it? Do they really believe in what they’ve done so far? Are they actually scared of going third, the questions and expectations that result? Or do they welcome it? Are they embracing going the distance?

The questions sound sort of pop-psychology stupid, but we all know how it really goes in our heads. We think athletes might be different, but like regular life, you have the same assortment. Those who are ‘arrogant’, those who who know they aren’t world class but don’t care. Those who fear being found out.

And I think that all things being equal (injuries, luck, etc), that Villa are on the cusp of being a team that believes in itself. We like to say winning is a habit for that very reason. Can Villa make it a habit?

To stay around the top end, you have to have quality. But you also have to believe. There’s not necessarily a huge difference in quality from 4th-8th. Looking at United’s starting XI on Saturday, I fancy our options as much as theirs. My biggest fear has simply been depth. Players getting tired, more injuries, a lack of different ways to freshen or match up.

So, it’s a mentality game for Villa. Despite flying a little bit under the radar, which I prefer, they find themselves firmly in a top-six tussle at the moment. Are they hungry for that? Will they give everything to stay there?

The X-factor putting the players in this position has obviously been Emery. The players have now seen that his ideas and instructions bring success. They can believe in him, in the process, “the structure”. He’s brought out progression in their individual performances by giving them a platform to succeed and has made the team better as a result. They can trust what he asks them to do. They can trust his disappointment or approval.

That trust frees players up. It also encourages them to take more responsibility. They now know the plan and ideas are sound. They now know it comes down to them executing. There’s no hiding.

Now, Forest is not a binding referendum on anything. But, it is an opportunity for the team to grow into a new mentality: Beat West Ham, beat AZ, beat Luton, beat Forest, beat AZ again, then beat Fulham before facing Spurs. Because that’s what it takes to make a mark. To stay up there.

It might be a bridge too far in terms of stamina, recovery, focus. It might not. But after Spurs, they’ve got Legia again, Bournemouth, City, Arsenal, Zrinjski. Three days later it’s Brentford then Sheffield before a Boxing Day visit to Old Trafford.

No rest. No letdown. No guaranteed results. Competition on all fronts, and most of it on less than six or seven days’ rest. Do they push past whatever physical limits they might want to feel and embrace the challenge and expectation that they should be winning all of these matches? Can they rebound after potential back-to-back losses to City and Arsenal to get past Zrinjski?

Today, that’s what we’ll be looking at. With that small pause in Sunday-Thursday-Sunday, have they regrouped, recovered and refocused? Will they be saying to themselves, “Yes. This is where I believe I should be, fighting at the top; Yes, I want it, will find the extra yards, the extra burst; Yes, this is a stretch of fixtures that can set me and the team up for a second half that could in turn see us in the Champions League?”

That’s kind of where I think Villa are at. Emery isn’t compromising, he’s continuing to demand more, that perfect 90 minutes we haven’t yet seen, that ruthless efficiency, that unrelenting focus and concentration week in, week out.

I trust that if Villa don’t get what they want at the City Ground they’re not going to come unglued. We’re past that. It’s now about whatever the players think their ceiling is.

Over to you.

Comments 59

  1. Good script John. And I agree, it is now all about mentality. We’ve seen they’re good enough. Some excellent teams have been put to the sword. When things don’t quite go to plan (a missed sitter, a defensive error, a poor ref’s decision) it comes down to plain bloody mindedness. Mentality is needed. If we get that in spades then Champions League beckons.

    I’m looking forward to the joust with Forest today and hope the week’s rest has been beneficial.

  2. Great write up JC. So many times in the past we’ve felt we may have turned a corner only to then slip back again, either because players/manager, couldn’t cope with the pressure, or through complacency. This time does ‘feel’ different. Emery really does seem to apply a laser focus on each game, in isolation from everything else that has gone before or may come next.
    When things are going well, it’s all too easy to forget that the opposition are also focussing hard on ways to win and Cooper is a good manager who will undoubtedly be briefing and motivating his players well for today. . . . and of course, their supporters will be well up for it and believing that they can continue with their very good home form.
    Having beaten Chelsea and drawn with Palace and Brentford, they’re clearly no mugs, so as JC says, if we do win today it will be another sign that our challenge is real and the manager has started to instil the sort of winning mentality into the players that you need, if you’re going to ‘sustain’ a challenge towards the top of the table.

  3. Back to VAR. . . .I see that Arteta was also very outspoken about how it was applied yesterday.
    What he (and the silly MOTD crew) seem to be forgetting, is that without VAR, the referees’ original decisions would have stood. There’s no point blaming VAR if the goal would have stood even without it.
    The real point (yet again) is that there was no ‘clear and obvious’ evidence for a mistake. Yes, there were debating points which various people will see differently, but at last, they are giving the on pitch officials the benefit of the doubt. . . .and when there is doubt, the original decision has to stand.
    Yes I’ll be pissed off next time one doesn’t go our way, but provided it isn’t an ‘obvious’ mistake, I hope I’ll be able to stand by my conviction and accept it.

  4. Forest have been so disciplined so far. Ha e to hope more gaps open up in the second half, but i wouldnt count on it. May need a bit of individual brilliance from someone

  5. Not the half we were hoping for. Things will have to step up after the break otherwise this game is gone.

    We are too passive. Too susceptible to their quick breaks. The back line hasn’t always been ruler straight. Not really threatened their goal. And yep, the ref is a real homer. Only one team is getting the decisions.

  6. Plug, I think we have to accept the risks in our high line as it’s part of the overall style of play that has brought us so much success so far this season.
    I’m not sure that the high crosses from the wings into the box are going to work for us today (hoping that means we score from one early in the second half!)

  7. Bad day
    Have to laugh at commentators forest best game of season ,2 shots 2 goals don’t know if they got a corner,we had more touches in their box than any other game this season

  8. No complaints about the result. Forest did a fine job on us. Don’t think we’d have scored had the game finished at midnight. Top marks for hitting Row Z though.

  9. Get nowt for possession. SJM about the best of the bunch. Can’t keep a clean sheet for love nor money. Unfortunately, we do have this type of performance in our locker. And more regularly than I would like.

  10. If we get another one like this on Thursday, the Conference League could be very uphill. More energy needs to be expended by the players. Too many of them are walking pace for too many minutes. Looking for a huge reaction next week.

  11. Typical Villa throwback game where a slick smooth technically superior Villa side are beaten by a side working harder and putting in more physical effort and being more physically tough. We were just too laid back today and were too smooth for our own good. Bad day for Diaby. SJM and Digne were perhaps slightly less ineffective than the other players but weren’t worth motm.

    On a positive note, full squad had a work out and Tielemans got more game time to work on his mojo. WE MOVE ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Sorry, not enough exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Yeah, never got out of first gear, really. Switched off to start both halves. When the second went in like that, you just knew it wasn’t going to be our day.

    Still, would’ve liked to see a bit more urgency. Strangely flat and lackadaisical.

  14. I know it’s already been said, but it was the lack of oomph which was frustrating. There were signs towards the end of the game and we were creating more than half chances but Forest did a great job of denying any space, and we didn’t get any hints of luck today. . . You know how sometimes the ball just bounces kindly, or an opposition player slips at a key moment, or the ball deflects in the right direction. . . it was as they say
    . . ‘One of those days’!

  15. Oh and yes, I do think Dougie should’ve come out and closed down on the first. He seemed to be gesturing in frustration at Zaniolo, I guess for not tracking back quickly enough.

  16. One of those days, r0bb0. A bit asleep to start and they were very sharp out of the gate. Poor goal to concede, from our perspective, and then you’re chasing.

    Probably could’ve got something, but the 2nd was another sucker punch, and there’s your bad luck, how the ball fell.

    The trick for Villa is to play it quicker when there is space opened up. Diaby, Zaniolo, they need space to run into. Once the defense is set, it gets very frustrating, and you see all the time how it can take City or Liverpool an entire game to break some teams down.

    But no one seemed particularly sharp or decisive, kit man must’ve left all the shooting boots at Bodymoor.

  17. Klopp out
    Luton have taken lead with 10 mins to go
    Var check for pen other end now
    At least luton giving it a go,cooper has signed maybe 30 players and play like that today

  18. JG. . . Brings it back into
    perspective doesn’t it. Any determined and organised team can pull off an upset on any given day. I guess it shows how far we’ve come, that us losing a game away is now deemed an ‘upset’!

  19. “Emery must drop 0% Villa flop”

    “Fewer touches than Martinez:Aston Villa man who lost 88% of duels went missing v Forest”

    “£216k a week Aston Villa man in absolute stinker”

    These were just 3 of this evening’s click bait headlines from the gutter site ‘Villa News’.

    Oh yes, another one has rumours about Emery’s contract situation.

    It pretends to be a site for Villa fans but it’s surely run by a Bluenose as it does everything it can to criticise the club and players.
    If you click on the links they’ll be earning money from their anti Villa negativity.

    I always try to avoid them but can anyone tell me how I block the site so I can’t click on them by mistake?

  20. The garbage spewed by those mentioned websites is exactly that. The binmen come round once a week to collect it. They then need to generate some more for next week’s collection.

    Still smarting from the loss though. Hope we get a top reaction for the next 2 home games. The good news is, Unai is on the case.

  21. r0bb0,

    I just ignore all press outlets. Aston Villa News is just the Mail’s online account, and like everyone says, the papers have to have eyeballs.

    In many ways it’s not entirely their fault (puts on veteran publications professional hat): None of the legacy media really understood the internet when it arrived. It was almost a novelty. They rushed to get online, and often offered up a lot of free content in doing so. And once something’s free, it’s very hard to go back and start charging for it. An entire generation now believes all news, reporting, insight should be free. They get angry at paywalls.

    Then sites like Craigslist came along and gutted classified ad revenue, which supported a lot of newspapers. Following that, digital metrics for advertising blew up the entire pre-internet model, which was simply based on “I have to advertise to be there along with my competition.” Rates weren’t subject to viewing or click-through scrutiny. So digital ad rates became very low, and getting a ton of eyes on those ads was the new game.

    Put those two together, and it just hammered the legacy print outlets. So, low revenue, low budgets, and relentless competition from everywhere. Including, quite honestly, sites like AVL. Which means you have to do almost anything to get people to click just to stay in business and you need an unending stream of ‘content’.

    Most everyone knows some version of this, and all you can do is just ignore them. Maybe they’ll change when it stops working.

  22. You might well say, “Well, if they produced better content it wouldn’t be as big a problem.” And you’d be right.

    But, the jobs now pay next to nothing, and as you may have seen on twitter and youtube, everyone under the sun is out there trying to grow their own little fandom media empires without taking jobs through the traditional outlets. Can’t say I blame them.

    Me, I don’t think the vast majority of them offer anything much, though. I could be biased, but I see almost nothing but bland attempts at ‘analysis’, polls, ‘your starting XI’, shirt raffles, player appreciation posts, and an absolute barrage of quotes lifted from interviews with established outlets or the official site. I’ll see the same things recycled by almost every twitter account. It’s brutal.

    But that’s how they get eyeballs, posting crap endlessly, just like the papers in many ways. Trick is, they don’t have to get you to click through. You just see it and can quickly engage. It’s the way things have become.

    There are some accounts doing tactical analysis that are pretty insightful (not necessarily Villa-centric), and there are a couple of accounts who do make good points. But they’re generally not the ones going on for hours about nothing on the circle-jerk podcast circuit, they’re not trying to make money from it.

    Long-form articles are virtually non-existent anymore…and that’s okay, I suppose. It’s that way in a lot of media spaces now. Sometimes it really can and should be condensed down into a few bullet points.

    You’ve seen me writing less 1) because I get tired of the sound of my own voice, 2) there often isn’t much to be said that hasn’t been covered in the comments (I could interact less, I guess, and just save my thoughts for write-ups, but I’d rather engage), 3) there just often isn’t that much to be said, and 4) the truly useful thing (tactical analysis) takes a lot of time I don’t have (rewatching, capturing stills, adding graphics, etc), and the current site template doesn’t support it that well. I’ve got a day job, a wife, friends, other interests like painting and photography…only so many hours.

    I guess 5 would be that there just isn’t much demand for it. If we’d kept doing Talking Tactics back in the day, for example, and tried to make it our jobs, we might have grown the base to derive enough revenue to keep on doing it. But that’s a long slog and the monetization models weren’t the same. But there’s a mortgage to pay, food to buy, and kids to raise before they were out on their own.

    Fast hot takes and click-bait are now pretty much the coin of the realm. About all I derive from scanning twitter are transfer links, the occasional bit of news (injuries, etc). But the rest is generally just a waste of time.

    In short, the demand for football content is voracious and it produces a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

    Anyway, that’s my not-so-little rant.

  23. The day after,what am I happy sad depressed, funny none of them it was what it was,forest 3 shots 2 goals fluke 9 out of 10 times we win this especially under emery
    Emery tactics team selection won’t be last time he gets it 2nd best
    One thing yesterday showed we must get a few more stronger bigger harder players,we just too nice along with more attacking options, I do recognise emery has had 1 summer window and 1 winter window,miracles don’t happen that fast
    Still 1year since emery first game what a wonderful position we are in,could be worse klopp only drew with an airport what’s his excuse this week
    Roll on Thursday

  24. The day after,what am I happy sad depressed, funny none of them it was what it was,forest 3 shots 2 goals fluke 9 out of 10 times we win this especially under emery
    Emery tactics team selection won’t be last time he gets it 2nd best
    One thing yesterday showed we must get a few more stronger bigger harder players,we just too nice along with more attacking options, I do recognise emery has had 1 summer window and 1 winter window,miracles don’t happen that fast
    Still 1year since emery first game what a wonderful position we are in,could be worse klopp only drew with an airport what’s his excuse this week
    Roll on Thursday and Europe

  25. Having had a little tease about not going onto Newsnow Aston Villa, it was this very site that introduced me to AVL when Matt Turvey (we went to the same grammar school don’t you know) started it up.

  26. It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that former member John Lerwill has passed away.

    He died Oct 28, his funeral is on the 9th at 1pm in Sandwell Crematorium

  27. JC. . . . Hope you feel slightly better forb getting that off your chest! 🙂
    Actually it was an interesting summary of how we’ve found ourselves in this position with our media. . . and there’s probably still a bit more time to run before a new ‘normal’ settles out of the current flux.
    I recognise how we got here and understand what drives individuals to write clickbait headlines. Villa News however stands out for the number of gratuitously negative and destructive headlines and is THE most anti villa site I’ve seen online. If people look out for it and stop clicking then they ‘will’ change.

  28. Oh. . . The other thing I meant to say JC, even though others have said it in the past, thanks for the regular, insightful postings that you put up here. Quality over quantity always wins out as far as I’m concerned!

  29. DarrenO, that is sad news indeed about John Lerwill. Thanks for coming on and informing us. He’s departed about the same time as Chas Aitken which is fitting given Charlie’s historic appearances.

    And I’ll second R0bBo’s thanks to JC for everything he does to provide us with a platform to chew over all matters AVFC. It is greatly appreciated.

  30. That’s terribly sad news, Darren. Thank you for letting us know.

    We’d had differences, but he loved Villa heart and soul, and did a lot for AVL in his time here.

    I hope his rest is peaceful.

  31. Have to comment on VAR from last night’s Spurs v Chelsea game. The first replay I saw immediately after Udogie had wiped out Sterling was a clear and obvious red card. A two footed lunge with studs in the air is a leg breaker. Nothing new here, that particular type of tackle has always been outlawed as “off you go sunny”.

    Can’t call the VAR incompetent. Can’t call it an error. Can only call it a plain biased decision based on other interests. All credibility of VAR is shot in my book. Retain the goal line technology and bin the rest is my view.

  32. One other observation from last night’s game. Nico Jackson spent so much time walking around in an offside position. When the cameras zoomed in on him he didn’t look the full shilling. A few grapes short of a bunch. Yet Chelsea paid a reported £32m for him. OK, he got the match ball but I wouldn’t want him anywhere near VP.

  33. Have to hand it to spurs manager,honest interview after match and then another after
    He is right var is ridiculous, add to that the twat
    dermot Gallagher on sky sports praising ref last night
    Udogie tackle on sterling was a leg breaker,just as well sterling jumped out of way and romeo kick was just petulance what crap
    In Europe they use a different version for offside and its done quick
    22mins out of 55 ball in play ,premier league can’t let this go on

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