In the end, an excellent performance and Villa were perhaps unlucky not to win in regular time. For all the changes, absences, and youth, the team seemed to know what they were doing, and the mentality was really good. I expected more timidity and hesitation. It wasn’t there, or if it was, not for long. The set-up looks good.
Short answer, it might. Given the differences in squad depth and fitness, Villa will inevitably field a weaker side than the one that lost to Chelsea 0-3 just over a week ago. Smith has said all the right things about the quality available to both sides, and how they both want to win and progress. But it’s clear that Villa will have one hand tied behind their back.
Fans have been salivating at the prospect of a fully fit starting XI as Everton come to Villa Park, but no one has known what that would mean, especially given the two Emis have only just returned from Croatian quarantine. We do, however, have our first indication that 3-5-2 won’t just be a novelty formation for Villa this season.
Martinez, as expected, comes straight back in, and Buendia finds himself on the bench, as well, which is not surprising, given his lack of involvement in team training this week. The big news is that Villans excited to see Leon Bailey start will have to wait, as Dean Smith goes with the same set-up as last week, leaving out both Bailey and Bertrand Traoré.
I think this can be a tidy side. There was slick passing and interplay. Villa weren’t slow on the ball. Good positional reading, combativeness, and energy. What Villa look like with a preferred (and very much debated) starting XI is beginning to look appetizing.
No one knows how Villa will approach the match. If it were me, I’d probably lean toward playing this one in two phases, perhaps by starting 4-5-1, trying to blunt Chelsea, then look to get more attacking in the second. But that’s me.
The question is whether Smith will want to go all in for grabbing the first, or keep his powder dry, go for 0-0 as long as possible, and then throw on more firepower? Not at all sure he’ll want to start out with a combination that’s barely played together against such a strong side, however much he might want to see them all together.