Apart from Digne’s and Konsa’s absences, there are no changes to the side, suggesting the same tactics as last week. A bit harsh on Buendia, I think, but you understand not changing a winning side, and this approach isn’t leaving room for him if Philippe Coutinho is going to start. Which he is. Whether he can be more influential this week, we’ll be waiting to see. The Ings-Watkins experiment will continue, but the hybrid 4-3-3/4-4-2 is maybe not the worst idea at the moment.
Both Watkins and Ings will play, but with Coutinho in the front line, while Emi Buendia goes to the bench. Whether the two strikers are actually settling into the 10 slots or this portends a more flat 4-3-3, we’ll soon find out.
Right now, I like where Villa are at. With only the pressure of impressing the manager and retaining a spot next season, they’ve got only themselves to look at. Sure, some kind of calamity could see them dragged into danger, but putting that aside, it’s about looking inward and upward. Far from having nothing to play for, they’ve got just enough to chase for now as far as the table goes. Being a largely overlooked dark horse is a good place for a squad to find itself in.
On the face of it, both moves make sense. Coutinho’s creativity, skill, and style go a long way toward filling the hole left by Grealish and balancing out the side (which could obviously be quite the understatement). Likewise, Digne would seem to fit the left back profile that Gerrard’s system requires. Both are experienced internationals, and both would bring a different mentality to the side and the dressing room.
With Coutinho, while he’s unarguably world class, there will be concerns over form and fitness and what happens after his loan ends. Yes, there’s an option to buy, and the purported price tag entirely reasonable. Could well turn out to be a serious bargain and coup all at the same time. But that’s only if it works.
I didn’t enjoy Sunday at all. But I wasn’t necessarily surprised. The team is reverting to norm. You can have all the expectations you like, but some are more reasonable than others. The squad is the squad, and despite pressure from above to achieve more now, Villa are still mid-table quality. You can tweak the system a bit, set different standards, emphasize different things, but you’re still working with the same clay.