A view from the touchline

First off, I didn’t see Saturday’s game so this is not a review of the game. Rather its a number of thoughts and observations as viewed by an interested on-looker.

However, it seems from the comments that many of you did see the game and were unhappy with the performance blaming it variously on certain players and the manager. I’m not contesting the point that we were poor but I do think we need to look at the potential reasons as to why we seemed so widely under prepared.

Villa are going into the season seriously undercooked. A combination of Euros, Olympics, Grealish leaving, isolation delaying his replacements and the disruption of pre-season friendlies being cancelled through Covid have resulted in the players being a week or two behind where they should be. The departure of JT and particularly Richard O’Kelly who was, apparently, popular with the players cannot have helped.

On Saturday, Watkins (a vital cog in Villa’s side) and Sanson were out injured, Luiz is still to return from his gold medal ‘heroics’ and the likes of Bailey, Buendia and Traore, in particular, lacked match fitness – Bueandia due to injury and Traore still recovering from a close season groin operation.

It was also a tricky start for Smith against a team with the best home record last season across the four top English leagues, the return of home crowds (which will change the win dynamics of last season) and with key players either unavailable or not match fit. That said, by all accounts, the first half was as poor as anything seen under Smith’s tenure.

Smith said, in his pre match press conference that Watford were ‘a bit of an unknown quantity’ and from reports we seemed to be unaware of Sarr’s speed, strength and skills which it has to be said is a major failure on the part of the coaching staff.

Having said all that it’s the first game out of 38 and this weekend Arsenal lost to Brentford and Citeh lost to a ‘Kaneless’ Spurs so to talk of Armageddon and relegation battles after just one game seems a little premature.

Moving on – although it seems Targett had a poor game Saturday, most of the criticism was levelled at the midfield (or more accurately lack of it).

Midfield is not a new problem – quite frankly it has been disjointed for the last two or three seasons. Smith just has to work out a solution as to how best to set up the midfield without Grealish (and Barkley).

There are new elements to consider in Bailey and Buendia to fit in alongside Luiz, Nakamba, Sanson, Traore, El Ghazi and McGinn. Then there is Ramsey, Chukwuemeka and Bodace to consider as well as Trezeguet when fit. Although I like El Ghazi, frustrating player that he is, I suspect if the right offer comes in he’ll be allowed to leave.

Young, I see more likely to slot in at left back than in a midfield role.

What formation does Smith play to accommodate both Watkins and Ings up front as surely he must do – an old fashioned 4-4-2, a 4-2-2-2 or some new, yet undiscovered formation – and where does Sanson fit in this jigsaw puzzle. It seems Sanson has taken the number 8 shirt this season and whilst traditional shirt numbers don’t have the same meaning as of yore could this mean that Smith sees him playing alongside Bueandia?

Sanson is an enigma. Following his ‘early’ arrival in January, he struggled to get up to speed with the Premier League. Missing the end of last season through injury and then being injured again (or was it the same injury?) over the pre-season hasn’t been ideal. However, Villa’s scope for improvement this season will grow if Sanson proves to be the midfielder he was held out to be when he joined us.

And then there is the question of whether the squad does need the addition of a top class defensive midfielder such as JWP who would also bring dead ball set piece skills that we seem to lack. Even though Purslow and Smith have both appeared to rule out any further new players coming in, perhaps Saturdays performance may have convinced them otherwise.

Fundamental questions though remain:

  • Can Smith get the midfield mix right?
  • Is Sanson the missing link and quality midfielder he’s claimed to be?
  • Where does McGinn fit into our best side and
  • Are Villa actually thinking about getting anybody else in?

And I can’t finish without a mention of the appointment of Mings as captain.

Mings’ appointment has come in for quite a lot of criticism – much of it centered around his confessed loss of self confidence in the Euros. Is that relevant – I’m not wholly convinced that it is, nor is being the best player a valid reason for choosing a captain. It’s clear that Mings is articulate and a leader on the pitch and one assumes that Smith has seen qualities in him, in and around the dressing room, that has led him to this decision.

I’m convinced that Grealish was appointed captain as part of a strategy to keep him at the club but that doesn’t make him a leader and, at times, he failed dismally to set an example – but I didn’t see any objections from fans. 

What is off concern now is how quickly can we get all players fit and up to speed as we need to produce significantly better performances in our next two games at home to Newcastle and Brentford – neither of which will be straightforward.

Otherwise Saturdays result will not be the false start to the season I believe it was.


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  1. Badger123
    Badger123 August 18, 2021 at 6:12 pm . Reply

    Actually, I’m now convinced JT leaving as well is related.

    A serious breach of conduct while Smith was isolating?
    Seriously poor performance while Smith was away?
    Or most likely, a massive falling out over Grealish leaving?

    I can think of lots of bad reasons, but no good ones.

  2. Holte
    Holte August 18, 2021 at 7:57 pm . Reply

    Is £50m a justified amount for JWP if the valuation suggested is correct. His goals and assists are comparable to JG which is impressive for a more defensively minded midfielder. He has all the best attributes that Hourihane has but simply put much better. He is also capable of getting into the England squad for the next World Cup. For me it’s a no brainer! Get him in and quickly before Spurs end up with big money and go in for him.

    1. Badger123
      Badger123 August 18, 2021 at 11:44 pm . Reply

      It seems massively expensive to me Holte, but really it’s only half of the ultimate Grealish fee so I suppose you have to say it probably worth it.
      Will we pay it?
      I really think not.

  3. Bill Pearson..
    Bill Pearson.. August 19, 2021 at 7:22 am . Reply

    Well I think I was the first to suspected dirty deeds had happened lads if you look back . I firmly believe it was. Start of the season ? You don’t throw jobs away like that and you love the game being a Villa man . He was humiliated you can bet on that? I wish Terry would open up as well?

    1. Hitchens60
      Hitchens60 August 19, 2021 at 3:41 pm . Reply

      You need to be a member to get the story Bill

  4. Bill Pearson..
    Bill Pearson.. August 19, 2021 at 4:36 pm . Reply

    But you don’t have to use it Hitch. I’m on a group of neighbours and we are the people that use messenger. I follow information out of Villa Park .

    1. Bill Pearson..
      Bill Pearson.. August 20, 2021 at 1:58 pm . Reply

      Bit of bad news lads, Oli and Traore unfit for tomorrow’s game, So where we go from here, things are beginning to not add up key players breaking down coaches leaving, I’m beginning to fear the worse on getting a result tomorrow, call,it what you want but I’m not a happy chappy with us missing players that mean everything to our club. Has the tide turned for Villa. Still it’s only Newcastle who are they!!

      1. Holte
        Holte August 20, 2021 at 3:53 pm . Reply

        I wouldn’t worry too much Bill. 42000 fans against Newcastle! We could stick 11 mannequins on the pitch and we should win against the barcodes. Famous last words possibly 😉

  5. Badger123
    Badger123 August 20, 2021 at 2:19 am . Reply

    I can’t see it either Bill and I’m not joining anything on Facebook. I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.

    In other news Ward-Prowse has signed a new 5 year contract. I’m pretty sure he did that last year too.
    He must be on serious wages now, to be enough to fend us off.

    It must be concerning to clubs that having a player still tied down for 4 years isn’t good enough to stop other clubs coming for you and you probably have to give them 50% rises, shattering the pay structure too.

    Surely this sort of fee/wage acceleration can’t be sustained and something has to go bang?
    Mind you, I’ve been saying similar for years.

    1. Hitchens60
      Hitchens60 August 20, 2021 at 6:56 am . Reply

      I’m with you Badger – this upward pressure on wages as a % of turnover is not sustainable IMO.

      Never thought for a minute we would sign JWP nor do I think we are likely to make any further signings unless or until we receive fees for any of our players or we get a serious injury to a key player before the transfer deadline.

      Smith and Purslow have both said we’ve finished our transfer business although I suppose you can never totally rule anything out in football and that may be a smokescreen given how Villa tend to do business.

      If we do sign anyone it will come from left field and won’t be anyone we’re linked with.

    2. John Lerwill
      John Lerwill August 20, 2021 at 7:33 am . Reply

      Badger and Hitch both hit upon points of sensibility here.

      This great expenditure – while the rest of the world is burning and babies are being thrown over barbed wire – is totally out of place. As are millionaire lifestyles enjoyed by the players.

      I am not in any way jealous – I just know that reality will take over.

      Unfortunately – or fortunately – all this willful expenditure is going to come to a thumping end, and quite soon.

  6. Holte
    Holte August 20, 2021 at 4:05 pm . Reply

    I thought 10 – 15 years ago that the spending frenzy would eventually pop like an over inflated balloon. I would like to see a cap put on expenditure but of course that will never happen. In Formula One they have introduced a cap on spending to try and create a more level playing field to stop Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari spending at will to stay at the top. The amount spent on transfers and wages is now beyond greed. It’s become toxic and almost forced an unchallenged Super league. I can’t see anything changing and if anything i can see it getting even more out of hand.

  7. Hitchens60
    Hitchens60 August 20, 2021 at 4:34 pm . Reply

    Saint-Maximin, Almiron and Callum Wilson plus Willock – that’s a pretty useful line up which can destroy any defence on their day – so I’m not taking anything for granted.

    Watkins missing is a problem as he stretches defences; Traore would have been useful as an impact sub.

    Smith in the press conference said ‘I don’t know much about Watkins knee injury’. Why not? Surely he should know about it and understand it? Sound familiar?

    It seems clear there’s a degree of disruption at VP so us losing tomorrow wouldn’t really surprise me but I’m going for a draw.

    Apologies – Badger and me both away so won’t be able to put up a post ahead of the game.

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