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.