Well maybe not but four goals in as many games, spectacular shooting and showing his free kick abilities has certainly caught the eye. But not just that, his all round contribution has shifted to a new level.
I’ve always believed that El Ghazi has the ability to become a very good player but perhaps lacked the physical and mental strength to realise it. Some of the credit must go to Smith and the coaching staff, not least because of the way they encourage the players to express themselves and the way the team is set up to best utilise individual skills.
A great team performance and for me Watkins was MoM. His speed, and non stop intelligent running, had the Palace defence in disarray even when we went down to 10 men. Disappointed for him that he wasn’t able to top his all round display with a goal – but they will come – and at £28m, he’s starting to look like a real bargain.
Mings might count himself a little unlucky with the first yellow but he seemed ‘out of sorts’ making one or two unforced errors and appeared to allow Zaha to unsettle him.
Can’t help feeling for Traore, being substituted following Mings dismissal, when he was playing his best football since joining us – even scoring with his right foot – showing why we spent £17m to acquire his services. However, Smith clearly made the right call.
Three tough games to come, Chelsea and United away followed by a home FA Cup tie against Liverpool (who have still only lost once this season!).
Chelsea were pretty poor against Arsenal and I can’t see them playing that badly again on Monday, although they have lost three of their last four following a 17 game unbeaten run. Our recent record against Chelsea, home and away, is dismal. Chelsea have won 10 of their last 11 games against us including the last six in a row; our last win at Stamford Bridge came in December 2011 which is our only away success in this fixture in the last 18 years.
We’ll be without Mings and Barkley (who is ‘loan tied’) but Konsa looked a class act when he came on in yesterdays forced reshuffle and Hause is proving himself to be a reliable defender. What Mings does is organise the defence well and is known to be very vocal; something we have missed in the past so it will require others to step in. I see Martinez role as being crucial here.
It remains to be seen how big a miss Mings will be and might just be the difference between getting something from the game and coming away empty handed – again.
As we approach the notoriously difficult January transfer window, the old Grealish stories have been dusted off and lazily fill several column inches. It’s plainly obvious that Grealish is going nowhere in January – even if he wanted to leave (which I very much doubt) no one could afford him!
Kalinic leaves on loan to Hajduk Split on 18th January (when the Polish transfer window opens) and there maybe one or two other outgoings. A question mark must hang over Hourihane’s future at the club and it wouldn’t surprise me if he went out on loan; he will have plenty of suitors in the Championship. Similarly will Guilbert go on loan to a French club having (I believe) turned down a loan move in the summer. Elmo, Neil Taylor and Lansbury’s contracts are up at the end of the season and can talk to clubs in January; I really can’t see any of getting extensions although we are light at left back and Taylor is reputed to have a positive influence in the dressing room.
I really can’t see us doing much business in terms of bringing players in, preferring to concentrate our resources on bringing in new recruits in the summer. Having said that, if Wesley is going to be out for much of the season, which looks increasingly likely, then we may try to bring in striker to help Watkins. I suspect, however, that quite a number of Villa fans are hoping to see Louie Barry promoted to the first team squad!
No doubt there will also be interest in Ross Barkley’s future particularly given the rumours that he is not in Lampard’s plans – but we’ll have to wait until the summer on that one.
It’s been an excellent Christmas bringing cheer to all Villa fans in a horrible year; long may it continue.