The Good, Bad and Ugly of Nottingham Forest and AZ Alkmaar
Variety is the spice of life, or so they say. In a week where Aston Villa’s previously unstoppable attack faltered, there’s still plenty of Good, Bad and Ugly.
Aston Villa sit fifth, all their major rivals dropped points, so it really is a case of as you were. Unfortunately, there will be a feeling of What If? For Villa. Only time will tell if the points dropped against Forest will be pivotal, at the moment all is still good in the hood despite the Sheriffs of Nottingham nullifying the Villans.
The game against AZ Alkmaar came at a good time for Unai Emery’s side. A chance to get back to creative and winning ways, coming only a few days after firing blanks.
Despite an arguably worse performance, than against Steve Cooper’s side, Aston Villa got the job done against the Dutch side, with Diego Carlos and Ollie Watkins scoring the goals to come from behind in the second half.
Watkins’ goal, in particular, was well taken as he had missed a carbon copy of the same chance against Forest. Follow this result up with a win against Fulham, and things will be looking rosy going into another international break.
Of course, the true challenge and test of this season’s Villa side will come when they face Spurs, Manchester City and Arsenal in quick succession. Until then, things are almost as good as fans could have hoped.
Villan of the Week – Douglas Luiz
From not great against Forest, to game-changing against AZ in a cameo appearance, Douglas Luiz was also called up to the Brazil squad again after being overlooked for an age.
The midfielder is having one of his best spells at Villa, so of course he attracts the usual interest from the transfer gossips. If Luiz does leave Villa, and it’s a big if, he will command a fee in excess of what Jack Grealish left for.
Of course, Villa have no intention of selling him…
After praising the Villa engine for dispatching teams so ruthlessly, Nottingham Forest managed to throw a spanner in the works.
It wasn’t the first time this season that Villa have come unstuck, as they put a performance in that was on a par with Everton in the League Cup and Legia Warsaw away.
Flat in tempo, a bit sluggish in defence, and extremely wasteful in attack, rarely leads to success and so it showed against a well-organised and combative Forest side.
Steve Cooper’s men had a game plan. Win the ball, get it in behind Villa’s high line and then see what happens. It wasn’t rocket science, it was the best tactic against a high line, but it needed to be executed well and backed up with resolute defending.
Forest did both brilliantly, and when Villa spurned the few chances they created, there was only going to be one winner.
If you can score first against Villa and then frustrate them, you are in with a chance. Unai Emery’s primary plan relies on Villa taking the lead and forcing the opponent to come out of their shells. If they get a chance to turtle against Villa, the plan can falter, when it falters it relies on the attack being clinical.
The one accusation that can be thrown at Villa is, they aren’t as clinical as they should be. Ollie Watkins is having a wonderful season having notched 10 goals already in all competitions, but many of the chances he takes are the difficult ones. If he had tucked away some of the easier ones (and could take penalties!), he’d be challenging Haaland for the golden boot.
Add in Zaniolo, Tielemans, Bailey, Diaby and Digne, all missing decent chances against Forest, and the result was always going to be a bad one. It’s the fine line they need to cross to make the difference between being fifth or lower, or fifth or higher come the end of the season.
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So what’s the difference between Unai Emery playing a high line over the course of a year, and Tottenham Hotspur’s Ange Postecoglou playing it after going down to nine men at home to Chelsea?
Well, apart from Emery having a win percentage of over 50% and using it, while Spurs lost 4-1 at home to Chelsea, the media would have you believe that one man is a genius and the other is taking too big a risk.
Let’s ignore the Teflon Postecoglou, who can do no wrong even in defeat, for a moment, as he has done a good job at Tottenham. Let’s also forget about Villa’s Emery, and just look at the hard facts.
The offside trap is not a new tactic. It isn’t revolutionary or worthy of hours of YouTube content. It’s a choice. It’s like deciding to cross the ball into the box or running to the byline for a cutback. Playing a long corner or a short corner.
Arrigo Sacchi played an offside trap at AC Milan in the 80s and 90s, based on an adapted 4-4-2 formation that pressed high and attacked fast with a possession-based style. Does that sound familiar to anyone? Or does the modern football media only count this millennium?
What about the back line at Arsenal, honed by George Graham and inherited by Arsene Wenger, that were so good at the offside trap, that it was referenced in the film The Full Monty?
Or even this from 1974?
The media need to stop highlighting simple tactical decisions as either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever.
The proof is in the results and Emery’s high line has been anything but ugly for Villa.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame