The Good Bad and Ugly of Sheffield and Manchester United
It’s cliche time this week on GBU, after a 2023 that exceeded all Villa fans’ wildest expectations, old failings delivered a double blow to any lofty aspirations and, of course, they threw away a two-goal lead against Manchester United. It’s just what Villa do.
Like Unai Emery was quick to point out after the Manchester United defeat, 39 points at this stage of the season is exceptional.
No matter what happens over the next few games, until Villa are back to full strength and form, that points haul is a sign that Villa are a good side and will be a force moving forward.
The key now is to cut out the naivety in key moments. Villa, as a team, are still raw and unpolished and if any period has shown this it’s the last two games.
While the performances haven’t been awful, there’s been a few elements lacking in both games. Despite this, Villa fans can’t get greedy, there’s no divine right to beat another team, especially in the Premier League.
Villan of the Week – Unai Emery
It has to go to the boss in this case, not only for the year-to-date performance but for the reaction after both games. After Sheffield United, Emery could easily have gone full Arteta, due to the horrific and inexplicable refereeing decisions that cost Villa the match.
Instead, he didn’t get goaded into that in the media and kept his cool.
While Villa lost all semblance of control against Manchester United, Emery managed to take the positives out of the worst position in football, being interviewed after throwing away a two-goal lead.
If Emery can get the players to control themselves like he can, then there’s no reason 2024 can’t bring in a similar points haul.
Two games, two very different United’s, but two big wasted opportunities in a few days.
Villa players should be kicking themselves that they aren’t top of the league and in dreamland. Alas, circumstance conspired to generate adversity and they weren’t able to adjust.
Firstly against Sheffield United, they came up against a resolute defence and took their turn in the PGMOL’s VAR lottery, which seems to pick a team or two at random each matchweek to judge against completely.
This matchweek it was Villa. Firstly Watkins was shoved in the back and his shirt hauled half off him, no penalty. Then Ramsey was adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper when his shirt too was halfway up his back, causing Leon Bailey’s opener to be ruled out despite Sheffield United being in full control of the ball before losing it.
Finally, and most unforgivable of the lot, Baldock swiped the ball away in the penalty area with his bicep and despite another VAR check, again no penalty to Villa.
The reason all this matters is it caused Villa to stop playing the way that has got them to the upper reaches of the league. It injects desperation and disorder into the plan and Villa aren’t always able to cope.
Cameron Archer was able to take advantage and only a late piece of magic by Luiz and a run from Zaniolo rescued Villa’s unbeaten home record.
Onto Manchester United and there was a different kind of issue. Villa were playing against a team so bad and without the semblance of a gameplan, that they couldn’t adapt.
United are a poor side, but a poor side packed full of world-class players. A dangerous combination as Villa found out.
Despite taking a two-goal lead without breaking a sweat, Villa looked like they were playing against a lower-league team in the first half and they dropped their intensity and levels after scoring the second goal.
When Manchester United decided to just hoof it and run in the second half and bypass their non-existent midfield, Villa didn’t adapt and got punished badly.
Rashford, Fernandes, and especially, Garnacho, are a trio that when they have the motivation can win a game and they just stepped it up a gear in the second half.
Villa, having been sleepwalking to a two-goal victory, found themselves behind and unable to lift the intensity again. Leaving a familiar what if? scenario against their long-time foes.
While painful and disappointing as the week has been, Villa have a chance to correct things against Burnley in the next match. A performance of confidence and control is needed to alleviate fan jitters.
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Talking about fan jitters, anything except a win against Burnley will definitely send Villa fans into an ugly meltdown.
Seeing Villa give up a two-goal lead to Manchester United is pretty high on the PTSD trigger list for anyone associated with Aston Villa, but blaming Diaby, Duran and Zaniolo for the defeat is more than misplaced, it’s a bit Arsenal Fan TV.
Usually, players have to be on the pitch when things go wrong to get the blame.
It’s going to be a long second half of the season, and all the players in the squad have had good moments and bad. By all means, call out mistakes and poor play, but when players are getting the blame after coming on with eight minutes to go, it’s just ugly and pointless.
Duran and Zaniolo have both kept Villa’s home record undefeated in separate games and Diaby has been overshadowed by Leon Bailey, after starting the season on fire.
They will all have a part to play as the season carries on, so like the Villa team needs to do, keep emotions in check as the second half of the season kicks off.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame