Aston Villa Matters Turn to the Pitch as Preseason Begins
Aston Villa began their 2023/24 campaign with a 1-1 draw against Walsall in the traditional preseason game at the Bescot Stadium before heading to the East Coast of the USA for the Premier League Summer Series. As usual during preseason, the familiar cliches were trotted out – “minutes in the bank,” “a good work-out,” “it’s all about fitness at this stage” – all of which we heard after the Walsall draw. But what will truly define a successful preseason for Villa this time around?
First and foremost, Unai Emery will be focused on integrating his new signings, Moussa Diaby, Youri Tielimans, and Pau Torres. Among them, the former Villarreal centre-back, Pau Torres, is perhaps the most intriguing prospect in terms of how he will impact Villa’s backline, which has performed admirably under Emery thus far.
Pau Torres’ Role for Villa According to Unai Emery
It’s evident from Emery’s remarks during his first press conference in the USA that Torres’s real value to Villa lies in initiating the team’s attack.
“Pau Torres is giving us, both defensively and offensively… the build-up was very important last year, and I want to improve it,” said Emery.
“We can face the season with four really, really high level centre-backs, because I think Konsa and Mings played very well last year and they were amazing. Carlos is also going to be very important next year and Pau Torres is adding a new quality as a centre-back and trying to be strong.”
Given that Torres is known to play on the left-side and was seen partnering with Diego Carlos in the second half against Newcastle United in Philadelphia, the question remains of how Emery will set up his defense and where Tyronne Mings will fit in, considering the impact he makes.
“The idea is to be strong in our build-up and to be strong defensively with our centre-backs,” concluded Emery.
“The idea could change; it depends, but I want to play with two centre-backs, or even three, depending a little bit on how we can build our structure. I am very happy because we want to be competitive in all competitions we participate in, and for that, we will need quality players.”
Another real indicator of a successful preseason is whether any of the youth team players impress the manager firsthand, to the extent that they potentially become part of his plans. For example, how Marc Albrighton impressed in the Peace Cup tournament in Spain, which Villa went on to win, beating Juventus on penalties in the final.
With Villa back in European action, they’ll need to submit a squad that includes four players who came through the ranks at the club (not counting current U21 players). So, Jacob Ramsey, Cameron Archer, and who else?
Without delving into the details of that question here, Jaden Philogene certainly showed enough against Walsall and Newcastle to suggest that, with another impressive preseason performance or two, he could make it to the list. While there is intense competition for younger central midfielders in the first team, Philogene has a potential pathway and could save Villa from buying another winger, if he continues to impress.
While an impressive cameo and the occasional decent shot doesn’t rubber stamp a players status, Omari Kellyman certainly had a good evening in Philadelphia. The 17-year-old attacking midfielder has been attracting attention since Villa acquired him from Derby last year.
Kellyman does need to add some physicality to ultimately thrive, but that’s standard for any footballing teenager. “He’s got something different,” said John McGinn about Kellyman, and certainly, he’s one to keep tabs on. Since he’s under 21 anyway, he may travel with the team on European nights just to gain experience.
On the latest My Old Man Said podcast we look at the themes to watch out for during Aston Villa’s preseason and put a spotlight on the defensive conundrum, along with a lot more.
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