The Good, Bad and Ugly of Chelsea and Newcastle
The time had to come. Aston Villa were destined to lose at home for the first time since February 2023, unfortunately, there are indications that it may get ugly before it gets better.
The good may seem further away than normal this week, but it’s still there. Villa are still in the Top Five despite one win in their last four league games and footballing fortunes can swing on a single moment.
The FA Cup remains a target with a replay against Chelsea to follow and of course, the Europa Conference League is around the corner.
The squad is also slowly evolving. Signings like Morgan Rogers from Middlesbrough, Lino Sousa from Arsenal, as well as Joe Gauci and Kosta Nedeljkovic point to an evolution of the squad.
While Rogers may be the only one who steps on the pitch for Villa this season, the freshening up of a squad and bench that has been largely the same since Dean Smith was replaced by Steven Gerrard is badly needed.
The stretching of the squad over the current period has shown that more bodies and younger competition in every position was lacking.
Villan of the Week – Ollie Watkins
50 Premier League goals from a striker who isn’t renowned for being clinical is a fantastic achievement.
Watkins divides opinion sometimes during the same passage of play, but his work ethic and contribution cannot be doubted.
In the second half against Newcastle, he seemed to be the only player riled up and willing to demand more from the crowd.
Watkins will always have his doubters, but he is heading for Agbonlahor’s Premier League goal tally and if he’s still in the side for the next couple of seasons there’s no reason he won’t get it.
Where has the general Villa performance level gone? The last time they played with intent and adrenaline was the beginning of the game against Sheffield United.
That adrenaline lasted until Ollie Watkins didn’t get a clear penalty in the first fifteen minutes.
The way Villa only managed to salvage a draw in that game, despite being heavy favourites, has left a psychological mark on the team. I’m unfortunately thinking of drawing 2-2 against Stoke at Villa Park under Martin O’Neill.
The refereeing decisions against the blades were among the worst this season, and the feeling of injustice is one of the hardest to get out of a player’s mind.
Unai Emery tried after the game by saying, ‘We were upset and frustrated with the review of our goal, we have to understand each decision even if we don’t agree with them.’
It didn’t work, against Manchester United on Boxing Day, there was still a hangover and a two-goal lead flattered Villa before they let it slip.
Since then, there’s been a bit too much, overthinking, overplaying, poor decision making and not playing with pace.
It’s easy to blame the absence of Pau Torres, but his injury doesn’t make players pass instead of shoot, head over because they lack conviction, and generally play as if they are still carrying some trauma from the two games over Christmas.
Spurs, Arsenal, Newcastle and even Manchester City have had slumps over winter, but now they are coming back strong.
Villa need to stop feeling sorry for themselves, as it’s bleeding into their performances on the pitch.
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Newcastle weren’t pretty against Aston Villa, but this Ugliness is very much a compliment.
Their midfield performance against Villa was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
Focused and intense, they made up for the loss of Joelinton and Tonali from that first game of the season, by making the personnel work hard.
This tactic is as old as time, the other team may be more skilful, but they will not try as hard or run as hard as we will. I’m sure most people with any experience in sports will have had a dinosaur coach tell them this.
The reason they say this is because it works. Unai Emery has been revolutionary at Aston Villa, but sometimes his call for control and lack of emotion in play can come unstuck against sheer intensity.
Newcastle in both games, Liverpool away, Manchester United in the second half and Legia Warsaw away, are all examples of a team just punishing Villa and scoring at least three goals.
Spurs were one goal down against Brentford and at half-time went all out attack with five forwards. Suicidal maybe, but sometimes you have to let the emotion fuel your play.
Unai Emery’s way will gain more points over a season for sure, but sometimes the cool, patient way of playing can become unstuck against sheer force of will.
At the moment, opposition teams are taking the Jurassic approach to playing Villa and it’s working.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame