The Good Bad and Ugly Mid Preseason Catch Up
Plane tracking, social media refreshing, minutes in the tank, all the normal preseason cliches are here as Aston Villa are right in the middle of their US tour, let’s catch up with what’s been Good, Bad and Ugly so far.
The Good – On the Pitch Prowess
The performance against Newcastle United may have ended in a draw, but unlike last season’s 2-2 draw down under against Manchester United, there are no glaring red flags to be worried about. The 2-0 win against Fulham was assured and felt controlled.
In amongst all the hype this time last season, the reality on the pitch showed that Aston Villa were lacking tactically, as Manchester United carved them open at will, only for Villa to save some face in the second half.
This time it was Unai Emery’s Villans who looked sharp and on it for the first part of the match against Newcastle and for most of the match against Fulham. With the likes of Watkins, Buendia, Diaby and Philogene Bidace, all providing pace, drive and goals, they were backed up with a general air of professionalism throughout the side.
Even in the second half of the Newcastle game, when Villa’s opponents brought on stronger players from the bench and Villa turned to youth, the Emery system and plan held firm, with an impressive cameo from Omari Kellyman keeping Newcastle on their toes.
After the spin and hype of the preseason performances last year, 2023 has more substance.
Villan of the Week – Emi Buendia
The highlight of Villa’s Premier League Summer Series so far, had to be Buendia completely outmuscling Newcastle’s record-signing Sandro Tonali en route to setting up Watkins for the first goal.
Welcome to the Premier League, Mr Tonali. I’m sure he will turn out to be a good player for the PIF Magpies, but that was a special introduction.
Buendia looked hungry and inventive and with the added physicality, he ran the show scoring twice after that assist. The only blemish was a poor missed chance when clean through, but he acknowledged that after the game.
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The Bad – Key Squad Shortages
While things are better than last year, there are some areas of concern both on and off the pitch.
Where in the world is Jhon Duran? He’s not Carmen Sandiego, so why is he not with the rest of the team, getting minutes?
Reports a thigh injury has kept him out of the US Tour and Unai Emery has said Duran and Archer are important parts of the 2023-24 season, do little to reassure fans that Villa will be fine if Watkins was to be unavailable.
There are also the areas of concern identified last season, namely, right back and reserve goalkeeper.
Matty Cash is a more than competent player, but he needs to sharpen up for want of a better term. He is probably the only player that hasn’t shown a massive improvement under Unai Emery.
His poor link-up with Kamara led to the second goal for Newcastle and on the first one, he was again a step behind the rest of the line on the offside call. While ultimately neither goal was his fault, the weakness is on this side of the defence.
The release of Ashley Young, means Villa are short at right full-back. Cash needs backup or competition like the Digne – Moreno battle on the left.
The other glaring problem is when Emi Martinez is not in goal. Robin Olsen may be the best keeper in Sweden, but he’s not up to scratch as a replacement.
While you could say it is impossible to replace the best goalkeeper in the world, their replacement needs to at least have the same philosophy and slot into the team seamlessly.
When Olsen is on the pitch, the whole dynamic of Aston Villa changes. No longer are the team assured playing out from the back due to his poor short distribution, meaning the whole side loses impetus and the opposition senses it.
Rather than bag out an international goalkeeper for his deficiencies, it’s more to say he doesn’t fit at Villa, since they have to completely change their way of play when he is on.
Not every keeper is going to be as good at shot-stopping or commanding their area as Martinez, but they should at least be able to fit in with the way the team plays.
If Robin Olsen has to play for a prolonged period this season, Aston Villa are going to have to find another way to play.
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The Ugly – Holte End Off Limits
All is not rosy in the upgrading and gentrification of Villa Park.
If you are a Claret Member, because owning a season ticket isn’t feasible or impossible due to the waiting list, then you’d think you could buy tickets on a first come-first served basis for any area of the ground.
That’s the way it has been since Villa returned to the Premier League. I mean why else would you pay for a membership? I can think of cheaper ways to get a water bottle with a naff-looking Chelsea badge on it.
If you are a member, you get an email at 5 pm when tickets are available, for you to buy in your members’ window before general sale.
Except this past week, you maybe didn’t. At 5 pm when tickets were available for the first home game against Everton, the members’ email was solely about the Lazio friendly at Walsall.
So a quick look online uncovered a number of fans unhappy that they couldn’t purchase Everton tickets during the members’ window. It soon transpired that what was going on was a lot more sinister.
If you are a member and can only make a few games, you naturally want the most atmospheric experience, so you try and get a ticket in the Upper Holte. But this area was locked out.
Was this made clear to anyone before they purchased a Claret membership, that this season you couldn’t buy a ticket in the Upper Holte?
The ugly reason for this is of course the upselling of the Holte End’s new Terrace View. The bolt-on for season ticket holders, or the expensive, speedy boarding option to skip the season ticket waiting list.
They need to keep the Upper Holte free in case some fans feel the FOMO of the waiting list, and decide to fork out the £1560 queue skip option.
It remains to be seen if this is to last all season, but the diminishing value of a Claret Membership may just be beginning, as when the North Stand finally gets the wrecking ball, will there even be any tickets that make it to members level?
If this is where things are heading, all Villa fans need to air their voices to the club, before a home ticket is as hard to get as an away one.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame