What we Learned as Villa Fans from the Everton Win
By Nick Price-Thompson
You know what they say, a win is a win…
It was hard for Villa fans to travel home with a spring in their step on Saturday. It was mainly due to a lack of trains, but losing a new £26m centre-back to a long-term ankle injury, and a nagging feeling that Everton might have just given Villa their easiest 90 minutes they will have this season, certainly didn’t help.
Villa were still very much holding on by their fingertips at the end (welcome back Tyrone Mings!). The win was welcome though, but as one wise fan said to me straight after the final whistle: “Don’t carried away by it”.
Here are three things we have learned as Villa fans this week…
1. Villa do not have a striker crisis.
Fans on social media have been hyper critical of the options we have up top, and the transfer policy we have in place. But the evergreen Danny Ings showed exactly what he is about with a sublime finish in the first half.
Yes, hardworking Ollie Watkins didn’t hit the back of the net on this occasion. But two assists, especially the perfect cross for Emi Buendia to make it two-nil, was a good day out for a player that is one simple tap in away from hitting some form.
With clinical Cameron Archer waiting in the wings, and Leon Bailey starting to show us what he is all about, the Villa hierarchy are right to prioritise the midfield, and possibly the back line once again.
More on MOMS about the issue of finding proven Premier League strikers
2. The match day experience at Villa Park is terrible and there is little sign of improvement.
Opening day, sun out, positive vibes, early kick-off, Saturday. A chance for the club to show how much it cares about the fans, who paid at least 10% more for their tickets and made the effort to get to a ground cut off by public transport strikes. A chance to start delivering on the promises of providing a ‘world-class destination and experience’.
In 33-degree heat, people struggled to get a drink, with some fans suggesting they were being asked to pay for tap water (even if that was potentially to cover the cost of a cup). Kiosks were closed. Queues were worse then ever. Staff were few and far between. The Commonwealth Games managed to get this right at a series of venues that were only in place for 11 days and offered free water. Why can’t a multi-million-pound Premier League football club?
I wish I had never been to see Villa at Spurs. My eyes were opened to what a modern-day stadium is like, and how far Villa Park has fallen from grace in comparison. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is exceptional, but even Brighton away set a benchmark for us. With bands, beer kiosks, food options all outside the stadium. So good, that a 30-min delay to kick-off last season was greeted with cheers rather than jeers.
Villa are not even getting the basics right. For opening day of the season, the club should have been pulling out all the stops to deal with the expected warm weather (it’s summer after all). Not good enough.
3. What gives with set pieces?
It is clear they will be an issue for this team for as long as the current coaching arrangements are in place.
Many of the Villa supporter base have spotted this and are rightly asking questions about our set-piece coach Austin MacPhee.
Everton could have, and probably should have scored twice from corners, and only some last-ditch defending and blind luck helped us get to half-time at one-nil, despite a dominant first half display.
The inability to defend set plays is only half the problem though.
Over-thinking and over-playing is squandering too many set piece opportunities at the other end. Seeing John McGinn and Douglas Luiz run into each other, when trying to take a free-kick last season, summed up the problem.
And it’s happening already this season. Take the 48th minute example from Saturday against Everton. With Villa one up, they got a free-kick deep in the opposition half, just right of centre. A second goal here and the game should have been done and dusted.
Instead of playing the percentages and getting a direct ball into the box in the direction of Mings or any one of Kamara, Carlos, Ings, or Watkins – i.e. ‘the mixer’, Villa pranced about over the ball, some movement happened on the edge of the penalty box, and then they tried to be cute and flick it into the right corner, but the ball was stolen away by Everton with embarrassing ease.
Villa tried to be clever. It did not require anything clever.
Remember when Newcastle got that free-kick against Villa last season at St James’ Park?
Kieran Trippier didn’t mess around.
This has become a perennial problem for Villa. We cannot pin it all on the set-piece coach, as legend has it that Christian Benteke against QPR was the last time Villa scored from a direct free-kick in the Premier League, MacPhee was brought in to fix this.
Dean Smith spoke about seeking “marginal gains” when he bought MacPhee in, but broadly speaking there’s been regression in terms of set piece rewards since.
Set plays appear to be over thought. With South American talent on the pitch like Philippe Coutinho and Emi Buendia, and French finesse from Lucas Digne, let them gauge it for themselves in the moment and with the match situation in mind. Often a ‘lump it towards Mings’ approach is not such a bad idea, assuming he is getting on with the gaffer and has been selected of course.