Five Reasons to be Cheerful After Impressive Week
Three wins, twelve goals and Lee Johnson evicted from the Hibernian dugout, it’s been quite the week. After a difficult opening game Villa have, again, responded in the most positive way. With Hibs coming to town before a trip to Anfield, here are five reasons to be cheerful:
Bags of Cash
When the starting XI was announced an hour before kick off, it wasn’t immediately clear how the team would be set up. The beauty of having Unai Emery as manager is that no fan can do what he does nor can they see the players in his system the way that he can.
What looked like a back three with two full backs was in fact Konsa playing at right-back and Cash pushed up further forward. Much like he did at Villareal, Emery balances sides in his own unique way of matching individual attributes to what he describes as his ‘way’ and his ‘idea’.
The result? Two goals for Cash and more sublime football with players comfortable in their roles and on the ball, creating chances and scoring cracking team goals. It’s Hibs, then Liverpool at Anfield next, the latter of which will provide a good litmus test to see where Emery’s Villa are at.
Last week’s thrashing of Hibernian has had a three-fold positive effect. Firstly, it all but ensured qualification into the group stage with Villa currently looking likely to sit in the second pot. Secondly, it means that Villa can rest players for the visit of Hibs and ensure that the squad is primed for the tricky trip to Anfield on Sunday, while giving some players a taste of first team action.
Finally, Villa’s thrashing of Hibs contributed to the sacking of chronic whinger Lee Johnson, meaning that Hibs will likely have a caretaker manager in place on Thursday evening. Perhaps the club should offer Johnson a prime seat behind the Villa goal as a gesture?
Villa’s fourth ever Italian player made his debut appearance away at Burnley with approximately twenty minutes of the match remaining.
The Italian wasted no time, however, as he latched on to a ball in the centre of the pitch and confidently sprinted into a one-on-one situation with the young Burnley keeper. Initially it looked like he had fluffed the chance but on closer examination of the replays it appeared as though he successfully dummied the keeper, leaving him on his backside and as he was about to slot the ball into the net, a defender excellently blocked the shot.
The forward oozed confidence and was keen to pass the ball forwards while also demonstrating his dribbling ability. Certainly a unique talent and a different option to the existing attacking players at Emery’s disposal. While he cannot play against Hibs due to being cup-tied, he will surely get more chances in the coming weeks.
An 89th minute Firmino equaliser cost Villa two points in the penultimate game of last season, and would eventually cost them a sixth place finish.
Villa head to Anfield a week after beating Burnley hoping to extend the two-match winning streak in the league. Villa’s last league win at Anfield was back in 2014, tragically helping Paul Lambert to secure a new contract. Liverpool themselves produced a superb victory at St James Park on Sunday having played out the majority of the game with ten men following the sending off of Virgil Van Dijk.
With Konaté possibly still missing for Villa’s trip to Anfield and Van Dijk suspended (unless Liverpool overturn yet another red card decision), Villa’s free-scoring approach should cause a depleted Liverpool back line all sorts of problems.
Recent years have produced some excellent performances against Liverpool, but the result has been missing as the Reds have an annoying knack of finding a way to avoid defeat, as Newcastle can attest. If Emery is serious about disrupting the elite sides then these are the games that Villa need to start winning.
Year of the Lion
The theme of 2023 for Villa has been of resilience, goals and victories. It’s hard to remember a year that has felt this upbeat and entertaining.
As things stand, Villa are in second place in the calendar year below Manchester City. To caveat that, of course it is spread across two seasons now and Spurs and Chelsea are unlikely to be as dreadful as they were in the last campaign. Nonetheless, it would foolish to ignore Villa’s fine form.
The argument that Villa will become tired due to European exploits has some merit but then the other elite clubs will have harder European opposition to contend with. Villa seem to have coped very well with the first Sunday Premier League game following European involvement, without any European hangovers. With Ramsey, Moreno, Dendoncker and Coutinho (possible sale aside) to return soon, the extra matches shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
Follow Armen on Twitter here – @VillanArmen