The Good, Bad and Ugly of Newcastle
If any Aston Villa fan wasn’t happy with the performance against Newcastle United, they need to get checked out by a medical professional. The bad and ugly times are fading into distant memory.
Before the Newcastle match, many thought the wave that Aston Villa had been riding would crash into the rocks. However, it turned out the rocks were as stable as the ex-Magpie sponsor Northern Rock bank, as Villa simply ran through them.
Any superlative you can think of could be levelled at the display, which was not just the best of this season, but a generational game.
Matches like this have been so few and far between in recent years. Beating Sunderland 6-1 at home under Lambert, was more about relief. Liverpool and the 7-2 wasn’t witnessed by fans.
This game was a realisation of unfulfilled potential on a platform against an actual contender of where Aston Villa wants to be, and it was glorious.
From the first 30 seconds when Ollie Watkins ripped through the center of the best defense in the Premier League, Villa smelled blood, and for once, they didn’t take their foot off the gas for the rest of the game.
The belief the team has in the system and style of play is now showing dividends in terms of results, which, of course, leads to more belief and more confidence in the plan.
It helps, of course, that under Unai Emery, there is a plan, if not multiple plans, for multiple scenarios.
Players who previously looked like they were too easily bullied by a physical side, not technically astute enough to pass, and not disciplined enough to hold shape have all transformed into the players they should be.
Previously, Emi Martinez was Villa’s top performer every week; now, the rest of the players have stepped up to his level of performance, making it harder and harder to pick out the best performance.
Ollie Watkins has finally been allowed to be a striker, rather than carrying the weight of closing down the opposition by himself for the last few seasons.
John McGinn has been transformed by being given clear instructions; he’s now showing leadership and affecting every game he plays.
A special mention also goes to Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings. At times, they are so calm that Konsa, especially, needs to be checked for a pulse.
All these improvements are symptomatic of a team that doesn’t need to think too hard. Footballers play better on instinct, and with Emery and his coaches taking care of the thought patterns, the players can take care of the rest.
Villans of the Week – Alex Moreno and Leander Dendoncker
It could have been any member of the team, but this week the award has to be split between two players.
Alex Moreno put in the kind of performance that makes you wonder how nobody knew anything about him before he arrived. While his impressive assist record speaks for itself, few could have predicted that he had the ability to completely embarrass Kieran Trippier, who has been one of the best players in the league this season.
The fact that Moreno has come into the side and offered a completely new form of attack while settling into the Premier League will, of course, go unnoticed by those outside Villa Park. But everyone at the club is getting used to this attitude.
Secondly, on his birthday and after being left out in the cold, Big Daddy D himself, Leander Dendoncker, slotted into the team like vintage Kevin Richardson.
You may not know what he’s done, and you can’t recall a standout moment, but everyone around him excelled because he was there.
Barring one horrendous error against Stevenage, Dendoncker has been solid whenever he’s been called upon. After the Newcastle game, Boubacar Kamara can take time to recover at a sensible pace, knowing that BDD has it covered.
I suppose Villa could have scored more goals…
If ever two games were made to call out XG (Expected Goals), they happened this weekend
Firstly Aston Villa’s XG vs Newcastle was 1.9 to one decimal place.
While you dear reader digest that nonsense, let’s have a look at a few moments from the match.
Watkins, 28 seconds in hits the post.
Jacob Ramsey hits the bar from right in front of the net, within the distance of the penalty spot. The current XG of a penalty is .76.
Watkins forces Nick Pope into two excellent saves with his legs.
John Mcginn curls one wide on his good foot from about 20 Yards.
I’ll stop there. These are chances which didn’t go in.
Are we seriously meant to believe, that Villa’s XG was only 1.9?
With them scoring three goals, the narrative that they are over-performing and therefore ‘lucky’ will continue.
The second game is Manchester City vs Leicester City.
XG for each side, Man City 1.92 – Leicester City 1.98.
This is the same match that City had wrapped up so early that they took off Erling Haaland, John Stones, Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish before Leicester scored their consolation goal.
While stats and metrics have a clear use in football, especially in scouting, their overuse in individual matches, has warped analysis.
Instead of praising a side or player for outperforming their expectancy, stats gurus online say it’ll never last and they are lucky.
Imagine the same attitude in golf. ”You’re just lucky Tiger Woods, the PAR for this course is 72, your score of 65 will never last.”
Using underlying stats as anything more than a par score that a player or side should be achieving, is akin to trying to prove a deity exists.
XG is the ugly heresy in the religion of football and it’s time fans used it as it was originally intended, to show how good a team or player is and not how lucky they are.