The Good, Bad and Ugly of Chelsea, Everton and Brighton
There’s a popular meme of Gennaro Gattuso, ‘Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe…’ You know the rest. At the minute, nobody could forgive Unai Emery for coming up with his own version, as Villa go from abject to sensational on a weekly basis.
There’s never a bad time to beat Chelsea away. To beat them, keep a clean sheet, and keep the pressure on the Premier League’s biggest spenders is still a good result, despite some mitigating factors.
Importantly, Ollie Watkins broke his Premier League scoring duck and with the noise around a new contract intensifying, a betting man would’ve put something on him scoring against Brighton. What was unexpected, was Aston Villa finally getting out of second gear this season.
From the opening minutes, the focus, application and tempo were spot on against the Seagulls. A simple plan, that had been previously followed by Everton and West Ham, was ruthlessly perfected by Villa and every time the talented Brighton players gave up the ball, Villa were on them at pace and ripped them apart.
Watkins, McGinn, and the midfield pair of Luiz and Kamara, just made Brighton look like a junior side, as their naivety in sticking to their excellent attacking style was unpicked again and again.
Even when Brighton got back into the game at 3-1, they were vulnerable to the trap and when Emery introduced a hungry Jacob Ramsey, the match swung back to Villa again to record their biggest victory since the 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool during lockdown. To tie a nice bow around the performance, Ollie Watkins scored his first Premier League hat trick since that memorable night.
The onlooking England Manager Gareth Southgate will struggle to come up with a half-assed reason to leave him out of the England squad next time.
Villan of the Week – Emiliano Martinez
The difference in goalkeepers at Aston Villa is like the difference between the Championship and the Premier League.
When Raheem Sterling and Ben Chilwell were clean through against Martinez, you didn’t feel that they would score. When Brighton broke through early with Estupinan, he was there again.
However, when Dominic Calvert-Lewin found himself in a similar situation against Robin Olsen in the League Cup, there was only going to be one outcome.
Martinez was always the jewel in Villa’s crown, but the gulf between him and number two Robin Olsen is currently a chasm and an area of concern especially in cup competitions.
Last week GBU mentioned ‘Stevenage Syndrome’ and it was there again in full effect in the defeat to Everton in the League Cup third round.
In truth, Villa were lucky to still be in the tie at half-time. I’ve struggled to remember as inept a first half against as poor a team in years.
This wasn’t a weakened line-up either, as has been touted by some sections of social media. Other than Robin Olsen, the team was stronger on paper than many thought and arguably stronger than the team beaten in Warsaw.
Three out of the starting back four, the other spot filled by the Captain, John McGinn. A midfield with two Belgian internationals, Tielemens and Denconcker accompanying Luiz, and a front three of Bailey, Diaby and Duràn adds up to a strong side in anyone’s reckoning.
The apathy that the team approached the game with is as concerning as the technical performance of some of the players.
Tielemans, Cash, Dendoncker and of course, Olsen were all well below the levels needed to beat any team, let alone an Everton team who fancied revenge from the league defeat a few weeks ago.
The lack of leaders and character on the pitch and the squad after the injuries to Buendia and Tyrone Mings, and the release of Ashley Young is a real issue moving forward, and perhaps the reason that we are seeing such inconsistency in performances so far this season.
Cast your minds back to the behind-closed-doors games. You had Mings shouting, organising and not letting the basic standards in the team drop.
If you turned off the crowd noise, which the commercial department tried to do against Everton with the ticket price point, who would you have heard shouting?
McGinn doesn’t lead that way. Torres is mild-mannered, and Martinez was on the bench. The only player with some grit would be Douglas Luiz. In situations like the game against Everton, when nobody is up for the match, one leader isn’t enough to stop others just going through the motions.
The injuries to Buendia and Mings were always going to have a negative effect on the season, but the lack of character could be something that hinders Villa when things aren’t going their way.
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Where do you start this week? Sweaty kits, overpriced League Cup tickets, the loss of the Holte Suite for season ticket holders, or the loss of an opportunity for silverware?
The Castore kit debacle is a really strange one. As ugly as the kits look, this isn’t a sudden issue. Anyone who watched Villa in preseason will have noticed the sweat-drenched home kits, so why not address the issue then?
This week everything has intensified with the televised Women’s game against Manchester United to open the WSL season.
Despite concerns, Villa played in the home kit and would’ve got something from Manchester United if not for some familiar decisions when facing the Red Devils. It was like being back in the 90’s, as Villa were denied a clear penalty and had a player sent off in dubious circumstances.
The whole Castore affair is just another off-pitch issue threatening to make its way onto the pitch. While this one isn’t Villa’s fault, the Everton attendance very much is.
Usually, the first home cup game of the season is included for season ticket holders to avoid the very situation that happened against Everton.
With rising prices, more midweek games and a cost of living crisis, and against a team that was there a few weeks ago
made the trek to Villa Park for a League Cup third-round game an unnecessary expense for many.
The attendance figure of 23,851 – which included Everton taking the majority of the North Stand – was pathetic but completely justified.
With Everton fans looking out over a half-empty stadium, they made the noise and their team put in an adequate performance.
Villa players, by contrast, just looked like a team playing at a quarter pace, even more so when the next performance, featuring many of the same players, was the electric demolition of Brighton.
As a fan who fondly remembers the League Cup triumphs under Ron Atkinson and Brian Little, an exit at the first hurdle, when the draw was wide open is just another ugly reminder that domestic Cup football isn’t a priority for Aston Villa, so price it accordingly.
The outstanding win against Brighton too, was slightly marred by massive blocks of empty seats in the stands that had been held back for patrons of ‘The Lower Grounds’ and it is a shame the match wasn’t a sellout. But the Villa Commercial team will once again have been happy to see the spotlight on the pitch rather than off it, as Emery’s team took the headlines.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame