The Good, Bad and Ugly of HŠK Zrinjski Mostar and Wolves
Some weeks watching Unai Emery’s Aston Villa is a joy, the 90 minutes pass like a weekend off work, and other times, the matches feel like 9 a.m. on a Monday, it’s fair to say the Villa players have put a shift in the last week.
How many times has a plucky Villa side held out against a better team, usually Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, only to be undone in injury time?
Well, it was good to be on the other end of that equation against HŠK Zrinjski Mostar. Aston Villa toiled for the game against the Bosnian side. After a below-par first half which threatened to turn into another cup disaster, Emery brought on reinforcements he maybe should have been starting.
Despite this, chance after chance was fired straight at the opposition goalkeeper until the 94th minute when subs Bertrand Traore and Matty Cash combined to set up John McGinn for a Captain’s goal.
As if that was emotionally draining enough Villa had to travel to Wolves and play out a fake derby game. Wolves may treat it as a derby, going by their previous record of five wins in six at Molineux, but Aston Villa and their fans, just know it to be a challenging game.
Tough, low in quality, boring, turgid, take your pick, to describe the majority of the game. Both sides were unable to get any rhythm, which affected Emery’s side more than their opponents, so when Wolves took the lead, there were a few Villa fans who would have been thinking they were on for another defeat.
To Villa’s credit, they responded immediately and should have won the game in stoppage time, as more chances were spurned and a dubious shove in the back wasn’t called on Ollie Watkins.
Sitting fifth in the league going into the international break is good for Villa with tough games coming up. West Ham won’t be easy and the double header against Az Alkmaar sandwiches games Villa will need to win against Luton and Forest, if momentum is to be maintained.
Villan of the Week – John McGinn
John McGinn got the headlines for his injury-time winner against Mostar, but the true captain’s performance was against Wolves.
McGinn put in the performance that Wilfried Zaha would’ve put in against Villa on many occasions. Being annoying, getting decisions, stopping Wolves and keeping things together when the game threatened to fall apart in a scrappy first half.
His duel with Craig Dawson, was important as if Dawson had got the upper hand and the referee’s ear, then the match could’ve swung in Wolves’ favour. By McGinn, going tit for tat with the gamesmanship, he kept things even and led the team even when balancing a yellow card against his name.
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There are a few minor niggles in the current Aston Villa side. The defence is not as solid as last term when faced with direct runners and pace. Pau Torres and the rest of the back line have been caught out when the opposition runs at them with intensity or in transition.
While this could be an adjustment period for the new look-back line, if you throw Diego Carlos in, it is a weakness that has been exploited by opposition sides.
Newcastle and Liverpool roasted the entire Villa defence, Palace scored their goal in a similar manner to how Pedro Neto beat Pau Torres.
It’s a weakness at Villa that will no doubt be ironed out, as Torres gets to grips with the Premier League. His excellent passing and general organisation at the beginning of attacks are noticeable, it’s just his fragility to pace and physicality on the turn that’s the issue.
Of course, the reason this is so noticeable is because the injured Tyrone Mings was strong in these areas.
Torres is by no means a bad player or signing, he will just need to minimise the risks to make Villa more secure at the back. Whether that means a change to his game, or support elsewhere in the formation remains unclear until Alex Moreno is back and there are options on the left side.
Two games for Villa this week and another two penalty decisions that need looking at. As one was in Europe, the blame can’t lie solely with the PGMOL for once.
Against Zrinjski Mostar, with things getting desperate, Nicolo Zaniolo burst into the box literally towing a Zrinjski defender behind him like a caravan, with the defender having such a hold on his shirt.
Zaniolo carried on and got the cross in, if he’d have gone down it should have been a penalty.
Against Wolves, Ollie Watkins burst into the box and as he was about to shoot, Matt Doherty pushed him in the middle of his back with a straight arm.
Both could and should have been penalties, but there was no major surprise that neither was given as the outcome of a cross and a shot were still achieved, albeit Watkins’s shot was wild due to him being pushed over as he struck it.
So what’s the answer? It looks to be that you need to stop what you are doing instantly to get a decision. Is it any wonder diving is now the normal state in football? It’s a certainty that if Harry Kane had been in those two situations, there would have been two penalties as he knows how to dive.
It’s one ugly situation that there’s no answer to. Diving is wrong but the way to eradicate it not only lies with punishment, it lies in getting the decisions that are penalties correct even if the shot or cross goes in anyway.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame